Often times you will hear this phrase “Nofollow links” and you will start to wonder what this nofollow link is all about and how it affects search engine optimization of your website? Nofollow links are very important to tell search engines which links you legitimately trust and which links you do not associate much trust with, hence it is important to have a clear idea about what rel=nofollow links mean and how it affects the position of a webpage on search engine result pages.

In this article, we will discuss the impact of nofollow links in SEO and what you should do to ensure you are using nofollow links in a correct way to positively impact the SEO of your website.

What is a NoFollow Link?

Let’s first get the definition of a Nofollow link and understand the differences between a follow link and a nofollow link.

A follow link does not contain any rel=”nofollow” parameter in its code. The general code of a normal link or a normal hyperlink or a “Follow” link is as follows

<a href="http://www.example.com/">Click here</a>

However, a “Nofollow” link does contain the rel=”nofollow” parameter in it’s code. The general code of a “Nofollow” link is as follows

<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.example.com/">Click Here</a>

Let me quickly show you how a rel=”nofollow” link looks like.

Go to the Facebook.com home page (logout from your account if you are already logged in). You should see the homepage of Facebook.com with a login form at the top.

Just before the “Create an account” button, there are some links and one of those links is called “Terms”. That link is a “Nofollow” link

Now, you may wonder how did I figure out that specific link was a “Nofollow” link while others are not.

Visually, you will find no difference between a follow link and a nofollow link, unless you look into the source code of the webpage which contains the link. The Rel=nofollow” parameter is only meant for search engine bots, spiders and not intended for human eyes.

To check whether a link is really nofollow or dofollow, all you have to do is right click the link and click on “inspect” (or sometimes it is also called “Inspect element”)

This will open a small panel in your browser where you can see the source code of the link which you are inspecting. You should see the “Rel=”Nofollow” parameter in the source code of the link, as I have shown in the following example

That said, we should also understand what message the rel-“nofollow” parameter tells search engines.

When you use the rel=”nofollow” parameter on a link, you are telling search engines not to follow the link and arrive at the destination. You are saying, –

Hey, here is a link which points to a random website or maybe an internal page on the website. I have kept this link for humans only and not for search engine bots. So if you are a search engine bot, I am telling you to just ignore this link and go about your business. Do not try to find out where this links heads to, because I am explicitly telling you not to follow this link and see where it heads to.

In another words, Nofollow links are used when you do not want to pass “Value” or “Juice” to a target page. It could be a page on your website or it could be a page on another website or a domain name. That does not matter as much. What matters is that you are telling Google and other search engines not to “Follow” this link and hence restricting search bots from passing value from your page to the target page.

When Should You Use Nofollow Links in your Website or Blog?

Now the next obvious question that comes up is when you should be using “Nofollow” links on your website or blog?

In general, you should only use “Nofollow” links when you are linking to a website which you do not trust that much and hence do not want to lose credibility in the eyes of search engines. If you must link to a site which appears to be low quality or spammy in nature and you have doubts whether this website will remain online and provide a good user experience, in those cases you should use the “Rel=”nofollow” attribute.

Similarly, if you have a page on your website which does not have enough value and you have to link to this target page from the homepage of your site or other important pages. If you link to that relatively low value page from the home page of your website or from other important pages, it is possible that the low value page will drain some “value” from the otherwise important and valuable pages on your website. And you want to prevent that. In those cases, it makes sense to use “Rel=”nofollow” for internal links.

A common example as we have seen above is website owners using nofollow links to link to the “Privacy policy”, “Terms” and other not so important pages of the website. If every page on your website must link to a “Terms of agreement” page which has relatively no significant value and you want to prevent the passage of value from one page to the otherwise not so important page, you use the “rel=nofollow” attribute on a hyperlink.

Again, another example is when you are linking to a sponsored website who has paid you money to write a review about their product on your blog. You have received the money from the advertiser and therefore, you are compelled to link to their website. That is all right. But you are not compelled to pass “Value” through the link that you post on your website. Hence, in case of “Sponsored links”, you should use the “Rel=”nofollow” attribute telling search engines no to pass any “Value” from your webpage or website to the Advertiser’s website.

Another neat example is using Nofollow attribute in “Affiliate links”.

If your website has lots of outgoing links to affiliate merchant sites, it makes sense to use the “Nofollow” attribute in affiliate links and prevent passing any value to the affiliate merchant websites.

In short, you should only use “Nofollow” attribute in a link when you do not want to pass any “Value” to the target page from your website or webpage. In other words, when you are not sure about the authority of the target site and do not want to disturb your own reputation in the eyes of search engines.

