What You Need To Know About Rel Nofollow Links

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What Is Nofollow - When and where should publishers use it?

What Is Rel Nofollow?

Adding the html attribute rel=”nofollow” to a link effectively stops a link becoming a vote for another page, as far as Google and some other search engines are concerned.. This means the link does not count as a vote or recommendation nor does it pass page rank nor does it pass topical relevance.

For instance, most blog comments, user generated or automated links on social media profiles, forums, sites like Squidoo, Youtube and the higher quality directories are nofollow links in 2013/14, because manipulative user generated links can reduce reputation or ‘linking equity’, and perhaps, the overall trust Google has in your site. I go into all that below.

Losing trust, as far as Google is concerned, is a very bad thing.

Using the html attribute on an external (outbound) link tells Google you don’t vouch for this other web page enough to help it’s search rankings. If you are worried about who you link to (typically called backlinks), and in some cases, you should be, using the attribute ‘insulates’ you against loss of reputation, if that other site is involving you in it’s link scheme.

Google Advice on Paid Links and ADVERTORIALS

Google  wants all non editorial links like PAID ADVERTISING LINKS, ADVERTORIALS, AFFILIATE LINKS and NATIVE ADVERTISING marked up with the attribute relnofollow, to separate these links from freely given, editorially approved backlinks – the type of links Google claim to reward, and discuss in this video from Google:


<a href="http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/" rel="nofollow">Hobo</a>


RelNoFollow is an elemental microformat, one of several microformat open standards. By adding rel="nofollow" to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink should not be afforded any additional weight or ranking by user agents which perform link analysis upon web pages (e.g. search engines). Typical use cases include links created by 3rd party commenters on blogs, or links the author wishes to point to, but avoid endorsing.


Like it or loathe it – the attribute is here to stay, and seo professionals are beginning to come round to the fact that paid links without the attribute can be VERY RISKY in 2013. Of course, with the attribute, paid links do not have anywhere near the same benefit when it comes to better search engine rankings for your own site.

There are a lot of people who argue about the attribute, when to use it, where to use it, if it can be used to sculpt link equity, how it affects Google PR and even exactly how Google sees a nofollowed link. There’s been observations and arguments ad nauseum that nofollow links pass PR and that you cannot sculpt page rank because you cannot see it, or that Google’s advice, like in most cases, is misleading or inaccurate. As usual, there’s valid arguments on both sides when it comes to Google.

I think nofollow is as Google says – effectively a non-link when it comes to ranking your site. In simple terms, you can think on links with rel=nofollow to not having any great weight towards your search rankings, and equally, to not put your website at risk (and that includes when dealing with a disavow file list and reconsideration request).

Relnofollow can be a ‘complicated’ construct, depending on who you are listening to.

User Generated Forum & Blog Comment Links 

If you have a commenting system (like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress) that allows for search engine friendly links (commonly called dofollow links) from your blog or site, you will probably, eventually be the target of lots of spam, be complicated in tiered link schemes and potentially fall foul of Google’s guidelines on using the attribute in certain situations.

“Nofollow” provides a way for webmasters to tell search engines “Don’t follow links on this page” or “Don’t follow this specific link.”

How does Google handle nofollowed links?

We are told Google ignores links with the attribute on them, which allows you to link to a site and not share your website reputation with the recipient of your link. On the whole – this seems to the case.

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. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Also, it’s important to note that other search engines may handle nofollow in slightly different ways.

What are Google’s policies and some specific examples of nofollow usage?

Google presents us with some cases when to consider using the attribute on OUTBOUND links:

  • Untrusted content: If you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of pages you link to from your site — for example, untrusted user comments or guestbook entries — you should nofollow those links. This can discourage spammers from targeting your site, and will help keep your site from inadvertently passing PageRank to bad neighborhoods on the web. In particular, comment spammers may decide not to target a specific content management system or blog service if they can see that untrusted links in that service are nofollowed. If you want to recognize and reward trustworthy contributors, you could decide to automatically or manually remove the nofollow attribute on links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.
  • Paid links: A site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. In order to prevent paid links from influencing search results and negatively impacting users, we urge webmasters use nofollow on such links. Search engine guidelines require machine-readable disclosure of paid links in the same way that consumers online and offline appreciate disclosure of paid relationships (for example, a full-page newspaper ad may be headed by the word “Advertisement”).

Google is serious about this stuff. If you let your website become a free for all links farm – a link scheme –  Google will not trust the links from your website (at least). You need to decide if you care about such things, but as I said at the outset of this article, TRUST is very important if thinking about SEO.

Should I use the attribute on internal links?

Google eventually offered seo advice concerning internal Pagerank sculpting with relnofollow:

I long considered Google Pagerank, and the, some great, PageRank Sculpting discussions around the net, to be akin to an idea of wealth and cashflow – i.e. should you save what little money you have, cut out the unnecessary expenditure and spread it about to make ends meet, or do you go out and get yourself a better job with more cash? – DaveN touched on the subject of scultping with Matt Cutts recently and Matt offered up a better and clearer analogy.

Nofollowing your internals can affect your ranking in Google, but it’s a 2nd order effect. My analogy is: suppose you’ve got$100. Would you rather work on getting $300, or would you spend your time planning how to spend your $100 more wisely. Spending the $100 more wisely is a matter of good site architecture (and nofollowing/sculpting PageRank if you want). But most people would benefit more from looking at how to get to the $300 level.

Questions arise if you start thinking about it too much:

  1. Should you nofollow unimportant internal pages or nofollow external links in an effort to consolidate the Pagerank you have already accrued?
  2. Or should you spend your time getting other quality links pointing to your site to increase the PR you have to start off with (how you get Pagerank).

