How NoFollow Links Help Your Website's SEO

Posted by Rob Campbell on January 30th, 2016

Link builders commonly get asked about the value of No Follow links especially when they appear in their back link reports to clients. “Why did we spend money making these trifles?” the ecommerce businessman asks. Well, as the person who probably created the media in which the link appears, let me use this blog post to answer these common questions: What are No-Follow links? and Why are they valuable assets to your website’s link profile?

What are NoFollow Links?

relationship equals nofollowNofollow is an HTML attribute value used to instruct search engines bots that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results. This concept was introduced by Matt Cutts and Jason Shellen in the year 2005.

I remember the first time I encountered the concept of ‘nofollow’ links. I was hosting a link building workshop at WordCamp 2008 in Toronto, publicly extolling the idea of putting links in descriptions under pictures in photo hosting sites. I often host pictures in public places and then embed them in my blogs an alternative to hosting all the pictures on my blog server.  I especially like doing this on Flickr where I can submit the photo into any one of seventy different Groups to which I’m a contributor.

nofollow-lkinks-flickr1But the hyperlinks users leave in Flickr photo descriptions are automatically converted to NoFollow links.

So I was shocked when an audience member asked me if I knew or cared that these were nofollow links. ‘What’s that?’ I’m sure I must have asked. And when he explained their nature to me, it did indeed make a lot of sense. The internet needs these things to qualify good links from comment spam; this is how social networks and photo and video hosting sites are able to preserve their authority while still allowing users to post links to their other sites.  And sure enough, the very next time I was on Flickr, I checked it out. And there, as you can see in the picture on the right, the software automatically adds rel=”nofollow” to every link. Huh?

At first I felt defeated. I saw nofollow links as a new reality that minimized many good link building solutions. And then I got clicking around and realized that almost all links made by users from social media sites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all set to “nofollow”. This crystallized a new class structure in my mind where social media links became second class product, and in many ways equal to Comment Spam.

Get the browser tool. Mozilla Users can get the NoDo Follow browser extension to highlight links in any web page according to their nofollow / dofollow status. DoFollow links glow blue, while NoFollow links glow red.

How and Why are NoFollow Links Valuable to your Website’s Link Profile?

nofollow-pic1It was not correct in 2008 nor is it correct today to equate social media links with comment spam, but we weren’t alone in our discrimination. From 2006 and 2009 most reputable SEO firms didn’t even bother listing nofollow links on the reports they made for clients because they knew they’d be challenged.  But right around 2010, I had an epiphany.  From that point forward we would list them and be proud of them.

The realization that changed everything for me happened when I was touring around on Majestic SEO com, using their free tool to check anchor text percentages in a link profile, a free service offering that’s unique to their site today, when I glimpsed the nofollow / dofollow  ratio pie graph display function which was brand new at the time.

Suddenly I realized that this could also help ‘score’ a site; the two classes of links and their percentages as a ratio could be yet another metric Google could use for determining ‘who cares?’.  The ideal blend would be a mixture of the two.

Yes I still believe that dofollow links bring all the authority and authenticity, but a complete absence of nofollow links is simply not natural. So I realized then that both are necessary to communicate to cache bots that the site has accrued its incoming links naturally, and indeed the content is relevant to all types of users, from all different areas of the web.

Think Beyond the Link – Google Measures Usability at the Site

Without question a big ranking factor in the modern search algorithm is the amount of time users spend on site and how they leave the site. The UX is a big part of the reason why some websites are never displayed on page one of Google. If people visit your site and leave immediately, resulting in your site having a bounce rate greater than 80%, then your domain will quickly shuffle down the rankings as Google doesn’t want to display a property that nobody ever uses or even likes.

Matt Cutts on how NoFollow workOn the other hand, if you have a fantastic website that is very usable with a low bounce rate and or a higher than average conversion rate, then Google will raise the property’s rankings so users can find the site easier and have their search queries satisfied quicker. Therefore it is possible you see to have only nofollow links into a site and still be ranked high on Google simply because a high volume of users flowing to the site (from Twitter, or a link in a viral YouTube video) are actually using the property, reading the content and or buying the products or service available at the destination.  That’s when NoFollow links really work.

For example, Red Flag Deals offers users a nofollow link, and I have energized whole content marketing campaigns there by constantly updating a single discussion forum thread, posting links to each new contest entry for readers to peruse as they were published. When I went back over the traffic reports I noticed that the forum thread had played a significant role in sending traffic to the contest page and the client’s website where the prize was described.

In summary, my team still hosts photos on Flickr, and we add links in the image descriptions to send traffic to client’s blogs and other sites that share more of the story in the picture. We still put good conversation ideas on discussion forums like CanadianContent, Rabble and Reddit, all of which are nofollow links. And finally we use social media to promote our best content all over the web, and so here at Surround we’re using Matt’s NoFollow links every day and feeling good about them.