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Follow Links Vs. No Follow Links: Should You Care?

July 25, 2013
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Those new to SEO might be wondering what all the hullabaloo is about follow links vs. no follow links. Confused? Not to worry, we’re going to clear it all up.

Follow vs. Nofollow

What is a Follow Link?

To really understand what is going on with follow vs. no follow links, we need to provide a bit of background about how most links work in the realm of SEO. When a site page gets an inbound link, which is a hyperlink pointing to that page, the page gets a small SEO boost. Think of a link as a point, and the more links you have, the more points. More Points = Winning, like Charlie Sheen.

Google takes note of these points, watching how many inbound links a page has and from what sites. Google figures, hey, if a lot of people are linking to a certain page, it must be a really good page! Let’s give preference in our search engines to that page over others of a similar topic so we can easily deliver the very best pages to our search engine users.

Google created a metric called PageRank to calculate the link points. Many SEO folks refer to link points as “link juice.” The link juice flows through sites and into new sites through hyperlinks. The more reputable the site, the bigger boost of link juice the linked-to site gets. Getting a link from the New York Times or BBC is pure gold!

Now we can define a follow link – Follow links are links that count as points, pushing SEO link juice and boosting the page rank of the linked-to sites, helping them go higher in the SERPs as a result.

What is a No Follow Link?

A no follow link is a link that does not count as a point in the page’s favor, does not boost PageRank, and doesn’t help a page’s placement in the SERPs. No follow links get no love. Theirs is a sad and lonely life.

A no follow link is created with the nofollow link HTML tag, which looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.website.com/rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>

The nofollow tag is basically a notice sign for search engines saying “don’t count this.”

Isn’t that just mean and terrible? Why would anyone do such a thing? There’s a reason for the nofollow attribute, and boy is it a good one!

A World Without No Follow = Spamalot

As we discussed earlier, the natural do follow form of links is used by Google to measure PageRank. More links means more link juice, which results in higher ranking website pages. In its unadulterated state, PageRank exists to see what pages are the most popular (and therefore, likely the best quality pages), and deliver those top pages to searchers. 

Well, ours is an imperfect world, and, as you might have heard, some self-proclaimed SEO “experts” scheme to trick search engines and inflate their rankings using black-hat, unethical methods, and in the times before the nofollow attribute, link-building was an easy way to artificially boost page rankings.

nofollow seo

Once PageRank was discovered by SEO black-hats, all hell broke lose! Suddenly it was all about the links for SEO. More inbound links meant better PageRank, and SEOs were determined to get as many links possible, even if it meant spamming everyone on the web to get them. Blog comments were a joke, riddled with self-promotional nonsense and linking gibberish.

nofollow links

follow links

Wikipedia got messy too, as people tried to add their own sites as references on hundreds of Wikipedia pages all in the name of the coveted link juice.

The blogging community was worried – these spammers were destroying any chance at fostering real community and authentic discussion on blogs. In 2005, Google, the self-styled web police, stepped in. Google’s Matt Cutts and Jason Shellen of Blogger stepped in to introduce the nofollow attribute.     

NoFollow: The Tag the Internet Needs, But Not the One it Deserves

The necessity of the nofollow tag highlights the crooked and spammy mentality commonly associated with SEO, but there’s no denying we couldn’t get by without it.

nofollow

The no follow link tag has done a lot of good for the online world – most SEO spammers won’t bother posting irrelevant links to blogs or forum posts if they know they won’t get to publish a follow link. WordPress automatically assigns the no follow link attribute to all user-submitted links, and Wikipedia does the same for its reference section.

While blog comment spam still happens, no follow definitely dampened it.

As a webmaster, you might find yourself wondering when to use the no follow attribute and when to allow for do follow links. No follow links primarily belong in:

  • Paid links (it wouldn’t be fair to buy link juice, now would it?)
  • Comments
  • Forums
  • Anything involving what Google calls “untrusted content”

Some webmaster may disable the nofollow attribute as a reward for blog commenters who are contributing to the blogging community or online discussion, but that’s up to individual discretion.

So I Just Shouldn’t Bother With No Follow Links, Right?

Absolutely not! Just because they don’t provide SEO link value doesn’t mean no follow links are worthless. No follow links still provide valuable referral traffic.

A well-placed blog comment or a relevant forum post, no follow or not, can send a huge amount of traffic to your site, which then can funnel down to leads and conversions!

