Nofollow Backlinks: What's the Point? [Video] | Linkflow
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Nofollow Backlinks: What’s the Point? [Video]

April 12, 2024
Brittney Fred from Linkflow

Most of the time, you’ll hear marketers say they want dofollow links because they pass authority to your site. But, for a healthy and natural backlink profile, you need both dofollow and nofollow links.

If they don’t directly help your search engine rankings…what’s the point, then?

In this article, I’ll demystify that for you.

A nofollow backlink is a type of link that has been tagged with the rel=”nofollow” attribute. The nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore that link when crawling the website. When a site links to yours with a nofollow tag, it won’t improve your search engine performance.

Here’s an example of what a nofollow link looks like in HTML code: 

<a href=”https://www.linkflow.ai/blog” rel=”nofollow”>Linkflow Blog</a>

Just because a link is marked as nofollow doesn’t mean people won’t click on it. As a user, there’s no way to tell the difference between nofollow and dofollow links. It only means the placement website won’t pass any authority or SEO value from their site to yours for that particular link.

Google introduced nofollow links in 2005 to combat spammy websites. Blog comment spam and forum posts, in particular, were often used to manipulate search engine rankings through excessive linking.

A dofollow backlink is a link that doesn’t have the rel=”nofollow” attribute. It is a regular, standard link that passes link juice from the placement website to the linked website.

By default, search engine crawlers read and follow every link. The nofollow attribute specifically tells them not to read one.

Dofollow links sometimes have a `rel=”dofollow”` attribute. Without one, they’re considered dofollow anyway.

In HTML, a dofollow link looks like this:

<a href=”https://www.linkflow.ai/blog”>Linkflow Blog</a>

or…

<a href=”https://www.linkflow.ai/blog” rel=”dofollow”>Linkflow Blog</a>

Search engines use dofollow links as one of the many signals to determine a website’s relevance and authority for specific keywords. The more high-quality dofollow links a site has, the better its chances of ranking higher in search results.

Links that are usually nofollow include:

  • Social media links, such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Paid advertisements and sponsored links/content
  • User-generated content (e.g., comments on blog posts or forums like Quora and Reddit)
  • Links in press releases
  • Affiliate links
  • Blogroll links (links to other websites on a blog’s sidebar)
  • Paid links on business and news sites

Most of the external links you’ll find on sites like Forbes, Inc., Business Insider, and other high-authority publications will also be nofollow. These websites don’t want to endorse the links they include in their articles because they might be low-quality. Still, citing their information adds context and authority to their arguments.

The world of search engine optimization is full of technicalities and questions with no definitive answer. This is one of them.

When we say backlinks are important for SEO, we’re normally talking about dofollow links. Nofollow backlinks don’t pass PageRank (a.k.a. “link authority”).

Here’s what Google has to say about them:

BUT…

Does that mean nofollow links have no impact on SEO?

Here’s what Google says right after:

In GENERAL?!

What a puzzling statement.

The only reason it could be there is to suggest that there are some instances where nofollow links do have some impact on SEO.

For the record, you shouldn’t spend time trying to secure nofollow links (for link building purposes, that is). But, apparently, I’m not the only one the be fascinated and perplexed by Google’s unnecessarily vague statement.

There are several interesting case studies that highlight their potential value for SEO.

In 2019, Ahrefs studied 44, 589 SERPs to understand the correlation between rankings on search engines and certain backlink attributes — one of which was the number of nofollow vs. dofollow links.

Interestingly, the correlation between the total number of backlinks is stronger than that of the number of dofollow backlinks.

Although the study didn’t isolate the two variables (that wasn’t the core purpose of the study), it’s certainly a suggestion that some outbound links from authoritative sites might actually help you.

in 2017, SurveyMonkey’s then-Head-of-SEO, Eli Schwartz, ran a few tests on one of the company’s 404 pages.

The nofollow link (shown above) led to a page that hadn’t been indexed yet. So, in theory, it shouldn’t be considered for Google rankings.

