Links remain as important to SEO success as ever.
If not for SEO professionals, who would get a handle on how links help navigate the vastness of the internet, enabling new models of social and commercial engagement?
SEO pros understand the importance of every link, but they also realize that all links are not created equal.
With internal, external, and backlinks in our toolbox, we are well aware that only the right mix of links results in higher search rankings and tons of traffic.
However, one question remains: How much credit do nofollow links get?
This article will try to answer this question and explain why nofollow links may be beneficial to a site’s visibility in search engines.
Followed vs. Nofollowed Links: What’s the Difference?
Search engines follow (i.e., crawl) every link by default, unless you tell them otherwise.
You can tell search engines not to follow a certain link is by using the nofollow attribute, a snippet of HTML code that looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>
Google isn’t likely to punish you as long as the links you place in your content are useful, relevant, and valuable.
Should you put a thank-you post or a review of an impressive product on your site, nobody is going to report you.
However, there are times when you should nofollow links.
When to Nofollow Links
To avoid Google taking manual action on your site, make sure that you nofollow links in the following cases:
1. Paid Links
In the event you agree to put a paid link on your site, be sure to clarify that you will nofollow it.
Google advises against paid links; thus, if you don’t want to feel the wrath of Google, nofollow all paid links.
2. Product Links
It is pretty much the same story with links you agree to place on your website in exchange for a product or service.
Should you decide to use a few of these links, nofollow them.
3. Paid Review Links
You should always nofollow links that are featured in paid reviews of products or services.
If you receive a product or service for review, failing to nofollow the links could be a costly mistake.
4. Affiliate Links
All affiliate links should be nofollowed by default.
Google recognizes that these links have the potential to generate revenue and they do not want to provide additional benefits to sites that engage in affiliate schemes.
5. Links from Untrustworthy Sites
Nofollow links to untrustworthy websites, sites in known spammy industries, or any poor content.
Linking to low-quality websites could hurt your organic search rankings.
6. Noindexed Links
If you noindex a link, make sure to nofollow it as well.
You don’t want to allow low-quality link equity flowing to your site.
7. Links Used in Widgets & Images
Nofollow links featured in widgets and images you offer to embed on third-party websites, such as logos, icons, shareable design elements, etc.
Google will probably view this a link scheme.
8. Guest Post Links
Google has issued several warnings against guest posting for SEO over the years.
If you want to remain on Google’s good side, nofollow is your best option.
9. Admin Pages
Make sure that they are nofollowed by default.
10. Social Media Buttons
Social media sharing buttons should also be nofollowed.
While Google won’t punish for it, you never want to drive valuable link equity to third-party websites (especially if these sites are huge social media platforms).
Why Nofollow Links Matter
Google says it doesn’t transfer PageRank or anchor text across links with a nofollow attribute. However, the search giant doesn’t always follow its own rules:
In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.
Rumor has it that this “in general” remark indicates that sometimes Google makes an exception to follow and count links with a nofollow tag. This may be the case with Wikipedia, for example.
Though every link placed on Wikipedia is a nofollow link by default, my personal experience is that backlinks from Wikipedia can work miracles for a site’s SERPs.
Most likely, Google’s thought is that a high-quality website like Wikipedia cannot afford to link to spammy, low-quality websites (which is true), and automatically counts its links to adjust SERPs.
Actually, Rand Fishkin has already tested this assumption and arrived at the very same conclusion: top-tier websites impact a site’s SERPs, even though their links feature a nofollow attribute.
Apparently, links from trustworthy websites make a difference no matter what tag you put on them.
However, even if we assume that nofollow renders any link from any website useless in terms of visibility in search engines, links still function as paths to your website.
Links bring traffic and potential users who you still can try to convert into customers.
Treat every link as an endorsement that builds awareness and increases engagement.
The important thing to remember here is that your conversion funnel should be well set up and work smoothly.
Should you find that your site leaks traffic, figure out why.
Eventually, several traffic-rich nofollow links will encourage you to rework your entire conversion funnel, increasing your revenue by double digits.
Last but not least, links always lead to more links. If a nofollow link pointing to your content piece is placed on a trustworthy website, your website could receive dozens of followed links in the near future.
Users will simply treat your link as useful and relevant and will share it on the web or use it in their own content.
Nofollow Links: Case Study
Now it’s time to prove the benefits of nofollow links with actual figures.
One of my SEO clients has experienced a steady growth of high-quality traffic flowing to their website, primarily due to a continuous growth of nofollow links.
Here are several stats to consider (as of November 2017 — Ahrefs report):
- Total links — 12,175
- Followed links — 3,922
- Nofollowed links — 8,151
- Percent of nofollowed links — 67 percent
- Top 3 positions — 91
- 4-10 positions — 250
- 11-50 positions — 3,706
From January 2017 to July 2017, where most of the efforts were put to use, the total number of sessions grew from 11, 573 to 17,119 — 67 percent; organic traffic increased by 69 percent and referral traffic by a staggering 340 percent.
The screenshots below demonstrate the dynamics:
Within this period, 90 percent of all marketing activities pretty much concerned content and nofollow links, and the client’s site still enjoyed a considerable increase in organic search visibility (the top 3 positions ticked up by 28) and traffic (though there were several dips in organic traffic).
I’m not the only one who believes that nofollow links have value, as long as you are building them the right way.
Fractl shared two case studies showing the awesome power of nofollow links.
And this Moz post makes another great argument for the power of nofollow links.
As SEO professionals, we strive to drive as much link equity to our websites as possible.
However, we do not live in a perfect world. Some of our links get nofollowed. But as this post shows, this isn’t the end of the world.
Nofollowed links have many virtues. They:
- Increase awareness.
- Build trust.
- Drive an audience to your website.
Moreover, every nofollow link proves that your site and your content are up to snuff. Otherwise, nobody would place links to your site.
So next time you see a nofollowed link to your site, don’t complain or get frustrated.
Even if nofollow links don’t directly help your SEO, they are still a valuable engagement and conversion tool.
Just make the most of every nofollow link, and you will make a difference in traffic and ranking, one way or another.
by Sergey Grybniak
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