QUOTE: “For certain links on your site, you might want to tell Google your relationship with the linked page.” Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2023
If you are a website developer or business owner managing paid links on your website, or Ads, you will need to understand how to apply rel nofollow to links on your website.
Google introduced nofollow links in 2005 to combat web spam. An HTML nofollow link attribute prevents a paid link from influencing Google Pagerank. Google recommends you ‘qualify outbound links’ using the link attribute ‘nofollow’: Use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” for paid links. Use rel=”ugc” or rel=”nofollow” for user-generated content links. Use nofollow on widgets, themes and infographic links. Don’t use nofollow on every external link on your website. Don’t use nofollow on internal links.
This article describes nofollow, what it is, when it was introduced and how to use nofollow to links.
How to use nofollow on paid links
QUOTE: “For purposes of the current Better Ads Standards, an “ad” is promotional content displayed on the web as the result of a commercial transaction with a third party.” Better Ads Standards, 2023
The best practices for paid links are as follows:
- Use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” for paid links
- Use rel=”ugc” or rel=”nofollow” for user generated content links
- Use nofollow on widgets, themes and infographic links
- Avoid using nofollow on every external link on your website
- Avoid using nofollow on internal links
- Link out to useful resources without using nofollow
Example “Nofollow” Link Code
Rel=nofollow is an attribute you add to a hyperlink on a webpage:
<a href="https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/" rel="nofollow">Hobo</a>
Example “Sponsored” Link Code
Rel=sponsored is an attribute you add to a hyperlink on a webpage:
<a href="https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/" rel="sponsored">Hobo</a>
Example “UGC” Link Code
Rel=ugc is an attribute you add to a hyperlink on a webpage:
<a href="https://www.hobo-web.co.uk/" rel="ugc">Hobo</a>
If you use the Google Chrome browser, you can use a free plugin to highlight nofollow links on a page.
History of rel=nofollow
Google says nofollow is now a “hint for us to incorporate for ranking purposes”.
QUOTE: “All the link attributes, sponsored, ugc and nofollow, now work today as hints for us to incorporate for ranking purposes. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020” Google, September 2019
Google added granularity to how they can handle nofollow links and the major announcement is that now rel=nofollow is not a Directive anymore, nofollow is merely a hint:
QUOTE: “(A) Hint. It was a directive until the announcement. It’s a hint now.” Gary Illyes, Google 2019
As recent as 2018, a Googler confirmed:
QUOTE: “Nofollow has not changed. It is still functioning the same since it was implemented.” Nathan Johns, Google (SMX 2018)
The recent official announcement from Google on how they handle rel=”nofollow” markup doesn’t change anything for webmasters implementing the markup to label paid, sponsored, affiliate or user-generated links on their own sites.
QUOTE: “Do I need to change my existing nofollows? No. If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links, or to signify that you don’t vouch for a page you link to, that will continue to be supported. There’s absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.” Google, 2019
Google’s search liaison officer also confirmed:
QUOTE: “You literally don’t have to change anything if you don’t want.” Danny Sullivan, Google 2019
What has changed with nofollow?
Google has added some “granularity” to the nofollow “hint”:
QUOTE: “When nofollow was introduced, it was for marking any link you didn’t want to pass along credit to. Call that use case A. Then it became a way to block sponsored links in compliance with our guidelines. Call that use case B. For over a decade, a single attribute had to do both….To conclude, we think some people might prefer to have granular attributes for particular link cases. We’ve provided these, for those who want that choice. But for those who don’t want the choice, they can carry on using nofollow just as they have before.” Danny Sullivan, Google 2019
QUOTE: “Focus on the other part: nofollow became a hint. Ugc and sponsored are icing on top of that cake, and it’s one of those things where you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. If you want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don’t want to, don’t.” Gary Illyes, Google 2019
So, nofollow was a directive, now it is a hint as far as Google is concerned, but it still operates as before as far as webmasters are concerned.
A Bing spokesperson clarified, too that:
QUOTE: “Historically at @bing, we always treated the nofollow link attribute as a ‘hint’, making our own decision on trusting or not trusting. Please continue using this ‘hint’ and other link functions as sponsored and ugc as appropriate.” Fabrice Canel, Bing 2019
QUOTE: “Rel NoFollow 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.” Microformats.org
For Google, a link from one site to another site is a ‘vote’ for the website that has the link pointing to it (an example of a link that passes Pagerank).
