“Nofollow” isn’t just a funny-sounding term that SEO professionals use to make themselves appear more mysterious. The HTML attribute nofollow has been around for 14 years.
At its most basic, nofollow is a hyperlink attribute that instructs Google not to pass PageRank to nofollowed links, so Google does not even crawl nofollowed links.
With the simple addition of the nofollow attribute, you can control the nofollowing of any links on your site (whether they are to external sites or internal pages).
There are also nofollowed links that are beyond your control, such as when another website links to you but marks it as a nofollow link.
Is there, however, a link between nofollowed links and rankings?
It turns out that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this subject. Let us get to the bottom of this.
The Claim: Nofollow Links Affect Ranking
Is there any value in nofollow links?
Nofollow links are more than just a gimmick. It was a method of instructing search engines to ignore spammy or low-quality links.
Consider nofollow links to be armor that protects your site from shady tactics.
In your source code, it looks like this:
a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>
But, do nofollow links have any effect on rankings?
The Evidence For Nofollow Links As A Ranking Factor
In 2005, Google introduced the nofollow link attribute to assist website owners in combating spam. If you were exchanging links, Google required that you add the nofollow link attribute.
If you don’t and are caught, Google may penalize you for link schemes.
Nofollow links were introduced at that time. The nofollow tag instructs search engines to disregard the destination URL.
While Google may take manual action against you if you do not use nofollowing links, does this help your rankings?
Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed these directives serve as “hints” in September 2019.
Focus on the other part: nofollow became a hint. Ugc and sponsored are icing on top of that cake, and it’s one of those things where you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. If you want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don’t want to, don’t.
Danny Sullivan of Google chimed in to support Illyes’ comments about nofollow links.
People may simply adopt these because they are specific to what they want to communicate to use about these links. They don’t have to make nofollow into a one-size-fits-all type of thing. They have a choice to be granular, if they want to….
These assertions are supported by Google’s nofollow announcement post, which stated:
“When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC, and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search.
We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”
On September 10, 2019, Google introduced two new attributes to support the nofollow link: sponsored links and user-generated content links.
These attributes were developed to assist Google in determining the intent behind the link.
Sponsored links (rel=”sponsored”) are used for links that are promotional, advertising, or sponsored.
UGC links (rel=”ugc”) are used for users who create their own content that has not been endorsed by advertisers.
Can nofollow links be harmful to your website?
Matt Cutts stated in a Google Search Central YouTube video on September 9, 2013, that nofollow links do not harm your site.
“No, typically nofollow links cannot hurt your site. So, upfront, very quick answer.”
Is it possible to use the nofollow tag to control indexing?
Simply adding the nofollow attribute to a link does not prevent Google from indexing or crawling your site.
Other methods, such as using the noindex attribute or disallowing from the robots.txt files, are the best way to preserve your crawl budget.
Our Rating For Nofollow Links As A Ranking Signal
While nofollowed links are no longer ignored, they do not pass ranking signals.
While it’s true that nofollow links have no direct impact on your rankings, it’s easy to see the hints they provide to Google and other search engines.
If you read between the lines, these “hints” we’re giving Google mean you can tell Google to nofollow a link, but the final decision is in “some” cases up to Google.
In the end, your rankings will be unaffected in the majority of cases.
Learn more from SEO and read Why Focusing on SEO Keywords is Hurting Your Campaign.