Besides, search engines today are looking at a lot of factors outside of link juice and PageRank. Social signals like those from Twitter and Facebook are increasingly valuable, despite being no follow. The key is to build your brand – don’t think of what links are good for SEO, but instead think what links are good for your business, your brand, and what links can help establish you as an industry authority. Remember that links, no follow or not, build trust.

It’s also still worth pursing Wikipedia links when appropriate. Wikipedia is very picky about their references, so you’ll have to provide very niche, unique content, but if you can get a link it can bring about some pretty cool results – including other do follow links.

Wikipedia nofollow links

Gianluca Fiorelli of IloveSEO notes that once, when doing competitive research about sites related to traveling to Patagonia, he found that the site that was ranking in first place on Google had a Wikipedia link. He says:

“I dug into that link and discovered that it was to a post about the Welsh immigration in Patagonia present in that site's blog. Is that link sending traffic to the site? Probably not at all, but it was noticed by someone in the BBC website, who finally linked to that same post citing Wikipedia. Boom, now that travel site not only has one link from Wikipedia, but it has also an important backlink from another trusted seed: the BBC.”

Wikipedia links, despite being nofollow, can still drive traffic and might earn you some platinum do follow links down the line. 

How to See if a Link is Follow or No Follow

How do you decipher between follow links vs. no follow links?

In Chrome, go to the navigation bar and click View>Developer>View Source. Alternatively you can just right-click on a page and hit Inspect Element. For Firefox, do Right-Click>View Page Source.

From there, do an Edit>Find and search for “nofollow” in the search box. All instances of the nofollow tag will be highlighted.

How to See Which Links Are Nofollow

For the SEO pros who want to keep careful and easy track of no follow links, there are many extensions available to download for Chrome and Firefox that automatically highlight no follow or do follow links on the pages you visit.

A few for Firefox are:

For Chrome:

How to Get Follow Links

We’ve talked about why links are important, regardless of their no follow/do follow status, but you probably still want a few follow links to even out that link profile.

The best ways to get do follow links is the honest way: creating awesome, original content that gets shared and linked to naturally. Other approaches include guest blogging, especially on a site relevant to your own so that you can build referral traffic in addition to getting an SEO boost.

Follow or No Follow: A Balanced Link Profile is Best

Remember, ultimately you want a healthy balance of do follow and no follow backlinks for the perfect link profile. Do follow links may do more for SEO, but both deserve a place in your online marketing strategy.

Comments

Jamie Anderson
Jul 25, 2013

Hi Megan,Nice breakdown on the history of dofollow and nofollow links.I agree with you 100% that nofollow links are a vital component to any good backlink profile, a sure fire way to raise a red flag is to have only dofollow backlinks to your site.**This post was edited by the editor for an innocent typo**

Mary Lee
Jun 12, 2015

I have to ask... Why are only dofollow backlinks links BAD for a web site? I would think it was only nofollow links would be a red flag. Am I missing something?

sadha kaif
Jul 25, 2013

Honored to be the first to show my appreciation on this piece. Here comes the cliched blog comment: “Great post!” I. It was nice to read on follow and no follow links.

Megan Marrs
Jul 26, 2013

Haha, we don't mind the cliche! 

Andrea
Jul 25, 2013

To check the nofollow probably you should also check the http header of the page.Just to be sure ;)

AnonymousKaren Miller
Aug 07, 2014

how do you check the no or follow using the header?

Charles
Jul 25, 2013

I have never understood the terms, follow and no follow. Whenever I create links, the system I use creates the follow or no follow designation. Is there something more I need to do?Charles.

Victor Pan
Jul 26, 2013

Hi Charles,WordStream SEO here. As the article suggests, there are links you want search engines to follow, and then those that you don't. A good example where the WordStream blog chooses to nofollow a link is when we wrote about how we gained a vanity url from Google Plus. In the blog post, we mentioned other competitors that share the same brand name with links as examples. These are websites we do not want to endorse, but want to link to - therefore we used nofollow.There are blogs that reward thoughtful comments with followed links, and there are even blog communities (see commentluv) that do this. To follow or not to follow, it all boils down to knowing what's the best to use in a given scenario.

Aman Bansal
Jul 26, 2013

Hi megan,You have mentioned such key points related with follow and no-follow links. Both are important for a blog to servive.Yes no follow links can only provide us traffic not worth in the eyes of search engines. It is also believed that follow links are best for both traffic and SEO prospects.Now a days its not easy to get follow links for those who don't believe in guest posting.I just want to rise one question and that is when its difficult to get follow links and only guest posting is the way to get these, then why don't google give some more weightage to no-follow links. Can you say something about this..?

