When to NoFollow Links

Posted by Adam Pieniazek | Blogging Tips | April 29th, 2009
The Search Cat NoFollows Everyone

The Search Cat NoFollows Everyone

In one of our recent posts, 10 Basic HTML Tags Every Blogger Should Know, a reader named Coree asked a great question:

I have a question about the No Follow tip. Can you explain why you would not want a search engine to follow a link, and what types of links you would use that on?

Though I gave a brief answer in the comments section of that post, pointing out that nofollowing links is mostly for Search Engine Optimization purposes, I’d like to expand on the topic a bit more and provide examples of where and why we nofollow certain links.

What is NoFollow?

According to wikipedia:

is an HTML attribute value used to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.

As many of you know, the number of links and where they’re coming from is a part of the ranking formula for most search engines. Though recently Google has given more of a focus to brands, the evidence suggests that quality links (from trusted web-sites) still plays a large role in determining where a site is listed in a search result. The NoFollow attribute is still used to fight spam but has expanded to become a part of SEO strategy.

When to Use NoFollow

When you do not want to pass link power to a website you should use the NoFollow attribute to inform search engines that your link is not to be used for the purposes of ranking. Though it was implemented to prevent spam comments from building ranking power by placing their links all over the web, what it really comes down to is do you want to help the site you’re linking to.

For instance, I NoFollowed the link to the wikipedia article on NoFollow, not because I don’t like wikipedia but because they already have so many inbound links and inherent trust in the eyes of the search engine that a link from this blog basically has a negligible impact on wikipedia’s search rankings. In other words, even if I did not include the NoFollow attribute the link would still not help wikipedia much but would cause other links in this article to be a little less powerful. I don’t think they need any more help in ranking highly on search engines so I made the link a NoFollow.

You can sometimes use the nofollow attribute on your own site too. For instance, if there’s nothing on your contact page other than a contact form, you should probably add a nofollow attribute to it. That way, your other links get a little more link juice because your linking power is concentrated over fewer links.

A few other places where the NoFollow attribute makes sense is to any social networks you link to (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin etc.), any huge sites that already rank high in search engines (Wikipedia, New York Times, etc.) and any sites you simply do not trust but must reference (spam blogs, pirated software sites etc.). Concentrating your link power to a few trusted sources who will benefit from the extra links is a crucial part of SEO strategy and helps benefit your own site and other sites you link to.

When to Not Use NoFollow

Again, it comes down to due you want to help the site you’re linking to. For instance, my link at the beginning of this post to Coree’s blog, Market Like a Chick, and to our post on basic HTML tags does not include the NoFollow attribute. We trust both sites and think they represent a value to our readers and should have their rankings improved, so we left the links as regular DoFollow links. Further, we want to benefit readers of this blog so we pass link power to Coree’s blog and to our own blog.

So, don’t go NoFollowing each and every single external link on your site as part of your SEO strategy! If we all did so then no one would get any link power and the web would collapse. OK, maybe the consequences would not be quite that dire, but if you NoFollow every link then you’ll probably be less likely to get quality links in return. When we link to other bloggers, small businesses or other sources that could benefit from a higher spot in search engine rankings we leave the link as a regular link that does pass power to the source.

I tried to keep this post brief and broad to give a general overview of the NoFollow attribute. If there’s any areas you’d like more specific information on leave a comment and we’ll help you out.

Thanks to zenera for the lovely picture of the search cat.

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8 Responses to “When to NoFollow Links”

  1. When to NoFollow links http://bit.ly/Fu4Dw

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. I am pretty stoked that you not only answered my question, but even showed me such link love in your post!! Thank you !!! And, thanks for explaining how/when to use the NoFollow…I get it now. Do you use a plug in to use the NoFollow in your posts?

  3. No need for a plugin Coree. When you link to a site that you want to make nofollow, just insert rel = “nofollow” at the beginning or end of the opening html tag. Take a look at #2 on our list of 10 basic html tags.

    P.S. WordPress automatically makes the links in comments nofollow.

  4. Adam,

    I’ve always been a bit confused about “no-follow” and now it’s bit more clear.

    But why would one care (or not) whether Facebook has a “follow” back to them? If they are well beyond needing my google juice, then why waste my time putting in a “no-follow”?


  5. Ah John, it’s not so much about Facebook following you back. Adding in the nofollow helps your site more because instead of giving facebook your google juice (which they don’t need), you keep it within your blog/site and make your other links more powerful. So say you have a post with 4 links, one of which is facebook. If you leave them all as normal links, your google juice gets divided up between those 4 links (and let’s say 3 of them link back to other pages on your own site). If you nofollow that facebook link, then the google juice is only split up amongst the remaining 3 links, giving each one a slight boost.

    Does that make sense?

    Instead of leaking link power to facebook, by nofollowing you keep that power within your site allowing you to distribute more of that power to other links.

  6. Its an interesting introduction to no follow and do follow. We have lots to get right

  7. […] for me on when to use the NoFollow rule and why.   Adam was cool enough to do whole post titled When To NoFollow Links, which I’ve found very helpful.  I’d like to share a bit of what I learned from him […]

  8. Hello Adam
    Thanks for the wonderful info. I had been looking for it for sometime. Does a page with page rank 0 have any link juice while homepage is at PR4? If it is pointing to any site it should use follow or no follow? while that site won’t b pointing it.

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