What is Nofollow Link? Understanding the (rel='nofollow') tag

nofollow link study article

How can you nofollow a link, how does nofollow links impact SEO and what are the best practices in the sight of SEO?

In this post, we talk about both all you need to know and those you less likely should know about nofollow links and that include;

  • What nofollow links are
  • Importance of nofollow links
  • Whether or not nofollow links help SEO
  • How to nofollow a link
  • Some nofollow links case studies

Are all discussed in this post.

Are you ready? Let's go then.

What Are Nofollow Links?

Nofollow link refer to any HTML links with the rel="nofollow" attribute applied to them.

nofollow link example

The rel="nofollow HTML attribute is used whenever you need to instruct search engines that a particular HTML link should be ignored.

History of Nofollow HTML Link Attribute

The Big G, Google originally engineered nofollow to combat blog comment spam. Seeing the effect, other search engines including Bing and Yahoo follow swift.

Back then, when the popularity of blogs were giving birth to comment spam which was a tool for spammers. Thus, spammers would leave links back to their site in the blog comments.

This approach by spammers birth another two major problems:

  1. Spamming websites began to rank well in search engines, especially; Google which resulted in leaving high-quality sites at the far end or bottom of the SERP.
  2. And because the approach worked so well, blog comment spam quickly spun out of control as more individuals were joining the league.

Nofollow HTML Link Attribute Became the Ultimate Solution to Comment Spam

So, in 2005, Google engineered nofollow HTML link attribute and rolled it into their algorithm. Just as soon, other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo did.

Nofollow vs. Dofollow Links

nofollow link vs dofollow link

Technically, the only difference between "nofollow" and "dofollow" links is that nofollow links have the rel='nofollow' HTML link attribute applied.


<a href="">BloggerThemer Themes</a>

<a href="" rel="nofollow">BloggerThemer Themes</a>

However, as a user, it is nearly impossible for you to tell the difference between nofollow and dofollow links because you can click on, copy as well as use nofollow links like you would any other links on the web.

Meanwhile, from the point of SEO, there exists a number of differences between nofollow and dofollow links.

Difference Between Nofollow and Dofollow Links

According to Google, dofollow links can essentially help your search engine rankings. Nofollow links (generally) don’t.

dollow link SEO effect

Although Google and other search engines regard links as a key ranking signal, they mostly consider dofollow links in their algorithm. This statement was confirmed by Google in this answer.

That statement does in fact confirms that nofollow link do not pass any PageRank.

Well, if a link fails to send any PageRank which is also being referred to as link authority, it doesn't help search rankings.

However, according to some studies though, there might be some exceptions to these claims.

How to Identify A Nofollow Link On A Webpage

Here's how to check if a link is nofollow or not on a webpage:

  1. Right click on your browser and click “View page source”.
  2. view page source
  3. Next, look for the link in the HTML of the page.
  4. backlink in page source
  5. If you see a rel=”nofollow” attribute within the link's HTML attributes, that link is nofollowed. Otherwise, the link is dofollow.
  6. nofollow link example

Alternatively, you can use some extensions to auto-identify nofollow links on a webpage. Strike Out Nofollow Links is one of such extensions.

nofollow link extension in Chrome browser

The Strike Out Nofollow Links extension does a good job by automatically putting a line through any nofollow links on a page.

Where Are Nofollow Links Most Commonly Used?

  • In blog comments
  • Links in forum posts or other user generated content
  • Social media platforms such as links in Facebook posts or YouTube video description
  • Some popular blogs and news sites. e.g Huffington Post
  • Links in press releases
  • And, links in widgets

Other than those in the list above, these popular platforms generally prefer and use rel='nofollow' attribute for all of their outbound links:

  • YouTube
  • Reddit
  • Quora
  • Wikipedia
  • Medium
  • Twitch

Should You Nofollow Paid Links?

Per the information that's made available on the Google's Webmasters Guidelines here, any links that you are paid for should be nofollowed.

Google recommends using nofollow for paid links

The links that fall in these category include referral links, affiliate links, banner ads, links in guest or sponsored posts etc.

Alternatively, you may opt to use the newer rel='sponsored' attribute for paid links instead of the rel='nofollow' attribute.

If you ask why, that's because Google wants all of your links to be earned naturally.

Do Nofollow Links Impact SEO?

