Nofollow vs. dofollow links

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What is a nofollow link?

A nofollow link is a link that contains a rel=”nofollow” attribute in its HTML code. This attribute tells search engines not to pass authority from the linking page to the destination page. As such, noffollow links have very little value from the SEO point of view.

The nofollow attribute was introduced in 2005 by Google, Yahoo and MSN in order to fight the comment spam by giving webmasters the option to devalue certain links.

Nofollow vs. dofollow

From the technical point of view, the only difference between a nofollow link and a standard “dofollow” link is the presence of the rel=”nofollow” tag.

what is a nofollow link

The practical difference is that nofollow links do not pass the link equity (also known as “link juice”).

In other words, if you get a nofollow backlink, the linking page doesn’t pass the authority to your page. It won’t improve your rankings and transfer any PageRank.

What is a dofollow link?

The term “dofollow link” is used to describe a link that passes the authority as opposed to one that doesn’t.

Technically, it is not a correct name because there is no such thing as rel=”dofollow” attribute. Some SEOs are quite strict about this.

So keep that it mind when using the term.

Other link attributes

In 2019, Google introduced two new attributes that do not pass authority. They work as additional ways to identify the nature of some links:

  • rel=”sponsored” for sponsored, affiliate or paid links
  • rel=”ugc” for user-generated links like comments or forum posts

You don’t have to change your existing nofollow links. The rel=”nofollow” attribute still works as a catchall for all the links that do not pass authority. Moreover, you can combine more values in one attribute, for example: rel=”ugc nofollow”

For more information on this topic, read this great guide by Cyrus Shepard.

When should I use nofollow links?

1. Pages you don’t want to endorse

Sometimes you simply need to link to websites that you don’t want to endorse.

For example, here’s an article by the Variety Magazine reporting on Pornhub releasing a non-adult film. Although all the links in that article are followed, they decided to use a nofollow attribute when linking to PornHub’s annual review.

nofollow link variety

They simply don’t want to tell Google that they endorse a porn website.

You’ll use the rel=”nofollow” in this case.

2. Sponsored links

Buying links is an activity that is strictly prohibited by Google’s guidelines.

So you don’t want to be caught by Google on the receiving end of the link, but neither should you be obviously selling links on your website.

The only way is to use a nofollow attribute on all the sponsored links, more precisely rel=”sponsored” (rel=”nofollow” will work the same way, or you can combine both values like rel=”sponsored nofollow”).

3. Affiliate links

This is very similar to the previous point. Although affiliate links are not “sponsored links” per se, it is best practice to nofollow them.

John Mueller from Google said the best practice is to use rel=”sponsored” for affiliate links:

4. User-generated content

Any time a visitor is able to insert a link on your website (in most cases it’s the comments or forum posts) it should be automatically nofollowed.

There’s a special attribute for this case: rel=”ugc”

PageRank sculpting

In the past, there was this method called “PageRank sculpting”.

The idea was that if you nofollow certain links, you’ll “redirect” more PageRank to the pages you link to with standard followed links.

And it worked. Until 2009, when Google changed the way PageRank is distributed:

pagerank distribution before and now

So remember, nofollow links are designed to be used only in some specific cases. We listed most of them above.

Nofollowing all the links on your website by default is not a solution and it can actually do more harm than good.

Do nofollow links have any SEO value?

There’s always been a lively debate about the possible impact of nofollow links on rankings.

Has a nofollow link from a relevant Forbes article really the same SEO value as a nofollow link from a spammy comment on a random website?

We don’t know. But even if nofollow links pass no link equity at all, there are other indirect benefits they bring.

1) They may serve as a hint for Google

When Google introduced new attributes in 2019, they also announced that they will start treating nofollow links as hints:

“When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search.”

What does it mean?

Well, nobody knows exactly. One of the possible interpretations is that Google may decide to “ignore” the nofollow attribute in some cases. It may be for the ranking purposes or just for crawling and indexing.

But more probably, they’ll just use them internally to help them improve their understanding of links and the content of the linked pages. After all, their official statement is that these hints will be used as “a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links”.

2) They can bring you traffic

Remember the example with a nofollow link from a relevant Forbes article and a nofollow link from a spammy comment?

Even if there was no difference from the “PageRank” point of view, there’s definitely a difference in the traffic potential these two links have.

Even if there’s no SEO benefit, a well-placed nofollow link from a relevant website with many visitors can bring you a lot of valuable traffic. And SEO is all about getting more traffic.

3) They diversify your link profile

A natural link profile will always consist of both dofollow and nofollow backlinks. Having only dofollow links or too many dofollow links can look unnatural.

It doesn’t mean you must actively look for nofollow backlinks or stress about the dofollow/nofollow ratio (unless you actively build links at scale). There’s no ideal number and never was.

Anyway, having nofollow backlinks is normal and doesn’t hurt you in any way.

Tip: You can check your DF/NF ratio in SiteProfiler. Just enter the domain and scroll to the “Backlinks” section.

You’ll get many other useful insights about your link profile and you can benchmark them with your competitors.

dofollow nofollow ratio siteprofiler

How to find out whether the link is nofollow?

There are various ways to do check whether a link is nofollow or follow:

  1. Check the HTML code
  2. Us an extension
  3. Use backlink analysis tools

1. Check the HTML code (great for single links)

If you know where the backlink is placed, the easiest way is to take a look at the HTML code of the referring website:

All you need to do is to right-click on the link and select “Inspect” or “Inspect element” (it can differ depending on the browser) or press “Ctrl+Shift+I” in Chrome:

nofollow chrome inspect

Second, check the code. If you don’t find the rel=”nofollow” tag, you have a standard followed link. If the link is nofollowed, it will look something like this:

nofollow attribute in the code

2. SEO extensions (great for outbound links)

Various browser extensions will help you to detect dofollow or nofollow backlinks.

For example, in Mangools SEO extension, you can quickly check the status of all the outbound links from a certain page:

  1. Go to the “On-page SEO” tab
  2. Click on outbound links
nofollow links in Mangools SEO extension

Alternatively, you can just right-click on any page, go to “Mangools SEO” and select “Highlight Nofollow and Dofollow”.

3. Backlink analysis tools (great for inbound links)

If you need to analyze the inbound links (a.k.a. backlinks), you can use a backlink analysis tool such as LinkMiner.

It’s no rocket science, just enter the domain (or a specific URL) and the tool will show you all the backlinks of that domain/page.

linkminer dofollow nofollow backlinks

You can use a quick filter to show only nofollow or dofollow backlinks and there’s an NF or DF label in each backlink row, indicating the attribute of the link.

Is it bad to have nofollow backlinks?

No, it’s not.

Of course, from the SEO point of view, it’s always better to get dofollow links from authoritative websites.

There’s always the option to contact the webmaster and ask whether he could remove the nofollow attribute, especially if there’s no obvious reason to use it.

But don’t worry too much about nofollow backlinks. They’re natural, they may have some additional benefits (as we mentioned above) and as your site grows, you’ll get more and more of them anyway.

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