In the world of SEO, we know that not all links are created equal. Some backlinks to your website are beneficial, bringing you increased traffic, more visibility, and a better spot in the SERP. Some backlinks, though, play a subtler role in the modern link landscape. Today, we’re going to dive into the no-follow link, an all too misunderstood part of SEO.
No-follow links can be complex to even seasoned SEOs, as they’re often spoken of negatively – and can be frustrating to come across when you’re running a link building campaign. However, no-follow links can be helpful when sculpting your site’s internal link structure if you know how to use them.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the concept of no-follow links, peeling back the layers to understand their essence, functionality, and unique role within the intricate SEO landscape. Our aim is to demystify their significance and shed light on their subtle yet impactful contributions to your digital strategy.
What is a No-Follow Link?
Alright, so what exactly IS a no-follow link? Well, it’s not exactly a type of link, but an HTML attribution applied to a hyperlink that tells Google not to crawl that link. This prevents that link from getting its share of “link juice” from the algorithm. A no-follow designation looks like this in the HTML:
<a href=”https://growresolve.com” rel=”nofollow”>anchor text</a>
A do-follow hyperlink would look identical but without the rel=”nofollow” attribution in the HTML code. This no-follow directive signals to search engine crawlers that the link should not be considered a vote of confidence or endorsement of the linked content. If a do-followed backlink is a website’s way of saying, “This link is good, and I am proud to post it!” a no-follow link is how they say “no comment.”
Google originally introduced no-follow links in 2005 to combat users spamming the comments sections of blogs and websites with links to their sites. This was one of the earliest black-hat link building tactics, and due to it, most websites default to no-follow all links within their comment sections or other pages that feature user-generated content. Over time, no-follow links have evolved beyond spam prevention to encompass various aspects of online content management and SEO strategy.
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How No-Follow Links Work
In a technical sense, no-follow links are relatively straightforward. When a hyperlink is marked with the “rel=nofollow” attribute in its HTML code, it sends a clear message to search engine crawlers, instructing them not to assign any SEO value to the linked page. Essentially, no-follow links act as virtual barriers that prevent search engines from factoring the linked content into their algorithms when determining search engine rankings. This maintains the integrity of a website’s link profile and enables site owners to manage the outbound links posted on their site selectively.
A fundamental way to use no-follow links is to label external links on your website. Doing so helps you to keep a safe distance from content that might not be trustworthy or of good quality. It’s crucial when you have user-generated content on your site, like comments, forum posts, or guest blog entries, because these can contain links to other websites with different levels of trustworthiness. By carefully using no-follow links in these situations, you can ensure that your site doesn’t become cataloged as a source of spam and low-quality links by the search algorithms.
No-Follow Links and the Google Algorithm
Since no-follow links were introduced in 2005, clever SEOs have found ways to use them to their advantage – ways that Google did not necessarily intend. No-follow links and the algorithm have a symbiotic relationship, but the algorithm has changed to ensure they’re used as intended.
So we’ve used the term “link juice” a few times so far, and if you’re new to SEO, you may be wondering what the heck it is (and whether or not you can buy it at Costco). Link juice is sugar-free and gluten-free and part of a healthy digital diet!
I’ll stop the jokes now and actually answer your question. “Link juice” refers to the perceived value or authority passed from one web page to another through hyperlinks. Think of it as a digital currency that flows across the internet. Another term you may see is “link equity,” but it’s not as much fun to say, so I’ll stick to link juice.
When a reputable and authoritative website links to another site, it is seen as a vote of confidence in the linked content. This endorsement, in turn, transfers a portion of the linking site’s “link juice” to the linked page, boosting its credibility in the eyes of search engines. The more high-quality and relevant links a webpage receives, the more link juice it accumulates, ultimately contributing to higher search engine rankings and increased visibility in search results.
PageRank and Link Sculpting
PageRank, one of the foundational algorithms in Google’s search engine ranking system, has a significant relationship with no-follow links. Originally, PageRank was designed to calculate the importance or authority of web pages based on the number and quality of backlinks they received. In this context, do-follow links were crucial because they passed the juice from one page to another, effectively boosting the recipient’s authority in the eyes of search engines.
But, as SEOs tend to do, they found a new way to utilize no-follow links called link sculpting. This strategy involved selectively applying the no-follow attribute to certain internal links within a website to influence the flow of PageRank. The goal was to channel PageRank toward specific pages deemed more critical for SEO purposes while preventing it from reaching less important ones.
So, for example, if you had a blog post that linked to two of your past blog posts and one of your product pages, you would mark the blog posts as no-follow to give more link equity to your moneymaker page. You would then get three links worth of link equity funneled toward that single page.
However, Google recognized that this practice could potentially undermine the integrity and fairness of its search ranking algorithm. In response, Google made a significant move in 2009 by announcing that PageRank would be distributed uniformly among all links on a page, regardless of whether they were marked as do-follow or no-follow. This change aimed to foster a more equitable and transparent web environment, discourage manipulative tactics and emphasize the importance of organic link profiles based on quality and relevance.
