When to use nofollow and do follow for SEO & Blogging

Does Affiliate Marketing Effect SEO
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One thing that always comes up when building backlinks, as a question in blogger Facebook groups, going to Blogging shows and even when I ask for topics to write about is when to nofollow a link to another site.  The answer many non experienced SEOs and even some intermediate SEOs don’t realize is that giving a do follow link can be beneficial and you shouldn’t no follow everything.  That not only causes damage to your site and your own rankings, but it is just a very bad practice in general.  This post is for beginners, intermediate SEOs and anyone who runs a website, blog or wants to learn about do follow vs no follow links.

What is a no follow link?

No follow links were created by Google as one of the earlier attempts at helping their algorithms determine what sites to rank and what sites not to rank.  Google asked us to add no follow links to any site we didn’t trust, think would not be around or is not content relevant to the topic you are writing about.  This way Google would know that this link will not count to help it rank in Google’s search results as it is not a trusted source.  Do follow and no follow links affected and still effect your PR, your rankings and also your mind if you can’t figure out what to do follow and what to no follow.  Do follow vs. no follow still confuses people and bad advice still spreads through the blogosphere and new website owners from bad speakers or just bad SEO rumors from “guru” styled bloggers and SEOs.  One other thing I would like to go over real quick is nofollow links vs. robots.txt.

What is the difference between robots.txt and rel=”nofollow”?

Adding robots.txt to a page in the meta tags will prevent this page from being indexed by Google.  Adding rel=”nofollow” to a link will tell Google to not follow the link or pass authority to the site.  The big difference you need to remember is that if you have someone like an Affiliate ranking for your url or trademark + coupons, they will happily add a no follow so they don’t pass authority (even though many types of Affiliate Links are not actual backlinks) but they will not happily add robots.txt and will have a million excuses why they cannot.  The reason they don’t want to add it is that you can make a lot of money poaching customers and setting cookies when someone sees a coupon code box and you only have to rank for trademark + coupons.  It’s instant, easy money and in my opinion always hurts the merchant, hurts other Affiliates and always hurts other channels.  The difference between robots.txt and rel=”nofollow” is that robots.txt makes a page not get indexed or show up and rel=”nofollow” says to not pass authority onto the next page.

How do you create a no follow link?

This is easy.  To create a no follow link, simply add the words and field rel=”nofollow” into your html for the link you are sending.  Here is an example of how to create a no follow link for Google and other search engines.  <a href=”enter your url or the url you are linking to here” rel=”nofollow”> this is where your keywords go to that you are linking off of </a>.  To create a do follow link, you just remove the rel=”nofollow” from the code and it goes from being a no follow link to a do follow link and passes authority to the site or page you are linking to.

When do you use a nofollow link vs. a do follow link?

Now that you know what a no follow link is, what it means and how to create a no follow backlink, here is a checklist to think about when you need to and how to decide when to use no follow links.  If you still have any other questions after reading this, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll either add them to the post or answer them after via email to your address.  Yes my comments section is no follow btw, even though a lot of other blogs allow do follow links in their comments section.  (I’ll save that for another post because blog comments are not natural links, easy to pick up in Google and can be damaging based on copy, not earned and are definitely not “natural” links.)

  1. Is the link internal or external?
  2. Why am I linking to this site?
  3. Is the site you are linking to relevant content wise?
  4. Do you think this site will be around and the page you are linking to will always contain relevant content?
  5. Is the site you are linking to authoritative?
  6. Is the page on the site you are linking to relevant to the article you are writing?
  7. What other sites are linking to them?
  8. What sites is this one linking out to?
  9. Does this site outrank you for your target terms in the search engines?

1.  Is the link internal or external?

One thing you don’t want to do is tell Google that your internal pages aren’t relevant, especially when you are linking to them.  Make sure your internal links (links pointing to a page within your site) are do follow.  Building an internal linking structure is a great way to help Google and other search engines know what the pages are about, which ones to rank and can also help pass PR and authority onto these pages.  By making all of your internal links no follow links, you are telling the search engines that your site and content isn’t worth ranking or listing.  Check your plugins and no follow link generators to make sure that they don’t make your internal links no follow.  If they do, you probably want to find a new plugin that makes gives you the option of which links to make no follow links and will leave your internal links alone.  If there is a page on your site that you don’t want to rank, don’t think is high quality or shouldn’t exist, you probably shouldn’t have it on your site, shouldn’t be linking to it and you probably want to add a robots.txt to it as well.