Typical scenarios when you should use “Nofollow” attribute in a hyperlink

  • Sponsored links or links which have been paid for by advertisers on your website.
  • Affiliate links
  • Links used in the comment form of your website or portal or forum posts by random users.
  • Links created by User generated content should be nofollow in nature.
  • Widget links or Links that are automatically created by the content management system or your website hosting provider or whoever who controls the design and other aspects of the website should be “Nofollow”.
  • If you have a page on your website which links to a website that you do not trust but you have to keep the link for some reason, in that case it makes complete sense to nofollow that link to tell search engines just to ignore that link and not pass any value to it from your own website.

Common Questions related to Nofollow links

Nofollow is a highly debatable as well as confusing subject among bloggers and webmasters.

Different people have different opinion when to use nofollow links and when not to use nofollow links. There can be hundreds of thousands of scenarios and depending on how your website is structured and what your objectives are, the usage of nofollow links will vary. At some point in time, you will have to use your own judgement and decide whether it makes sense to nofollow a link or whether it makes sense to keep it as it is, without having to worry about how search engines will interpret it or whether this link will harm the SEO of your website if you do not nofollow it.

That said, I have put together a list of frequently asked questions with respect to nofollow links so this will clear the air and give you a clear idea on the usage and impact of nofollow links on your website.

  1. Shall I use the “Nofollow” element on every External link on my website?

    No, Certainly not. And if you do that, it would not pass the right message to search engines. It’s like saying – I trust noone in this planet and the usual reaction will be – Nobody trusts you either.You should not use the “Nofollow” element in each and every “External link” on your website or blog. That is completely wrong and will get you intro huge trouble for sure.

  2. Shall I request others to use “Nofollow incoming links to my website?

    No, certainly not. There is no need to request other people to use the nofollow attribute to link to your website or blog. Let them decide what they want to use. If they do not want to use the “rel=nofollow” link on your website, it is good for you because the more “Follow” links your website has, the better it is for Search engines to crawl your website and index the content. It is also a good signal to search engines that your website has trust and authority from other sites on the web.

  3. Can Incoming Nofollow links harm my website?
    No, they cannot.If someone links to your website using the “Nofollow” attribute, it does not mean that it is bad for your website’s SEO. It is perfectly normal for people to use the “Nofollow” attribute in their links and it is simply a choice they are making. However, if each and every link pointing to your website is “Nofollow” in nature, then it might become a problem because that is not natural.If each and every site that links to you uses the “Rel=nofollow” attribute, then it is a strong signal to search engines that maybe nobody trusts your website and hence they do not want search engines to follow their links and discover your website.
  4. Can I occasionally change the “Rel” parameter of a link to nofollow and see how it affects the page’s performance?

    No you should not do that. You should not tinker through the rel parameter of links and see whether it helps you achieve some ranking boost in search engine result pages. The reality is that tinkering the rel attribute of a link again and again will send a wrong message to search engines and it won’t help you in the longer haul.

  5. How to know which Internal links of a website should be “Nofollow”?

    If it is an internal link within your website, you are best not to use the “Nofollow” link because you want Google and other search engines to “Follow” that link and “flow the pagerank” and search juice homogeneously across your website. However, if you really really want to nofollow specific internal links on your website, you are free to do that. It won’t really hurt your website in any way unless you go overboard and start “Nofollowing” each and every internal link on your website, which would be a decisive mistake.In the following video, Ex Googler Matt Cutts clearly explains there is no need to use the “Nofollow” attribute on internal links of a website unless the page in question is “really useless”

    Typically, internal links are best kept dofollow and there is no serious reason why you need to individually mark certain links as nofollow.

  6. Why should links in comment forms be nofollow in nature?

    The links in comment forms should be nofollow because that is where spammers try to game the system and they post signature links into your website trying to win a link for free thinking it will help them achieve a ranking boost. Hence, links in comment forms, forum posts or anywhere on the site which contains user generated content should be made “Nofollow”.

Here is another very informative video on using “Rel=nofollow” for external links.

Wrapping up, if there are links whom you do not trust, if there are links whom you do not want to endorse you should use “Nofollow” and stop the flow of page rank from your website to a target website. Otherwise, just leave it as it is, it won’t make huge difference. What will make a huge difference is when you try to game the system and try to tinker through the rel parameter of links to see if it is going to give you a ranking boost or some other SEO benefit.

Be Sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.