What is Nofollow? SEO’s Most Misunderstood Link Attribute

Brody Hall
Dec 23, 2023
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What is Nofollow? SEO’s Most Misunderstood Link Attribute

Nofollow links: the 10.6 percent of the backlink world that, still to this day, unfairly receives the cold shoulder.

Since their introduction, the relationship nofollow links share with search engines has blossomed. They’re no longer just for warding off comment spam and link manipulation—they’re now a very handy-to-have addition to your website’s backlink portfolio.

To catch you up with nofollow link’s continually evolving place in the search engine optimization (SEO) world, in this guide, we

  1. answer the question, “What is nofollow?”
  2. explore its importance,
  3. and debunk the lingering misconceptions that are hindering your link-building efforts.

What Is Nofollow?

Nofollow is a link attribute that directs search engines not to follow a particular hyperlink, whether external or internal, and to refrain from assigning ranking credit to said link. In other words, it’s a way for website owners to say, “Sure, I’m linking to this web page, but just so you know, dear search engine, I don’t necessarily endorse the content you’ll find there.”

When a link has a nofollow attribute, it looks something like this in a website’s HTML source code:

<a href=”https://example.com” rel=”nofollow”>Link to Example</a>

Different Types of Nofollow Tags

Nofollow links have evolved over time, and they now come in different varieties, each serving a specific purpose:

  1. rel=”nofollow”: The original nofollow attribute, introduced back in 2005, continues to be used for links where endorsement or ranking credit is not implied. It’s the classic way to ward off spam generated through blog comments and flag advertising-related or sponsored links.
  2. rel=”sponsored”: Introduced by Google on September 10, 2019, this attribute is specifically for links created as part of advertisements, sponsorships, or compensation agreements. If you’re marking a link as sponsored, this is the tag to use, although the traditional nofollow will still work.
  3. rel=”ugc”: Also introduced on the same date, this stands for User Generated Content. It’s recommended for links within user-generated content like comments and forum posts. It’s a way to tell search engines that this link might not have the same endorsement as the main content.

These different tags provide a more nuanced way to communicate with search engines, allowing website owners to give specific instructions about the nature of the link. It’s a level of control that adds sophistication to the SEO toolkit.

Nofollow vs. Dofollow Links

So there is no confusion, let’s quickly rehash what nofollow links are and compare them to dofollow links.

Nofollow Links (rel=”nofollow”, rel=”sponsored”, rel=”ugc”):

  • Purpose: Used to tell search engines not to follow the link or give it ranking credit.
  • Usage: Ideal for links that you don’t want to endorse, such as advertisements, sponsored content, or user-generated content.
  • SEO Impact: Generally, nofollow links do not pass PageRank, link juice, or link authority, and, as a result, do not directly influence the linked page’s ranking in Google search results.

Dofollow Links (Standard Links Without Any Rel Attribute):

  • Purpose: These are the default links that search engines follow and consider in their ranking algorithms.
  • Usage: Ideal for linking to trusted sources, references, or any content that you want to endorse.
  • SEO Impact: Dofollow links pass PageRank, do pass on link juice or link equity, and can positively influence the linked page’s ranking in search results.

Learn more: nofollow vs. dofollow.

When to Use Each Type

Use a Nofollow Link When:

  • You’re linking to content that you don’t fully endorse or trust.
  • You include a sponsored or paid link.
  • You’re linking to user-generated content that might not reflect the quality or credibility of your site.

Use a Dofollow Link When:

  • You’re linking to reputable sources that add value to your content.
  • You’re citing references or data that support your arguments and talking points.
  • You’re encouraging search engines to follow and consider the link in their ranking algorithms.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Why Is Nofollow Important?

The way in which Google treats nofollow links has changed. Before 2019, nofollow links were not counted as a signal in search. Post-September 2019, nofollow link attributes are now treated as hints, adding nuance and helping Google better understand how to treat these types of links.

Let’s explore five reasons why they are more than just a mere accessory in your backlink toolkit:

1. Busting the Myth: Nofollow Links Have No Value

Contrary to what some SEO experts and content marketing specialists will have you believe, nofollow links are not worthless. Sure, while they may not pass PageRank or directly influence search rankings, they are essential to a website’s overall SEO strategy and should be treated with the same care and consideration as dofollow links.

2. Impact on Link Profile or Backlink Portfolio Diversification

So why do we think nofollow links demand more respect than they are currently given? Well, nofollow links are one-half of a healthy backlink portfolio—dofollow links are the other half.

And why is this important to SEO? A diverse link profile, including both dofollow and nofollow links, reflects a more natural and organic linking pattern. Search engines may view a site with only dofollow links as manipulative or unnatural. Including nofollow links creates a more balanced and trustworthy link profile that can positively impact a website’s perceived authenticity.

3. Protection Against Google Penalties

Using nofollow attributes responsibly protects your site from potential Google penalties related to link schemes. So, by marking paid, sponsored, or potentially untrusted links as nofollow, you are signaling to search engines that you are adhering to best practices and aren’t participating in manipulative practices.

4. User Experience and Trust

Nofollow links also play a strong role in the user experience, specifically in building trust with your target audience. How? Using nofollow links responsibly, especially for sponsored or paid content, signals to users that you are transparent in your practices and aren’t simply chasing PageRank or manipulating search engine results. An ethical approach that demonstrates you prioritize the relevance and value of the content over SEO gains, fostering a sense of integrity and credibility with your readers.

5. Organic Engagement

Yep—we’ve covered it. Nofollow links don’t pass along ranking credit. However, they can still drive organic traffic and encourage engagement. And there’s no better way to provide value to your audience, back your talking points, and attract natural backlinks and social shares than linking to valuable resources. Even if it’s a nofollow tag.

How to Check If a Link is Nofollow?

It’s easier to determine if a link is a nofollow or dofollow link than you might think:

  1. Manual Inspection: Right-click on your browser and click “View page source” or press CTRL + U on a PC. Or, for Mac, right-click and select “Show Page Source” or, instead, press Option+Command+U. Next, look for the link in the HTML of the page. If you see a rel=”nofollow” attribute, that link is nofollowed.
  2. Use a Chrome Extension: If you’re not a fan of diving into HTML code, there’s a handy tool for you. The “Strike Out Nofollow Links” Chrome extension automatically puts a line through any nofollow links on a web page—get the extension here.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Whether you’re a seasoned SEO expert or just starting to dip your toes into the world of link-building, our team at Loganix is here to guide you. With our tailored link-building services, we’ll craft a strategy that fits your unique needs, ensuring that your website not only ranks but thrives.

🚀 Ready to take your link-building to the next level? Explore Loganix’s link-building services, and let’s build a backlink portfolio that drives results. 🚀

Written by Brody Hall on December 23, 2023

Content Marketer and Writer at Loganix. Deeply passionate about creating and curating content that truly resonates with our audience. Always striving to deliver powerful insights that both empower and educate. Flying the Loganix flag high from Down Under on the Sunshine Coast, Australia.