Megan Marrs
Jul 26, 2013

Well Aman, I think the whole idea is that if you're guest posting, you're likely to be at least somewhat reputable, which is why guest posting usually involved follow links. Google doesn't want to give weight to no-follow links because they're just too easy to get these days and encourage spamming. Google wants to make it tough to ensure that only the trustworthy, real businesses who are willing to work hard and put in the effort get links. It's like a filter sorting out the bad apples.

LincolnBean
May 08, 2015

Megan: When I comment, it always says "Unfollow"...and I don't recall changing it. How do I get it to return to "Follow"...where it used to be? As it is, I can change it prior to "Send" which I usually do. I understand your explanation, and have considered just leaving things as is, changing as I so desire. But, when things change an I didn't do it...that bothers me. Also, if I return to "Follow"
will I be able to say "Unfollow" on any one comment, and have it automatically return to "Follow" ? (WOW)
Please reply to my email address. Thanks

Tony
Jul 26, 2013

Nice job covering all the basics. Making your blog nofollow will not stop countless spam comments though. Spammers just want links, if they are follow or not.

Elisa Gabbert
Jul 26, 2013

I agree with you there, Tony.

Leta
Jan 19, 2015

Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
I'm trying to find out if its a problem on my end
or if it's the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Victor Pan
Jul 26, 2013

As far as I know, comment spammers come in three types:1. Do Follow Camp - Your spam is only worthwhile if the link is followed. They like to tell you that your comment is the best they've read, thank you, and maybe even put a naked url in hopes someone will click on it.2. No Follow Can Be Valuable Camp - Your spam is worthwhile if it is a website/blog content related to your link. (See any blog posts by WordStream that targets the livelihood of black hat social services and you'll see these comments). They believe Google counts nofollow links, and like the do follow camp, will leave nake urls in hope for visitors.3. Sock Puppeteer - This person doesn't care about follow or nofollow, but are keen to create a bad reputation for your website by either impersonating your brand or impersonating a 3rd party that has something bad to say about your brand.

Hridayesh
Dec 18, 2013

The topic is very clear, But we can stop the spammers from my site. And they fills up our database also.

Eric J.
Jan 27, 2015

Hello to all, the contents existing at this web site are truly
remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

Cailin Koy
Jun 03, 2015

Haha - what an ironic post for the above spam comment to appear on. ;)

Andy P
Jul 26, 2013

I have never really thought about the fact Wordpress comments are no follow. It does beg the question why do people still inundate my sites with them though. It's not like I will ever approve a "Le Boutin Shoes" link on my SEO blog is it?

Megan Marrs
Jul 26, 2013

Good question Andy! It's my understanding that most blog comment spam is generated by spam software, which either can't or simply doesn't distinguish between nofollow and follow.Anyone else have thoughts on this?

Michael Wiener
Aug 08, 2013

I've received a ton of the same links as yours, and I simply empty the spam folder in my blog. These people do not care especially that majority of these spammers are using softwares or bots to post comments. The software do not know whether the website it is commenting a relevant one to a site it is linking to, or not. If you want to avoid such spams, Wordpress can accomodate different commenting platform. One excellent one you could try is Disqus. There is a disqus plugin that can replace Wordpress default comments area.

Rich
Jul 26, 2013

Thanks for the great post! I have had this question in the back of my mind as I'm doing SEO work. Follow links are a great way to get high quality links pointing to your site. Thanks for the breadown about the differences between the two! Cheers!

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

Thanks Rich, glad you liked the post!

Anik
May 13, 2015

I like This

Randall Magwood
Jul 27, 2013

I now feel like a spam sandwich lol.I do believe in that referral traffic though. Not all no follow links are ineffective.

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

I'm happy to say I've never experienced a spam sandwich myself :)

David
Jul 30, 2013

Very nicely done Megan!Thank you for a very clearly written article. It's nice when you read an article and you know that the person doing the writing actually knows what they are writing about.As I am sure you are aware that is not always the case on and offlline. I was already pretty certain I knew what you were talking about in this piece, but given all the recent algorithm changes Google is hell bent on delivering wheather we want them or not I just wanted to make sure I was up to speed on this.At my age I don't have time to spend spinning my wheels for nothing. Besides, there is nothing worst for me than putting in many long hours doing something I truly enjoy only to find that I was doing what I love bass ackwards, so to speak!Well Megan it's been real :-)Thanks again for the article, and now I have a website to get to work on! You have a blessed day young lady! I hope you are blessed with all the success you deserve.David   

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

Aww, thanks David, that's kind of you to say. Right back at ya! 