But, when Google crawled the page, it picked up the link. And it indexed the page automatically (though it didn’t carry the anchor text.

Again, I still say you shouldn’t spend time with these. Just don’t be upset if you’re mentioned in a blog post and they give you one. At the very least, they don’t hurt. At best, they help you a little.

Just because they won’t take you to the top of the SERPs doesn’t mean they’re useless. There are indirect benefits of nofollow backlinks that are worth pursuing.

A natural link profile is filled with nofollow links because plenty of sites use them, especially on user-generated content and social media platforms. If your backlink profile is missing nofollow links, it tells Google you’re…

  • paying for links
  • manually building a link profile
  • manipulating PageRank

Having some nofollow links tells Google you earned your backlinks naturally, which is a signal of authority. If it looks unnatural, you could receive a penalty.

Out of our ~900 backlinks, around 18% of them are nofollow.

You might not realize it right away, but a solid nofollow referral can earn you backlinks that search engines will pick up on.

Let’s say I’m writing an article about SEO hacks to get more search traffic. I head to Google for research, and I come across this Forbes article:

It talks about the future of SEO, so I’m sure it’ll have some interesting ways to get more out of the SERPs.

Boom. Ahrefs study on featured snippets.

Ahrefs doesn’t get link equity from the nofollow link, but me noticing it gave me an idea: I can use this stat to add context to my argument about the value of featured snippets!

Forbes didn’t give direct SEO value for that, but other authors will when they cite those same findings from Ahrefs.

Can bring in referral traffic

I mentioned earlier that just because a link is marked as nofollow doesn’t mean people won’t click on it. If a high-traffic website links to your site, even with a nofollow tag, you’re still getting traffic from that source.

Let’s say you’re an ecommerce store that sells cute products for dog/cat lovers, and Buzzfeed includes one of your products in their “33 Cute And Practical Gifts For Cat Owners” article.

It might be a nofollow link, but people will still see it, click it, and potentially buy your product.

Improves brand visibility

Reading an article you or your product is featured in might not lead to a conversion right away. But it’s part of the conversion funnel. The more people read about your brand, the more it’ll be top-of-mind when they’re in the market for something you sell.

If that nofollow link is from a positive comment, it also acts as social proof.

If you’re a small business, even a mention in a high-traffic site with nofollow links can lead to more people knowing about your brand and potentially becoming customers in the future.

There are three ways to tell if a link is dofollow or nofollow.

1. Check the source code.

Your first step is to highlight the link you want to check and click “Inspect.”

This takes you right to the source code.

And what do you know? The link is nofollow.

2. Use a Chrome extension.

The Strike Out Nofollow Links Chrome extension can automatically highlight nofollow links on any webpage you’re browsing.

That way, you can figure out which links are nofollow while you’re reading. It saves you the step of looking at the source code.

3. Use an SEO tool.

Ahrefs, Semrush, etc. will tell you whether a link is dofollow or nofollow (and dozens of other things, like if it’s a link from UGC).

You can do this for an entire site’s link profile at once, so it’s better to go this route.

There are plenty of ways to get more dofollow backlinks. They boil down to two necessities:

  • Content worth linking to
  • Relationships with other website owners

When you write good content, others will cite you in their content. Every time they do, that’s a dofollow link.

As for the relationships with other website owners, you need those because you can’t simply rely on earned links. Everyone else is reaching out to publishers, writing guest posts, and forming mutually beneficial relationships.

You can’t afford to sit this part out.

The good news for you: We’ve already got the infrastructure, expertise, and relationships to make that happen.

Brittney Fred, SEO Analyst
Brittney has been working in SEO and digital marketing for ten years and specializes in content strategy for the B2B SaaS industry. She is based in Denver, CO and absolutely fits the Denverite stereotype. You’re just as likely to find her hiking, snowboarding, or doing yoga as reading sci-fi or playing video games.