Links help Google rank documents on the web in its SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and as such, have long been abused by link builders.
QUOTE: “Nofollow links definitely don’t pass PageRank. Over the years, I’ve seen a few corner cases where a nofollow link did pass anchortext, normally due to bugs in indexing that we then fixed. The essential thing you need to know is that nofollow links don’t help sites rank higher in Google’s search results.” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
Search engines like Google, ask that you adequately provide machine-readable disclosure and add the ‘Re=Nofollow’ attribute to ANY paid links on your site or any paid links you BUY that point TO your site.
This ensures the link will not count as a vote or recommendation for another page nor will it pass Pagerank nor any other ranking signal.
Failure to add the Rel=Nofollow attribute to paid links places your site in a ‘link scheme‘ and eventually harms the reputation of your site, as far as Google’s algorithms are concerned.
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.
The attribute also effectively ‘insulates’ your website against any loss of ‘reputation’, as Google calls it when you link out from your site. Google classifies paid or otherwise non-disclosed monetised links as’ unnatural links’.
Your website can get a Google penalty or manual action for unnatural links.
When should you use nofollow?
QUOTE: “If money changed hands in order for a link to be placed on a website then it should not flow PageRank, in essence, it shouldn’t affect search engines rankings …. we’ve taken action on this sort of thing you know for years and years and we’re going to keep taking strong action” Matt Cutts, Google 2013
Google would prefer all non-editorial links marked-up with the attribute rel=”sponsored” (or rel=”nofollow)” to prevent these type of links passing Pagerank and influencing SERPs.
QUOTE: “Mark links that are advertisements or paid placements (commonly called paid links) as
sponsored.” Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2020
- paid links
- press releases
- affiliate links and
- native advertising
This is to separate such links from naturally earned backlinks – the type of links Google aims to reward.
The controversial (for SEO) Rel=nofollow attribute has been around since 2005 and is here to stay. Paid links without the attribute are VERY RISKY to search engine rankings for your website. With the attribute, the organic search engine value of paid links is effectively neutralised.
Google says nofollow links are effectively non-links when it comes to influencing your page rankings
In most cases, you can expect links with ‘rel=nofollow’ won’t influence your search rankings in a positive or negative way in the traditional sense.
Nofollow is machine identifiable sponsorship disclosure to Googlebot so Google can deal with paid links appropriately.
Note that when it comes to paid advertising and sponsorship, it is law in many countries you must disclose any paid advertising relationship.
For instance, in the US:
QUOTE: “The FTC is only concerned about endorsements that are made on behalf of a sponsoring advertiser. For example, an endorsement would be covered by the FTC Act if an advertiser – or someone working for an advertiser – pays you or gives you something of value to mention a product. If you receive free products or other perks with the expectation that you’ll promote or discuss the advertiser’s products in your blog, you’re covered. Bloggers who are part of network marketing programs, where they sign up to receive free product samples in exchange for writing about them, also are covered.” FTC
And in the UK:
QUOTE: “Users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content. Also, there are laws in some countries that make disclosure of sponsorship mandatory. A disclosure can appear anywhere in the post; however, the most useful placement is at the top in case users don’t read the entire post.” Google, 2011 (Read more at about the UK advertising standards at iabuk.net)
QUOTE: “Links that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes.” Google
Can you sell links on your website?
QUOTE: “The answer is yes. The fact is what Google cares about is whether a link that you sell flows PageRank and if it doesn’t flow PageRank. If it doesn’t affect search engines it’s none of our business at that point. Now if you are in Europe you might have some various laws that apply to you. If you’re in the United States the Federal Trade Commission wants you to disclose those links. If you have some sort of material connection to an endorser so you might want to think about having human readable disclosure as well like this is a paid link or this is a sold link or something like that but Google’s policy is within search rankings if you’re selling links it’s your obligation to make sure that that link doesn’t affect search engines.” MATT CUTTS, Google
Should you use Nofollow on user-generated content links?
