Do Nofollow Links Help SEO? Settling The Nofollow vs. Dofollow Debate
Everyone tells you that nofollow links are useless for SEO. They don’t boost your search rankings, so there’s no need to waste time and money on them.
But that’s not the complete truth, as I’ll show you in this article.
Plus, I’ll show you examples where nofollow links have helped brands make significant SEO gains and outrank their competitors.
Ready to be surprised? Let’s get started.
How Google Search Uses Links
Before diving into the nofollow vs. dofollow debate, let’s quickly understand how Google Search uses links.
Backlinks are among the most crucial search ranking factors that Google uses to evaluate the relevance and authority of a web page.
Here’s what Google says about using links as a ranking signal.
“It’s also important to understand that search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance. How pages link to each other is one well-known signal that we use. But we use many more, which we don’t disclose to help protect the integrity of our results.”
So, Google uses links as one of the main “signals” to understand content relevance. It uses them as a vote of confidence from one site to another and ranks pages based on the quantity and authority of their backlinks.
Before 2005, there was only one link type (dofollow). But Google introduced nofollow links to help webmasters give more context to their links, and fight blackhat link building techniques.
Let’s understand what nofollow links actually mean.
What Is A Nofollow Link In SEO?
Nofollow links come with a rel=”nofollow” tag which tells search spiders to ignore a link. As a result, nofollow links do not pass authority to the linked page and have a minimal direct impact on search rankings.
Nofollow vs. Dofollow – What’s The Difference?
Technically, a dofollow link passes authority from the host site to the linked page. It’s a vote of confidence from the linking site and indicates that the webmaster trusts the linked content.
As a result, Google uses dofollow links as a strong ranking signal and generally ranks the pages with more unique links higher than others.
Here’s the syntax of a regular dofollow link.
<a href= “https://example.com”>Link text</a>
On the other hand, nofollow links have the rel=”nofollow” tag.
<a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=“nofollow”>Link text</a>
Google introduced the nofollow tag to help webmasters indicate any links in their content that they don’t trust.
There’s no difference from a user experience perspective. A nofollow link still sends referral traffic. But Google doesn’t consider it in a site’s backlink profile.
In short, dofollow links pointing to a website usually improve its search ranking. Nofollow links typically don’t.
The Rel Family – Meet Nofollow’s Siblings
Webmasters used the nofollow tag for any links they didn’t want search engines to consider. This included comment links and other user-generated content, affiliate links, sponsored brand mentions, or any links the webmaster didn’t trust.
But in 2019, Google introduced two more link types to help webmasters provide more context to their links.
As the name suggests, the rel=”sponsored” tag is used for sponsored links, including advertisements, affiliate links, and paid brand mentions.
Here’s an example of how to use it.
<a rel=”sponsored” href=”https://example.com”>Example</a>
UGC stands for user-generated content. This tag is very common in social media and is used for blog comment links, forum posts, and any other platform where users are allowed to post links.
Here’s how to use it.
<a rel=“ugc” href=”https://example.com”>Example</a>
Like the nofollow tag, both sponsored and ugc links do not pass page authority to the linked page and do not have a direct impact on search rankings.
Should you worry too much about using these tags?
From an SEO perspective, these tags do not hold much value. However, Google encourages webmasters to use them to help its algorithms understand the intent behind a link.
Do Nofollow Links Help SEO?
So, with this background, do you think nofollow links have any SEO worth?
One thing’s clear, they’re not as powerful as dofollow links.
But they aren’t useless.
Ahrefs recently studied 40K+ SERPs to measure the impact of various link attributes and found something very interesting.
As expected, there’s a strong correlation between rankings, domain authority, and backlinks (all types). But the correlation between rankings dofollow backlinks is slightly weaker.
This suggests that Google still considers some nofollow backlinks coming from high-authority sites.
This is endorsed by a case study SEMRush featured on its blog. It shows how a marketer increased his company’s search rankings from the 20th spot to the top position within a week.
What did he do to get there?
He got a sitewide nofollow backlink from a super high-authority site in his target niche.
That’s the only thing he did, and it worked.
In short, there’s a strong chance that Google considers nofollow links from high-authority sites.
5 Reasons Why Nofollow Links Still Matter To Your SEO Strategy
Apart from the examples I shared in the previous section, there are several solid reasons why nofollow links from high-authority sites can still play a crucial role in increasing your search rankings.
Let me explain.
1. Nofollow Links Still Generate Traffic
Nofollow links don’t have a direct SEO benefit. However, they still send you referral traffic. So even a nofollow backlink on a high-traffic site is still priceless.
For example, a nofollow link on BusinessInsider, Entrepreneur, or a viral news site like BuzzFeed can send thousands of visitors to your website.
This is precisely what happened to one of Moz’s clients, featured in a BuzzFeed post, that saw a 271% increase in traffic.
2. High-Authority Nofollow Links > Low Authority Dofollow Links
Dofollow links are generally better than nofollow links in SEO terms. However, a nofollow link from a high-authority site in your niche is much more beneficial to your SEO strategy than a dofollow link from a low-authority site.
Why? Because the linking website’s authority is the biggest factor Google considers when evaluating the value of a backlink. And there are strong indications that Google makes an exception for nofollow links from credible sites.
This is why an editorially approved nofollow link from TechCrunch or CNN is still worth gold. It not only strengthens your backlink profile but also sends visitors in referral traffic.
3. Nofollow Links Drive Dofollow Links
Nofollow links on high-authority sites often lead to dofollow links from other sites.
Let me explain.
Millions of people follow high-authority sites, read their content, and share it with their social media connections resulting in more eyeballs for your nofollow link.
As a result, many smaller websites feature the resources, links, and examples from the top sites in their content.
This is exactly what happened with Brian Dean when one of his articles got a nofollow link from OkDork.com. But as a result of that article, many smaller sites used Brian’s resource in their content with a dofollow link.
So, again, getting nofollow links on a top site in your industry is never useless.
4. Nofollow Links Diversify Your Link Profile
An unnatural link profile that contains dofollow links only raises red flags is always at risk of a Google Penalty.
Why? Because it’s impossible for a link profile to grow naturally and get dofollow links only. Instead, a natural profile always has a significant percentage of nofollow links.
5. Nofollow Links Power Your Digital PR Strategy
Some of the most popular business and marketing websites nofollow all external links.
But if you’re thinking long-term about brand building and digital PR, dofollow or nofollow links don’t really matter.
What matters is that your brand is featured on the most credible and widely followed websites that build authority and send referral traffic your way.
Are Nofollow Links Useless For SEO?
Not at all.
As you’ve seen, nofollow links can still position your brand as an authority, drive traffic from other sites, and help you reach more people across industries. These benefits directly impact SEO since brand authority is a critical factor Google considers when ranking websites.
So, the next time you get an opportunity to feature your brand on Fortune, TheNextWeb, Entrepreneur, or any other super high-authority site, grab it with both hands without thinking about nofollow or dofollow links.