2.  Why am I linking to this site?

This is a very important question to ask yourself.  Why am I linking to this site?  If Matt Cutts (the webspam guy at Google) was standing behind you, could you honestly tell him that you are linking to create a good user experience on your post, page or website.  The content and information they will find by following the link will help them and/or make the content in the post or page more relevant and provide a better user experience.  If the answer is no, then you may want to actually skip linking to the site altogether.  Asking yourself why am I linking to this site is one of the most important things to think about before you figure out if you should or should not make a link no follow.

3.  Is the site you are linking to relevant content wise?

This is the most important thing I ask myself when trying to figure out when to add no follow links on outbound links to other sites.  Look at the site and if you are linking to the homepage and ask yourself if it is relevant content wise.  Look through and see if they have categories that are content relevant and also look for posts or pages that are content relevant.  These are things you need to think about.  By linking to a relevant section, you are saying that this section can benefit people on a specific topic.  You are also directing your visitors and readers there and saying that that will have a great experience and find something of relevance.  If the answer is yes that they will find something relevant and that will benefit them, then you may want to choose using do follow instead of adding a no follow link.

4.  Do you think this site will be around and the page you are linking to will always contain relevant content?

This is what the no follow attribute was created for in Google.  If you don’t think the site will be around for a long period of time, that the page or category you are linking to will always contain good and relevant information, then you should probably add rel=”nofollow” to create a no follow link since you don’t trust the page you are linking to. One thing if you’re not sure of the life of the page or site is to check and see how long the person or company has the url registered for.  If it is a personal blog or website, a small start up or a new company online, they may not last and if they don’t have the url registered for at least a few years, the content could change if they go under, if they sell the url or just abandon it and someone else picks it up.  If it is registered for at least a few years then that is a good sign they may be serious about the site and will keep it going.

5.  Is the site you are linking to authoritative?

Linking with a do follow link instead of a no follow link can be good for your SEO as well.  If your site isn’t ranking and there is a site that has a lot of authority, is in your niche (sometimes if it isn’t like Amazon or others) or is very content relevant, it could potentially benefit you to give them a do follow link instead of a no follow.  It helps to show Google that you know what you are doing, who should get credit for providing quality information or products online and is a part of your link profile.  If everything is nofollow on your site, you are sending a signal saying you don’t know what you’re doing and you are not giving credit to sites that many other people within your niche have said is high quality.  By doing this you could also potentially hurt yourself.  If everyone else in your niche says its good and you say it isn’t, Googlebot and other spiders cannot make assumptions like a human, they will possibly determine your site is an outlier and possibly discredit you which can hurt your site and rankings in the long run.  If a site has a lot of authority and the pages or content you are linking to is relevant, or you are using it as a source, I usually do follow these, but you will need to use your own judgement on how relevant it is, if it will effect your rankings and how it will affect your site.

6.  Is the page on the site you are linking to relevant to the article you are writing?

One of the most important things that I talked about above was content relevance.  If the page you are linking to isn’t content relevant, you may want to add no follow or not link to it.  You want to link to things that will benefit for your readers.  If you mention a product, giving a link to the product, the specs or where they can find more information about the product can be beneficial and content relevant.  Don’t just go to Google and find the first or first few pages that list the product.  Instead find a high quality page (even if it isn’t ranking) and link to the one that would most benefit your website visitor.  If the content is relevant, even if the site has no authority, it could still be a good link to give, especially because you would be able to tell Google that you honestly feel this page is a quality page that deserves to rank because of your recommendation.

7.  What other sites are linking to them?

The next thing before you link to someone using do follow or no follow is to look at their SEO neighborhood and determine if you really want to get involved and be associated with it.  When you link to someone, you are becoming a part of their site, server and are associated with them.  If you wouldn’t want to be associated with that site, it’s content or products, then instead of do or no follow links, just don’t link to it.  When you link to something your site is now part of that neighborhood and can both help or hurt you.  Although linking to it won’t hurt as much and this isn’t as big of an issue, unless you have shared hosting with really bad neighborhoods, it is still something to think about before you do it.

