Written by Chris Hinchly, SEO Specialist
Link building is a fundamental element of SEO. As a webmaster or digital marketer, you want as many sites as possible linking to your platform. Of course, they have to be quality links to make a difference in search engine rankings. The simplest way to understand the role that links play is to think of them as votes.
When a website links back to your site it serves as an endorsement, which is one aspect that search engines look at when ranking pages. However, not every link will work the same when it comes to SEO.
Nofollow links are some that raise mixed feelings among webmasters with a majority of them avoiding these types of links at all costs. How do nofollow links impact your website ranking, though?
What Are Nofollow Links
Before analysing whether nofollow links have a positive or negative effect on your platform, it helps to have an idea of what they are. A nofollow link is one that doesn’t count towards PageRank calculations. Backlinks contribute toward search engine rankings because they vouch for a particular platform but a nofollow link is the opposite.
It contains a ‘no-follow’ value attached to the rel attribute that is rel=“nofollow.” This value is like telling a search engine crawler not to follow that specific link. However, the link is still viable, and a website visitor can click on it. When you look at nofollow links from this perspective, it may seem like they are a bad influence on your SERP rankings, but there is another way to look at things.
The Origin of Nofollow Links
When Google began using links as part of the ranking criteria in search results, people started misusing them. Webmasters and digital marketers included any type of links to trick search engines into improving where they appear on SERPs. Spam comments were particularly common ways for website owners to do this.
What happened was that spammers would find a platform with an unmoderated comment section and post poor-quality links in their comments. The lack of moderation means that the comment goes live almost immediately. The Head of Spam at Google during this period, Matt Cutts, and the developer of Blogger, Jason Shellen, devised a way to eliminate these kinds of links in 2005.
It is how the nofollow attribute came to be. Advertisers were advised to mark their paid content with the attribute so that search engines could not follow them. Many reputable websites like Forbes and Huffington Post add the nofollow attribute to avoid paid links from affecting the authority of the platform.
Inspecting an element can tell you if a site is tagged with the nofollow or dofollow attribute. Nofollow links have become a default addition to the blog comment section.
The Impact of Nofollow Links
The debate of whether nofollow links affect SEO ranking indirectly has been ongoing for as long as the element was introduced. However, among link builders that debate is pretty much settled. Research from Authority Hacker shows that almost 90% of link builders surveyed think that links do play a part in search rankings.
The fact is that these links do play a part in search rankings as even though a nofollow link indicates that a search engine should not follow it, users still can.
Part of the goal of a link-building strategy is to have more people directed to your website. Regardless of whether your links have the ‘nofollow’ attribute attached to them, they still attract attention. And with more attention, there is an increased likelihood of more people naturally linking to your site.
Authority is another reason some webmasters don’t mind having nofollow links. Domain and page authority have become critical measures of a site’s trustworthiness. When evaluating these metrics, even the links with nofollow value count. Website visitors are not likely to focus on which of your links are dofollow or nofollow. Content is what matters the most. As long as those links offer relevance and quality, then they can help improve the domain authority of your platform and consequently, it’s ranking on search results.
Webmasters are known to use backlinks only for the sake of SEO, which is against Google’s guidelines. A site that has too many dofollow links is bound to raise suspicion. Blending nofollow and dofollow links show that a website is not trying to fool the system into ranking it higher on search results.
How to Get the Most Value from Nofollow Links
Now that you grasp what nofollow links mean for your website, how can you leverage them for the best search rankings?
Firstly, don’t focus too much on the anchor text. Regardless of how nofollow links impact the ranking of a site, the anchor text doesn’t play any role. Rather than worry too much about using keywords to anchor your links, focus on the quality. Give readers reasons to click on a link.
Links to social networks are nofollowed, and that is one reason some website owners don’t consider them as valuable to SEO. However, they have been some studies that indicate a relationship between social media pages and search rankings. Linking to social media pages can lure more users to a site, and that expands your reach.
Another approach that website owners can try is to structure links to target influencers. If a nofollow link is to have a positive impact on your SEO, it must attract trusted platforms. Influencers are great sources of traffic. Superior quality content is one way to catch the attention of high-authority users like thought leaders. Influencers can be hard to impress though, so a website owner needs the right tactics. Provide them with comprehensive and new information that makes them want to stop and pay attention.
Nofollow links have had a bad reputation that makes them undesirable to webmasters and digital marketers. However, continued research shows that links with nofollow value are not entirely useless when it comes to influencing search engine rankings.
Nofollow links may not provide the same ‘link equity’ as followed links, but with the right strategies, they can help a website rank better on SERPs.