Ricky Wright
Jul 30, 2013

Hi Megan!  I'm a disabled veteran and seo guy in San Francisco and came across your blog...........I have Shared your blog with my following on G+ LinkedIn,Twitter because I consider this, as an seo programmerand specialist as IMPORTANT TECNHICAL INFORMATION for anyone involved in blogging or links buildiing.THANK YOU FOR THIS RESOURCE! Ricky 

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

Thanks for the endorsement and sharing Ricky!

Joe Q
Jul 31, 2013

Rich and relevant information on the SEO world. Do Follow Links help to increase ranking if you work on Page Ranks 2-10, No Follow Links are really important is true there is not a big juice you get from no follow but helps to refer traffic to your website. I am sharing your webpage on my circles. Thank you!

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

Thanks Joe!

Alex willson
Aug 01, 2013

Hi megan,I must say you have  really done a very good job. Covering all the important aspects about Fllow vs No Follow links.just three months back i have started my carrer in SEO and was very confused about  follow vs no follow links.I have created number of links but all are no follow,so i considered all of them worthless but after reading this article i realized there importance.Would love to hear about other aspects in SEO.THANK YOU!!!!Alex

Megan Marrs
Aug 12, 2013

You're very welcome Alex! Happy to clear things up for you.

Jess
Aug 13, 2013

Ohhh man, I'm still laughing at that well-placed Batman reference! Thank you for the helpful breakdown! :)Jess

Megan Marrs
Aug 13, 2013

Always be yourself Jess. Unless you can be batman! Then always be batman. ;)

Neil
Aug 22, 2013

Thanks for the useful article. I've heard that website content is the most important things nowadays. Do you know how much the value of links has fallen? I mean, is it even still necessary to do link building?

Victor Pan
Aug 23, 2013

Links are still very important for search engines to assess your article. While I don't recommend "building links" with manual efforts, the practice of promoting, requesting link credit for referencing your work, and broken link-building are not dead. It's not a necessary process, but your marketing efforts would be a lot less effective without it!

HP Lino
Oct 28, 2013

I just wonder if no floow is still in charge for Google as it was in the begining 

Laurel Staples
Oct 22, 2013

Thank you for this post! This really helped clear a few things up for me, especially since I've been doing a lot of guest posting recently.

Yeasmin Akter
Oct 18, 2013

I learn a lot of from this post. I know about dofollow and nofollow but now I know more about this. Cheers!!

Arthur
Oct 15, 2013

Thanks for the detailed writeup. Does anyone here know of  any Bookmarking Site  that provide FOLLOW links?

Eva
Oct 12, 2013

I am considering doing some (paid) content marketing w blogs and was researching what impact no follow links would have on our site. Thanks for answering all my questions, Megan. Great post!

Syed Ashraful Hoq
Oct 03, 2013

Hi your article is awesome but one thing can u tell me is there any icon showed do follow or no follow like PR icon.

Aimy Wilson
Sep 30, 2013

Thanks for the giving great explanation for dofollow or nofollow.Use NoFollow when linking to internal pages that don’t need PageRank 

zumaira ali
Sep 23, 2013

lets say i have 3 places on my homepage, all pointing to one link. now i do not want to make such an importance of the link, so i would like to nofollow two of them and leave on intact.

Kenneth
Sep 23, 2013

Hi ,This information on this blog is great. I am new to SEO and it really does provide me a better understand of the different terms used.This is definately valuable informationThanks,Kenneth 

yunesh
Sep 04, 2013

Thanks, cleared my confusion on the subject. 

Von
Sep 03, 2013

Great article. I guess my question would be regarding what happens if you have too many outbound links? And what is too many? Sometimes I discuss other products and services so I feel like it would be a benefit to the reader if I link to that product or service. At the same time I assume I'm giving away my "juice". 

irtouring
Nov 18, 2013

nice article, from what i know, Google did add that if you are mass spamming at a huge scale, Google may take manual action on your links to discourage your spamming, despite the links being nofollowed. anyways, tnx for the article and please keep in up as i am refer from time to time

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