The long term best impact strategy here is simply to earn more Pagerank, or you’ll find it a slow rise above the core issues of your current predicament, whatever that may be, and I think the same can be said of the question of maximising page strength by PR sculpting.

In truth you need to do both, maximise what page strength you have by whatever method you use to manipulate PR and on-site relevance, and linkbuild to add conviction to your attempt at making a particular page relevant and give it a shot at those first page rankings. As far as Pagerank goes, this practice is pretty much pointless.

You can certainly control PR on a granular level (page by page in this case) – that is, which page gets available real  Google PR. It’s easy to follow, that some seo professionals think, if that’s the case, you can sculpt Pagerank, and channel page rank to important pages in a site.

For instance – adding the attribute to your contact page, or disclaimer, or privacy policy.

Should I use rel=”nofollow” on internal links to a login page?

Paraphrasing Google:

  1. Yes, it’s ok to do this
  2. Yes, it can have a ‘second order effect’ (cryptic as usual)

Clarification From Matt Cutts in 2009

Google’s Matt Cutts attempted to clarify PR Sculpting using Nofollow after the hullabaloo surrounding his comments at a SEO conference.

I’d long fell out of love with PR sculpting internal pages using the attribute as the results were not worth it for me on the sites I worked on (some are quite large) –  a few years back I posted this about PR sculpting:

I’ve been playing about with rel=’nofollow’ on this site for 4 months, and in all honesty, in future, I won’t be relying on nofollow to sculpt unimportant pages out of any possible link graph, just optimising those pages better, or leaving them out altogether, like I used to do in 1999. It can be a useful tool in a site redevelopment, but from here on in, I’ll be keeping nofollow for bad neighbourhoods and, pending further testing, on top level blog pages..

In June 2008 I also posted this about Nofollow and PR Sculpting:

I tested it, and as far as I am concerned, on a 300 page site at least, any visible benefit is microscopic.

In my limited tests ( I wasn’t using black hat or brute force methods) Matt Cutts was telling the truth – it’s very much a second order effect, if not less.

Sometimes I wonder if people even ever needed to hear about Google PR nevermind the “science” of PR sculpting in the first place.

Anybody who reads this blog knows I test things for myself because frankly I’m just like everybody else – I don’t know the lot, nobody does, but if you’re relying on here-say and other people’s unpublished experiments without testing yourself, you’re always going to be in the dark.

In theory PR sculpting sounds cool, in practice, it is very disappointing. Some people think it works, and perhaps on their sites it might – who knows. I remember one SEO saying at the turn of a year it worked and showing the benefits of it in terms of Google traffic. I checked my sites over the same time and recognised a slight increase in Google traffic over the same period – without any sculpting. But you never know, do you?

What do you think?

Hard Core SEO go here

Page Rank Sculpting Discussions Around The Net

Joost de Valk has a terrific article on PR Sculpting, as does Dan Thies on using links with the attribute to sculpt pagerank, and the Mad Hat pitches in on the FUD of Nofollow being a red-flag if you’re trying to maximise the visibility of page in Google. Michael Martinez has an interesting take too.

I’ve used the attribute on internal links to sculpt and concentrate internal PR and from what I’ve seen the results *might* be promising, though very minimal, and not a long term substitute for an intelligent site architecture to begin with and certainly no seo magic bullet, although you have to be careful.

I should point out I never use rel=”nofollow” to prevent the indexing of a page – merely to control which pages any particular page shares it’s link equity with, if you are Googlebot anyway.

It *appears* that the first link you nofollow on a page *might* also nofollow any other link to the same url on that page, although nofollowing the home page link high up in code (when you have another link to the home lower on the page) seems to be treated differently by Google, Yahoo and MSN. I wonder if a ‘Contact’ page is too?

Do Not Rel Nofollow EVERY Outbound Link On Your Site

How does Google treat sites where all external links are no-follow? Matt Cutts posted this video:

And he’s right. One of my clients was linking out to real and trusted sites from pages on his site and added rel=nofollow to the links because he thought this was helping his site. This is unnecessary.

There’s no reason to put the attribute on editorially approved links.

in my experience, if you write a blog post and use the attribute on all links on your blog for no other reason that to conserve Pagerank, or even think linking out to irrelevant sites will hurt your site, you’re misinformed at best.

Google doesn’t penalise you for linking to irrelevant sites if both pages in question are relevant to each other.

Use nofollow only if you don’t want to vouch for the page you’re linking to, for fear of losing reputation. I often surmise Google might be taking in the quality or accuracy of your outbound links in some minor way to measure the strength of your trust, so don’t miss out because you are effectively not linking to anybody.

Also consider, the link you make might be the link that helps another REAL site get traffic from Google and satisfy Google’s users – that’s not a bad thing for anybody.

I have little reason for the attribute these days outside of user generated comments and affiliate links. I don’t use it to sculpt pagerank, and I don’t use it in any arena where editorial moderation is in play.

I only use it for sites that don’t deserve the link to be search engine friendly and in 99% of the cases if I don’t have any reason to trust a site, I won’t make the link a link at all.

Pet hate – web sites where every outbound link is nofollowed.

Can Nofollow Links Pointing TO My site Hurt MY SITE?

Should I add rel=”nofollow” to links that are included with my widget?

Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I edit this post every year or so with the latest information….

NOTE – You do not need to employ the attribute to mark all links on a page as ‘untrusted’. You can also use robots meta tags or X-Robots-Tag HTTP header to control how Google treats ALL the links on a page. You can still block actual pages using robotstxt (or xrobots or meta tags) or block outbound links via redirect scripts if you are worried about losing trust and reputation in Google.

If you have paid links on your site – I’d be careful in 2015.

More Reading – Search Engine Land.

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