How to View No-Follow Backlinks
Since the no-follow designation is applied in the HTML, most readers can’t spot a no-follow link by just viewing the article While you can always inspect the HTML by highlighting a link, right-clicking on it, and clicking “inspect,” many tools make this process more intuitive and efficient. Whether you’re monitoring the process of a link building campaign or running a more comprehensive SEO audit, here are the tools you’ll need to succeed.
Several browser extensions, such as NoFollow and Link Miner, help you quickly and easily spot no-follows. Simply install the extension of your choice, visit the webpage you want to analyze and activate the extension. It will then highlight the page’s do-follow and no-follow links, making it easy to identify which links carry the no-follow attribute. This method is a convenient way to get a quick overview without needing more comprehensive SEO tools.
Ahrefs is a powerful SEO tool offering comprehensive backlink analysis, including identifying no-follow backlinks. To view your site’s no-follow links using Ahrefs, log in to your Ahrefs account, enter your website’s domain, and navigate to the “Backlink” or “Site Explorer” section. Here, you can filter your backlinks by the “Nofollow” attribute to see a list of all the links marked as no-follow that point to your website. Ahrefs provides detailed information about these links, including the referring page, anchor text, and more, allowing you to gain valuable insights into your no-follow backlink profile.
SEMRush is another robust SEO tool that can help you discover and analyze no-follow backlinks to your website. After logging in to your SEMRush account, enter your domain in the site audit tool. Once the audit is complete, go to the “Backlinks” or “Link Building” section. SEMRush will display a list of your backlinks; you can filter them by the no-follow attribute. This will provide you with a comprehensive list of all the no-follow links pointing to your site, essential metrics, and details about the linking domains. SEMRush’s user-friendly interface and in-depth analysis make it a valuable resource for tracking and understanding your site’s no-follow backlinks.
Majestic is renowned for its backlink analysis capabilities, including uncovering no-follow links. To view your site’s no-follow backlinks with Majestic, log in to your Majestic account and enter your website’s URL in their search bar. Once the results are displayed, navigate to the “Backlinks” or “Link Profile” section. You can filter your backlinks by the “Follow” attribute to isolate the no-follow links here. Majestic provides extensive data on these links, including Trust Flow, Citation Flow, and referring domains, offering a comprehensive view of your site’s no-follow backlink profile. Utilizing Majestic’s insights can help you make informed decisions regarding your SEO strategy and link-building efforts.
You can utilize Moz’s Link Explorer tool to check for backlinks to your site – both no-followed and do-followed. Enter the URL of the website you want to analyze, and Moz will provide a comprehensive list of backlinks to that site. To specifically identify no-follow backlinks, focus on the “Follow” column in the Link Explorer’s results. Any links marked as “Nofollow” in this column are no-follow backlinks. Moz also offers valuable metrics and insights about these links, such as domain authority, anchor text, and the linking page’s authority, enabling you to assess the impact of these links on your SEO strategy.
Moz allows you to check ten links for free each month, so this is a great tool if you are dabbling in link building and want to try a free tool before splurging on something more intricate.
Using No-Follow Links On Your Site
So, what are the best practices for using no-follow links on your site? Beyond automatically marking user-generated content as no-follow (a default setting in most website builders), you can also build a strategic plan for when to assign the no-follow designation.
Whether linking to a source in your content or publishing a guest post on your blog, you must be meticulous about the external links you publish on your site. Posting too many links to sites that seem low-quality, spammy, or otherwise subpar will put you in their link neighborhood and potentially drag your site down. When you assign these links no-follow, you signal to Google that you do not vouch for them and are simply a neutral publisher.
If you post sponsored content on your blog, all links to the sponsor must be marked as no-follow. This way, Google can differentiate between organic and paid links. For external links that aren’t sponsored, you have to think critically about whether or not to assign it as do-follow.
You may also include external links to competitor sites on your blog, but mark the link as no-follow to prevent Google from crawling it. This could be helpful if your competitor has a good source on the subject of your article, but you don’t want to help boost their traffic along the way. Linking to competitors can also solidify your spot in the link neighborhood and signal to Google that your and the competitor’s sites are similar in some way.
Potential Benefits of No-Follow Backlinks
When you’re running an organic link building campaign and one of your guest post links gets marked as no-follow, it’s easy to panic. But don’t worry – no-follow backlinks are still valuable! Yes, your page gets indexed differently by the Google algorithm – but the vast majority of users are not inspecting the HTML for the rel=no-follow designation, and even fewer users would know what it meant if they did.
The value of a link extends beyond just its SEO implications. While a no-follow backlink may not contribute directly to your website’s search engine rankings, it still brings new visitors and strengthens the connection between your site and the publishing site. Most users need to scrutinize the technical details of links more carefully, and the potential for increased traffic and exposure remains substantial. So, when you encounter a no-follow link in your link-building efforts, take it in stride, for it’s still a valuable bridge that can lead new eyes to your website and expand your online presence, albeit slightly differently.
We hope this article demystified no-follow links and has you feeling more confident about using them. Though no-follow links have a bad rap among link builders and SEOs, they’re a powerful tool for strategists and web admins alike when used as intended. No-follow links still act as bridges that bring new eyes to your website, forging connections and expanding your online presence.
Ready to optimize your SEO strategy further? Contact Resolve Marketing today for a free SEO consultation and take the next step toward enhancing your online visibility and reach. Your digital success story awaits!