QUOTE: “The best-known use for nofollow is blog comment spam, but the mechanism is completely general. Nofollow is recommended anywhere that links can’t be vouched for. ” Matt Cutts, Google 2006
QUOTE: “We recommend marking user-generated content (UGC) links, such as comments and forum posts, as
ugc. If you want to recognize and reward trustworthy contributors, you might remove this attribute from links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.” Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2020
I was one of those guys spamming comments way back in the day, although I tried to be sensible about it (on the whole). I even let my own blog get spammed for a long time. Sometimes that was me as well!
QUOTE: “If an off-domain link is made by an anonymous or unauthenticated user, I’d use nofollow on that link. Once a user has done a certain number of posts/edits, or has been around for long enough to build up trust, then those nofollows could be removed and the links could be trusted. Anytime you have a user that you’d trust, there’s no need to use nofollow links.” Matt Cutts, Google 2006
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 webmaster guidelines on using the attribute in certain situations.
QUOTE: “”Nofollow” provides a way for Webmasters to tell search engines “Don’t follow links on this page” or “Don’t follow this specific link.“”
So, you can continue to use nofollow or help Google understand relationships better by marking links UGC.
Does Google Crawl Nofollow 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.
QUOTE: “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.” Google
What are some specific examples of nofollow usage?
Google presents us with some cases when to consider using the attribute on OUTBOUND links:
- QUOTE: “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
nofollowattribute on links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.“
- QUOTE: “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
nofollowon 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 may not trust the links from your website (at least) and could take action on your site through algorithmic action or manual action.
You need to decide if you care about such things like Google ‘trusting’ your website or your google seo ranking.
How Do You Find Nofollow On External Links On A Website
Most SEO tools and crawlers do this as standard.
Should you use Nofollow on internal links?
QUOTE: “I’d recommend not using nofollow for kind of PageRank sculpting within a website because it probably doesn’t do what you think it does” John Mueller, Google 2017
This was actually said by Matt Cutts too about 10 years ago (although I often see pages with nofollow on internal links).
QUOTE: “Q: Does this mean “PageRank sculpting” (trying to change how PageRank flows within your site using e.g. nofollow) is a bad idea? A: I wouldn’t recommend it, because it isn’t the most effective way to utilize your PageRank. In general, I would let PageRank flow freely within your site. The notion of “PageRank sculpting” has always been a second- or third-order recommendation for us. I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.“
Pagerank sculpting was a hot topic many years ago, and then changed the way they handled it:
QUOTE: “When we added a help page to our documentation about nofollow, we said “a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs, and so on — is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.” In a recent webmaster video, I said “a better, more effective form of PageRank sculpting is choosing (for example) which things to link to from your home page.” At Google I/O, during a site review session I said it even more explicitly: “My short answer is no. In general, whenever you’re linking around within your site: don’t use nofollow. Just go ahead and link to whatever stuff.” But at SMX Advanced 2009, someone asked the question directly and it seemed like a good opportunity to clarify this point. Again, it’s not something that most site owners need to know or worry about, but I wanted to let the power-SEOs know..” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
Questions arise if you start thinking about it too much – I know I did – before Google changed the way it handled nofollow:
- Should you nofollow unimportant internal pages or nofollow external links in an effort to consolidate the Pagerank you have already accrued?
- 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 Google Pagerank in the first place than PageRank sculpt with rel=nofollow links.
You can certainly control PR on a granular level (page by page in this case) – that is, which page gets available real PR from another page on your site. 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.
I’d long fell out of love with PR sculpting internal pages using the attribute after testing the theory. 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:
QUOTE: “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.” Shaun Anderson, Hobo
In June 2008 I also posted this about Nofollow and PR Sculpting:
QUOTE: “I tested it, and as far as I am concerned, on a 300 page site at least, any visible benefit is microscopic.” Shaun Anderson, Hobo
In theory, PR sculpting sounded cool, but was in practice, very disappointing. Some people think it works, of course, even to this day.
I should point out you do not use rel=”nofollow” to prevent the indexing of a page – merely to control which pages any particular page shares it’s Pagerank.
Google changed the way it flowed PR through nofollowed links ten years ago, making Pagerank sculpting redundant:
QUOTE: “So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Let’s leave aside the decay factor to focus on the core part of the question. Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
When you add ‘rel nofollow’ to internal links you spread less Pagerank around your own site.
