Follow vs No Follow Links: What You Should Know

If you’re new to link building and technical SEO, you may have heard a lot about nofollow vs follow link attributes and how they can be used.

Since 2005, the nofollow attribute has been used to keep spammers at bay, and give SEOs the chance to clean up their website’s backlink profile. But since then, how they should be used and how they’re perceived by Google has changed. A lot.

In our latest blog, we explain the difference between follow vs no follow links, when you should use no follows, and how they affect your SEO.

What is a follow link?

A follow link is any link as normal from your website, also known as a backlink. 

When another website links to yours with a standard link, it can directly affect your search engine rankings. The more credibility the linking site has, the more credibility is delivered with a backlink.

Backlinks are how search engine bots crawl the web, registering who is linking to who. This interlinking passes “link juice” from one site to another, telling search engines which websites have the most credibility from their peers.

For example, say an authoritative site with high PageRank links to you. Google will then see your site as more reputable and may increase your PageRank. This can improve your ranking in the search engine results, meaning more traffic, not just from the backlink, but from search engine users, as well.

(Learn about link building and why it’s important here.) 

What is a nofollow link?

A nofollow link is a backlink with a rel= “nofollow” tag. Adding this tag means that the links don’t influence search engine rankings, and Google doesn’t crawl them.

Nofollow tags tell Google “don’t count this” or “I don’t vouch for this link”. This is used to protect your backlink profile and prevent potentially spammy practices, such as stuffing comments sections with links, link schemes, and even things like adding your link to irrelevant Wikipedia pages. 

With the introduction of the nofollow tag, these practices haven’t stopped, but they have decreased substantially.

How do you check if a link is a nofollow?

Nofollow and followed links look the exact same to your web users, the difference is only clear when you look into the HTML code.

For example, a follow link would look like this:

<a href=”https://www.tecmark.co.uk“>Tecmark</a>

While nofollow links appear like this: 

<a href=”https://www.tecmark.co.uk” rel=”nofollow”>Tecmark</a>

As you can see, the HTML is identical except for the addition of the rel=”nofollow” tag.

You can “nofollow” all links on a webpage at once by putting a robots meta tag with the value “nofollow” in the header. However, the link-specific nofollow tag is more common, as it allows you to nofollow only some links on a page and leave the rest followed.

Are nofollow links worth it?

While a nofollow tag means a Googlebot won’t crawl that link, it doesn’t mean that the page can’t still be found by Google, for example by a followed link from somewhere else.

In the past, SEOs would use nofollow links to sculpt their PageRank, following only the most authoritative links and cutting ties to those that they didn’t want to be counted, in order to manipulate how PageRank flowed through their site.

As of March 2020, Google announced that nofollow tags would be used as a hint rather than a directive, meaning they would make their own decisions about whether to trust a website or not. 

Essentially, a site with 9 follow links and 1 nofollow link has 10 backlinks in Google’s eyes.

While trying to manipulate your PageRank with nofollow tags might seem tempting, with the changes to how Google interprets them, it’s just not worth it. A much better practice is just to focus on creating link-worthy content and linking to only the most relevant sources.

What types of links should be nofollow?

While nofollow links are less important than they used to be, there are cases where it’s necessary to include them for a natural backlink profile.

For example, advertising, sponsored blog posts, text link ads, and other links that result from paid relationships should use the nofollow sponsored attribute. This helps make it clear to Google that you’re not trying to manipulate PageRank with a link scheme.

If your site is host to user-generated content, such as forums, blogs with comments, a nofollow UGC tag should be added.

Any links from the following types of content are usually nofollow links:

  • Social media
  • Sponsored content
  • Blog comments
  • Forums
  • Press releases
  • Widgets

What’s next?

Once you understand the basics of follow and nofollow links, you’ll be ready to put your knowledge into action.

If you use nofollow links in an unnatural way or use them to try to sculpt PageRank, you’ll want to review your backlink profile. Poor use of the nofollow may lead to consequences for your SEO. It may be useful to review how nofollows are used on you and decide if it’s time to remove them and move to a meta robots noindex.

Google updates its algorithm throughout the year, and they’re constantly making small tweaks that can affect your SEO. If you need help cleaning up your backlink profile, improving your search rankings, or simply need a link building consultant, get in touch with us to see how we can help.

Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter
Lydia Rutter is an SEO Executive at Tecmark who joined us in 2019. She has a degree in Public Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and an MSc in Digital Marketing from the University of Salford. She brings us experience in digital marketing for the medical and healthcare industry, and in agency settings.

We create websites with your customer in mind to help you build your brand and grow your business.

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