According to some claims: “Nofollow links have zero impact on SEO”.

But by other claims: “Nofollow links aren’t as powerful as dofollow links… but they still help.”

So, what's the truth? Let's find out.

What Does Google Say About Nofollow Links?

First, let's look at what Google say about nofollow links.

Google comments on nofollow link

According to Google... "in general, we don't follow them."

By "in general", it means Google follows nofollow links in some instances.

Now, the case studies.

Nofollow Links Case Studies

Adam White's Nofollow Links Case Study

He, Adam White bought a bunch of nofollowed links from a high-quality site in the SEO space when he wanted to rank his blog for the keyword “backlink software”.

And he made sure all of those links had "backlink software" as their anchor text.

<a href="" rel="nofollow">backlink software</a>

The result?

His ranking sprung from #19 to #1 in Google SERP for his target keyword.

Survey Monkey's Nofollow Links Case Study

Head of SEO at SurveyMonkey wanted to provide his own answer to the question: “Does Google actually follow nofollow links?”.

SurveyMonkey nofollow link case study

And here is his approach:

  1. He added a nofollow link to one of SurveyMonkey's 404 pages.
  2. That link led to a page that wasn’t indexed by Google as of yet.
SurveyMonkey nofollow link case study

And the result?

Theoretically, Google should ignore that link but exactly the opposite happened.

Instead, Google followed the link and indexed the page in 48hours.

What Are the Advantages of Nofollow Links?

  1. Nofollow Links Can Directly Impact Your SEO Positively

    Alhough the data is not clear enough, nofollow links can lead to higher rankings in Google SERP.

  2. Nofollow Links Can Help Boost Traffic

    If implemented correctly and accordingly, nofollow links can still send target traffic to your site just as dofollow links.

    One of the best nofollow links you can have is to leaving helpful blog comments.

    Especially if you're one of the first few people to comment on the post, this can send a handful of targeted traffic to your site.

  3. Nofollow Links Can Equal Dofollow Links in Effect

    Just recently, I was opportuned to be the first user to comment on a post on Reddit BigSEO community.

    nofollowed link in reddit comment

    Apart from being the first to comment, that comment is marked the best of all the comments and that makes it to being the first comment to be spotted by the readers of that particular post in the community.

    Although my link in that post is nofollowed, it has so far attracted over 500 targeted traffic to my automatic table of contents in blogger post.

    Apart from the traffic gained, because those audiences are targeted, it's very likely a few of those audiences link back to my post (with dofollow attribute).

    Of course, the dofollow links directly influence the PageRank in SERPs.

  4. Nofollow Links Are As Much Part of Natural Link Profile As Dofollow Links

    According to Google, if your link profile looks unnatural, your site could be at the risk of Google's penalty according to searchengineland report here.

    searchengineland report on natural link profile

    Meanwhile, nofollow links are an important part of a natural link profile.

    Taking YouTube as a case study, according to Semrush, 23% of their links are nofollow.

    YouTube link profile report by SemRush

    By this analysis, it does not necessarily mean that you need 23% of your links to be nofollow.

    Rather, it shows that natural link profiles could still have a decent amount of nofollow links.

How is Nofollow Different from Noindex?

In plain English, noindex directive is a metatag that you add to certain pages on your website whenever you need to instruct the search engines to cease adding a particular page of your site to ther index.

noindex HTML tag

In theory, this tag tells search engines to not add a specific page to their index.

While noindex tag tells search engines not to include a particular page in their index, the nofollow tag simply tells search engines not to follow a link or set of links on a particular webpage.

nofollow HTML tag

In practice, if you need to de-index or you don't want a page indexed, the noindex tag is the right tag to use.

How Do I Use Nofollow Links on My Website

The methods and approaches depend on which platform your website is hosted.

For example, WordPress users do not need to worry as all blog comment links already have the rel='nofollow' attribute applied.

And if you're a Google blogspot user, all our blogger templates already have rel='nofollow' attribute applied for outbund links but that's optional as you can also reverse the settings.

WordPress nofollow link plugin

As a WordPress user, you can also use a WordPress plugin that can make all your outbound links nofollow.

Now, Over to You:

What's your experience with nofollow backlinks?

Do you or would you prefer to rel="nofollow" all outbound links?

Or, maybe you even have some questions about nofollow to ask.

Let's read from you by leaving a comment.


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