SEO Basics: What is a Nofollow Link?

SEO Basics is the eCreative IM blog column written for SEO beginners just learning the basics of search engine optimization. You can find all our SEO Basics articles by browsing the SEO Basics Archive or find the specific tips you’re looking for in our SEO Tips & Guides page.

Nofollow links were introduced back in 2005, originally as a way to combat comment spam on blogs. As anyone with a blog knows, comment spam is alive and well. However since that introduction the purpose of the nofollow link attribute has changed to become a way of identifying paid links and untrustworthy links, and ensuring that your site does not gain SEO benefit from nofollow backlinks.

In short, a Nofollow link tells search engine bots not to follow the link. The link passes on no SEO value — it essentially exists only for people, and not for search engines.

Some of the common places you’ll see nofollow links is in any kind of paid link (if a paid link doesn’t have the rel=nofollow attribute, Google could punish your site) and comments on blogs and forums, where the site doesn’t necessarily trust any link that any random person might post (the idea here being to discourage link spam).

A nofollow link attribute appears in your HTML code as: <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Link</a>  Note that most blog or forum software has user comment links assigned the nofollow attribute by default.

How Google Really Treats a Nofollow Backlink

Despite the fact that the original idea was that search engines would effectively ignore nofollow links, Google’s bot does, in fact, often follow those links and use it to find other pages on the internet.

However, Google has been firm and adamant that those links do not pass on PageRank, do not count as a backlink with any weight, and do not help your SEO in any way. This has been called into question from time to time, especially because nofollow links sometimes do show up in Google’s Webmaster Tools as a backlink. Google’s Matt Cutts was pretty clear on this behavior:

Do not assume just because you see a backlink that it’s carrying weight. I’m going to say that again: Do not assume just because you see a backlink that it’s carrying weight. Sometime in the next year, someone will say “But I saw an insert-link-fad-here backlink show up in Google’s backlink tool, so it must count. Right?” And then I’ll point them back here, where I say do not assume just because you see a backlink that it’s carrying weight.

There has been no truly persuasive scientific evidence that Google is wrong in their statement that nofollow backlinks have no SEO weight. There is some anecdotal evidence that there might be some minor amount of weight to nofollow links, or that it might happen in some circumstances, but no one has demonstrated any reproduceable evidence that nofollow links are at all valuable to SEO.

Nofollow Links and Link Sculpting

At one point after Google first started using the nofollow link attribute SEO professionals started using it internally on sites to control how much PageRank was passed to various links. This benefit was written out of the Google algorithm years ago. You cannot use the nofollow attribute to control how PageRank is passed through links any longer.

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Comments 13

  • I am not sure about nofollow attribute doen not control Google Juice.

  • So it really means that Nofollow doesn’t have a value. I mean might have a value but not that heavy. Anyway there’s a plugin in Firefox that tells you a Dofollow and Nofollow blogs and links.

  • I think that the statement from Matt Cutts should be put into context. Firstly it was made in February 2007 and quite a few things have changed since then. Secondly, nowhere in the whole article does he specifically mention nofollow links so I do not think it can be assumed he is referring to them in particular rather than links in general.

  • I agree, Matt Cutts’ statement should be elaborated upon. Maybe he should try explaining why some no follow links can be seen in Webmaster Tools.

  • Here what Google says about “nofollow” links and I believe it’s true: “In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web.”

  • Hi! It was really interesting to read your article about nofollow links. I am a real beginner at this and stated a website selling office furniture in Australia.
    As I had plenty of time on my side I decided to do the SEO myself. After a few months I have ended up with about a 50/50 split with follow and no follow links. At first I was a bit worried about the nofollow but as soon as my site started to appear in google and rise in the pages I felt this must be a natural mix and reading your article has put my mind at rest.

  • Great article – thanks. Solves that little myth 😉

  • Are Nofollow Links Still Valuable for Page Rank?

  • No, a NoFollow links does not pass any PageRank at all. Testing also shows that they do not pass anchor text.

  • While a no follow link may not provide any SEO advantage, it can provide traffic to your website. If a no follow link is where potential clients may go then it has value. While I would not pay for a no follow link I never turn down a fee plug for my website.

  • Its been interesting over the last couple of years that seo experts have started to implement no-follow links into their strategies, personally i think its about finding the right balance. Personally i use no-follow links and will continue to do so until some one offers any concrete evidence that i shouldnt

  • Great,nice info for nofollow link. thanks

  • Very interesting!

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