SEO 101: Nofollow links. What, why, when and where?

Nofollow links are links that aren’t followed by Google’s spiders when they are crawling a page, this may seem like a slightly simplistic explanation but that’s really what they are. There is no such thing as a dofollow link. All links are naturally follow links. They become nofollow when you insert the attribute rel=”nofollow” into the anchor tag coding for the link in question. But what does a nofollow link look like I hear you ask, well, this:

<a href=”” title=”title attribute of the link” rel=”nofollow”>link text</a>

In the olden days of SEO you would have had to insert a nofollow meta tag attribute into the head of your pages to indicate to the spiders that you didn’t want any of the links indexed. You can still use this today if you fear the rogue bots who ignore the rel attribute.

The History Of Nofollow Links

Blog Spam for Nofollow links articleThe rel=”nofollow” attribute was first established in early 2005 with the objective of stopping what had become the pandemic spread of blog comment spamming. Allowing users to insert hyperlinks into comments is, in principle, a good idea. It allows them to link to a source they are referring to for example. Unfortunately, a dastardly individual had a brain wave that changed the face of blog commenting irreversibly. They realised that, like other links, blog comment links pass page rank. So began the global assault on all blogs by individuals trying to sell fake Ray Ban sunglasses and wondrous Viagra alternatives. Now, sitting in the present grey and drizzly 2013 any webmaster or blogger worth their salt will know that rel=”nofollow” ultimately failed in that aim. It failed so badly that Google will even punish your site for having too much user generated spam! That’s like locking someone up because some masked bandits managed to break into their house, somehow we think the “You didn’t do enough to protect your house so therefore you’re gunna be thrown in a cell” argument would really stand up.

So, if they don’t seem to stop spam why would you use them? Well, Google defines nofollow links by saying:

“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Also, it’s important to note that other search engines may handle nofollow in slightly different ways.”

Google Webmaster Tools (Click on the link to see Matt Cutts sporting a dashing moustache and goatee combo.)

So, why would nofollow links help you?

There are a couple of ways.

1. Protecting Your Own Sites Authority

wall for nofollow link pageSometimes you may find something you really want to link to from a blog post or page on your site that is being hosted on what you feel is a slightly suspect domain. In this situation the rel=”nofollow” attribute is extremely valuable. It allows you to link to the aforementioned content whilst at the same time saying ‘I don’t really want to be associated with these guys.’ This means that, if the site did turn out to be involved in something unsavoury, when they get pinged by Google your site won’t get caught in the fallout. Basically, look at it as a protective wall around your sites authority. Some webmasters like to nofollow all external links from their site, others only nofollow links to sites that their not sure about, how stringent you want to be with your nofollowing is down to you. Remember, nofollow links won’t ever hurt your site (unless you are a spamming mastermind) as kindly pointed out by Matt Cutts in the below video.

See What Google’ s Matt Cutts Has To Say About Nofollow Links:



2. Building A Natural Link Profile

google penguin for nofollow links articleEver since the release of the infamous Penguin 2.0 update unnatural link structures have become about as damaging to your site as Iraq was to Tony Blair’s career. (Hint: Very) Although it is not crucial when it comes to outbound links the same cannot be said for inbound links. If an unnatural number of links that point to your site are ‘follow’ guess what? You’re probably involved in some unnatural link building and Google will punish you accordingly. A lot is said about ‘correct’ link percentages but we see that as over complicating things. Our best advice? Build links irrespective of whether they are nofollow or not. Yeah, they may not pass PageRank but they may also qualify you for some awesome traffic which is just as valuable, if not more so.

We hope this has cleared up any confusion you may have had regarding nofollow links and their implementation. If you liked this post why not check out the rest of our blog.

Glass Wall Image Attribution: gen gibler

Google Penguin Image Attribution:  KJGarbut

Written by Ryan Hill

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