QUOTE: “Q: Does this mean “PageRank sculpting” (trying to change how PageRank flows within your site using e.g. nofollow) is a bad idea? A: I wouldn’t recommend it, because it isn’t the most effective way to utilize your PageRank. In general, I would let PageRank flow freely within your site. The notion of “PageRank sculpting” has always been a second- or third-order recommendation for us. I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.“Matt Cutts, Google 2009
QUOTE: “So today at SMX Advanced, sculpting was being discussed, and then Matt Cutts dropped a bomb shell that it no longer works to help flow more PageRank to the unblocked pages. Again — and being really simplistic here — if you have $10 in authority to spend on those ten links, and you block 5 of them, the other 5 aren’t going to get $2 each. They’re still getting $1. It’s just that the other $5 you thought you were saving is now going to waste.” Moz, 2009
So – it is fairly unequivocal. The Pagerank you think you are sculpting around your site is actually “evaporating” (a quote from Matt Cutts at SMX 2009) and you want MORE PageRank in your site not less of it.
However, and here’s where some confusion comes in.
Google does say this in their general guidelines about nofollow:
QUOTE: ” Crawl prioritization: Search engine robots can’t sign in or register as a member on your forum, so there’s no reason to invite Googlebot to follow “register here” or “sign in” links. Using
nofollowon these links enables Googlebot to crawl other pages you’d prefer to see in Google’s index. However, a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs, and so on — is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.“Google Webmaster Guidelines, 2018
However, I very much doubt “crawl prioritisation” is something 99% of Webmasters need to be concerned about at all.
The simple answer is to NOT apply rel=nofollow to ordinary HTML internal links on your website.
There is some recent discussion about Pagerank Sculpting and nofollow at Web Marketing School.
How To Find Rel=Nofollow On Internal Links On Your Website
Most (if not all) SEO tools highlight nofollow links on a site.
Should you use Nofollow on all external links?
QUOTE: “parts of our system encourage links to good sites.” Matt Cutts, Google 2009
How does Google treat sites where all external links are no-follow?
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 than 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 OR if your site is made with “user generated content”.
I proceed thinking that Google might be taking in the quality or accuracy of your outbound links in some minor way to measure your reputation, 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 – websites where every outbound link is nofollow.
Should you apply Nofollow to social media profile links?
QUOTE: “DYK that after 18 years we’re still using* PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking? Gary Illyes from Google – 2018
You want your social media profiles to rank in Google and be associated with your website. The nofollow attribute (we were told) ‘evaporates’ the Pagerank your page has to ‘donate’ to other pages on the web and passes no potentially positive ‘signals’ along to the other page.
Your website derives no benefit from applying nofollow to social media profile links, and if you do apply the rel=nofollow attribute to such links, neither do your social media profiles.
Whatever you do is going to have a minuscule effect on your own website rankings, but linking naturally could help your social media profiles tremendously.
Keep nofollow for paid links, user-generated content and sites you do not trust for some reason.
Can Nofollow links hurt your rankings?
QUOTE: “No, typically nofollow links cannot hurt your site.” Matt Cutts, 2013
Should you add Nofollow to Widgets or Infographics?
QUOTE: “I would recommend putting a nofollow especially on widgets ” Matt Cutts, Google 2013
Should you apply nofollow to widgets?
It is recommended.
NOTE – You can also use robots meta tags or X-Robots-Tag HTTP header to control how Google treats ALL the links on a page if you decide you really need that in certain situations:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 25 May 2018 21:42:43 GMT (…) X-Robots-Tag: googlebot: nofollow (…)
You can also block actual pages using robot txt (or X robots or meta tags) or block outbound links via redirect scripts if you are worried about losing trust and reputation in Google and wish to avoid the nofollow attribute entirely.
Should you apply nofollow to infographics?
QUOTE: “Depending on the scale of the stuff that you’re doing with infographics you might consider putting a rel nofollow on infographic links as well the value of those things might be branding they might be to drive traffic they might be to sort of let people know that your site or your service exists but you know I wouldn’t expect a link from a widget to necessarily carry the same weight as an editorial link” Matt Cutts, Google 2013