8.  What sites is this one linking out to?

Just like above, pull a report with all of the sites it links out to.  If it is linking to everything on earth like review and coupon sites, tampons and ED pills, you probably don’t want to link to it, unless it is relevant.  If it is niche and clean, then it could be a very good choice.  If it links to all of your competitors from the page you are linking to, you may want to no follow or avoid it because that will be helping to pass your authority to all of your competition and if this page now ranks, you’ll be driving them traffic and sales from your own readers or website visitors.  By adding yourself to the site if you are linking to them in return, you create a reciprocal link which isn’t horrible, but isn’t very good either.

9.  Does this site outrank you for your target terms in the search engines?

The last thing I think about is what I want my site and my pages to rank for.  If the page/site I am linking to outranks me for the keywords I want to rank for, I probably don’t want to help them rank more or have more authority.  If I am making money or trying to make money by getting better rankings and there is a page on a site that always shows above me, I am probably going to no follow the link so I don’t pass the authority on.  This is very common for Affiliates that use links which work like backlinks.  If the Merchant is outranking you in your niche, don’t give them the backlink to rank them even higher which will potentially hurt your revenue and make it a no follow link so that your site can continue to rank above it.

Using do follow and no follow links isn’t very tricky.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people that don’t know what they are talking about (in my opinion) and spread rumors telling you to no follow everything.  Not only is the bad advice (I explained why above in a few of the explanations), but for some reason people believe it.  The most important thing to remember about whether to make a link do follow or no follow is if the content is relevant, if it is going to create a good user experience for your website visitors and if it will benefit you as well.

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6 thoughts on “When to use nofollow and do follow for SEO & Blogging”

  1. Someone left this comment but didn’t want to be named. Although this person is 100% right, I didn’t want to edit the post since this post is about nofollow and not about robots.txt. The comment will benefit anyone who reads this so I wanted to make sure it was posted as the person is right that I should have explained it a lot more and a lot more clearly. Thank you for the comment.

    Hi Adam,
    I’m on your site reading your article and have to ask you to think about an edit. I know what you mean, but there is too much confusion on the nofollow issue to add to it. I mean this:
    “Adding robots.txt to a page in the meta tags will prevent this page from being indexed by Google. Adding rel=”nofollow” to a link will tell Google to not follow the link or pass authority to the site. The big difference you need to remember is that if you have someone like an Affiliate ranking for your url or trademark + coupons, they will happily add a no follow so they don’t pass authority (even though many types of Affiliate Links are not actual backlinks) but they will not happily add robots.txt and will have a million excuses why they cannot. The reason they don’t want to add it is that you can make a lot of money poaching customers and setting cookies when someone sees a coupon code box and you only have to rank for trademark + coupons. It’s instant, easy money and in my opinion always hurts the merchant, hurts other Affiliates and always hurts other channels. The difference between robots.txt and rel=”nofollow” is that robots.txt makes a page not get indexed or show up and rel=”nofollow” says to not pass authority onto the next page.”

    I know that you mean adding a meta tag: in the header of a site. There is no way to add robots.txt to a page. You can add a “Disallow: /page.html” in robots.txt and then it could not ever be indexed by G (or crawled) but no-following a page in a meta-tag does not prevent indexing. It may be a bad SEO practice, for sure as that will no-follow every link on a page, even your own internal links – but it won’t prevent a page from being indexed, and as you say, it won’t prevent a page from ranking.

    At first I thought it was a typo, but it is backed up in that paragraph.
    Please help keep robots.txt and robots meta tags two different things that they are. It confuses the heck out of newbs. Not tryin’ to tell you what to do, just sayin how it looks.

  2. Very good explanation for Dofollow links and Nofollow links. Google’s head of search spam Matt Cutts said Nofollow links cannot hurt your rankings in Google.

  3. I intentionally get no-follow links to diversify my link profile and I have even ranked some long tail keywords using on no-follow links, so I think we can agree that some juice is passed along anyway.

    In regards to your post, I think that far too many people try to no-follow all external links as you mentioned but this can and will hurt your rankings as it becomes apparent you are most likely trying to funnel page rank using the no-follow markup for external links.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks very much for a very interesting article. Maybe you can clarify the following for me… The PR factor seems to be less relevant now than the page and domain authority, the question is, when a site with a high page/domain authority link to your site using the nofollow attribute, it will still help your site by passing on authority to your site?

    1. Hi Henrick,

      In theory no, but if it is a legit site with high authority and your link isn’t a comment but actually within the post and makes sense, it can help your site with rankings because of the no backlinks algorithms that Google is testing, but it also depends on the link and what words the link is linked off of.

      Adam

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