follow and nofollow links

Being followed can be a good thing. (With thanks to actor Lloyd Benedict Nolan, who often played private eyes).

Follow and nofollow links have caused a lot of confusion. Which are better?

If you’ve been under the impression that all linking is categorically good, this may be the part where you’re shocked. And I can’t blame you.

Links can be complicated.

The basics of follow and nofollow

Follow (sometimes referred to as “dofollow”) and nofollow are attributes assigned to a link, whether it’s an external link (to another web site) or an internal link (to somewhere on your web site).

As such, follow and nofollow are a way of voting. Follow links are a web site’s way of voting “yes!” to the value of another web site. The more people who vote yes for a given web site, the higher that site will rise in the search engine results.

A vote of nofollow means that your link isn’t necessarily lending support to the page in question. A vote of nofollow will not affect the other site’s ranking.

Why is this following thing important?

Says Wikipedia:

nofollow is a value that can be assigned to the rel attribute of an HTML a element to instruct some search engines that the hyperlink should not influence the ranking of the link’s target in the search engine’s index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of internet advertising because their search algorithm depends heavily on the number of links to a website when determining which websites should be listed in what order in their search results for any given term…Google announced in early 2005 that hyperlinks with rel="nofollow"[4] would not influence the link target’s PageRank.[5] In addition, the Yahoo and Bing search engines also respect this attribute value.[6]

All this to say that Google introduced nofollow to help prevent spammy links. That was way back in 2005, before most of us suspected how important spam would become to the Internet. Oddly and ironically, follow and nofollow did not curb spammy links. But they have helped us control them.

Your internal links (links within your own web site) and external links (links to other web sites) are follow. If you use WordPress or another content management system (CMS), all links are follow by default. (You can’t control whether links TO your web site are follow or nofollow.)

So why are follow and nofollow critical in your link-building efforts?

The thing about “voting” for another web site can be complicated. Suppose you want to link to a web site’s definition of something, which you find particularly well written. Then suppose that the web site in question is shortly thereafter blacklisted by Google for some SEO infraction. Your “vote” for this web site could spill back onto your web site. In other words, Google might consider you to have linked to a spammy source.

By the way, I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without defining “link juice.” WooRank defines link juice as:

Link juice is a colloquial term in the SEO world that refers to the power or equity passed to a site via links from external or internal sources. This power is interpreted as a vote of recommendation toward your site and is one of the most important factors in determining your site’s search ranking (and PageRank).

In other words, if two sites of similar authority receive differing amounts of link juice, the site receiving the most link juice will rank higher.

BUT … suppose one of these two similar sites receives only links to it. The other site receives links both to it and to other web sites. The web site receiving exclusive links will rank higher.

PageRank sculpting

You may well ask — “But why wouldn’t webmasters try to beat the system by sending link juice to some web sites and not to others?”

Well, they did. Here’s a scenario. In the olden days (OK, not that long ago), webmasters might want to boost some companies in the search engine results but put a damper on others. Such a webmaster might add a nofollow attribute whenever a link goes to, say, Acme Manufacturing. That way, the other outbound links would share the link juice not being passed to Acme, and Acme would get none. This was called PageRank sculpting. It’s no longer possible.

Today, here is what’s possible. Using the same scenario with Acme Manufacturing, a webmaster might still put a damper on Acme Manufacturing by adding a nofollow attribute to the link. But instead of Acme’s link juice being divided among the others, the nofollow juice just disappears. So if there are three links total on a particular page, the other two would receive roughly 33%.

Two good reasons to follow (pass link juice to) another web site?

  • When that web site’s content is related to yours
  • When that web site is authoritative (ranks high in the search engine results pages, or SERPs)

Similarly, when an authoritative web site links to you, you will receive a much greater benefit than if a related but less popular web site links to you.

The myth of losing PageRank through too many outbound links

You may have read that you can lose PageRank or authoritativeness by using too many outbound links, even if they’re all of high caliber. In fact, just today I read that if a web site has more outbound links than inbound links, that web site will tank in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Link juice is kind of your SEO score card. If you are linking to more sites than the sites linking back to you, then you will start losing authority. (WPBeginner)

This is hooey. I can understand the mistake — some people might think that you’re “trying too hard” when you link to information on top-of-the-heap web sites. But that’s not how Google “thinks.”

Google will always reward web sites that try to educate their visitors or help them find what they’re looking for.

That having been said, it does make sense to limit or eliminate outbound links on your highly trafficked landing pages. Your landing pages should retain visitors as much as possible and keep them on your web site. If you really need outbound links on these pages, consider having them open on a new page, so that the visitor doesn’t leave your page by clicking on one.

What should you do if you have links from unsavory web sites?

Suppose you have a plumbing web site. And you find yourself linked to by a million and one directory sites. Is this a bad thing?

Not necessarily.

There are plenty of well-meaning directory sites that are new or still in the process of building their authoritativeness. Some directories are very high on the authoritativeness scale.

But suppose one of them is Site X, an advertiser of unlawful activities based on another country, that has somehow latched onto your web site and now links to it? Google generally takes care of this by looking at whether or not your site’s content and Site X’s are related, whether Site X has a lot of links, and so forth.

There’s nothing you can do about being linked to anyway, so know that Google has the matter firmly under control.

Some helpful follow and nofollow plug-ins

Should you choose to nofollow a link, you could code it with

<a href=”http://example.com” rel=”nofollow”>Name of Website</a>.

Or you could use a nofollow plugin that gives you the option of not passing along link juice when you set up each link.

follow and nofollow links

Ultimate Nofollow is a popular choice among nofollow plugins for WordPress.

Two popular WordPress plugins are:

More on follow and nofollow

Again, I don’t recommend nofollow if you’re linking to reputable and/or authoritative web sites.

But I can imagine the need to nofollow an external link. Say, you’re writing a post about follow and nofollow and you want your readers to know that you’re not advocating a certain viewpoint. If you link to that viewpoint, you may not want Google to think that you’re subscribing to the views and information on this web site as a whole. So you’d unfollow, just so you don’t catch any unpleasant back splatter.

What about using follow and nofollow on your internal links?

I’ve seen various opinions about whether to nofollow some links on your own website.

For instance, if you’ve got the Privacy, Terms of Service, and other pages, you might think it’s a good idea to nofollow them, as doing so will keep them from appearing in search results pages.

The argument against using nofollow on your own internal pages is that you don’t want to squelch any possible link juice within your own web site. So what if someone discovers your company because he stumbled across your well-written Privacy page?

However, you may want to turn the follow spigot off when it comes to public blog comments. Even non-spammy comments may contain links that you don’t want to endorse.

On the other hand, private blogs in, say, a private support area, would not have this issue, and you may not want to nofollow them. Support areas generally have links to relevant pages, for instance, and perhaps even to highly authoritative pages) in CMSs such as WordPress, you always have the option of moderating comments before publishing them. It’s not too difficult to tell which comments are spammy and which aren’t.)

As always, we welcome your comments, especially if you find content in this post that’s erroneous or misleading. Thanks for visiting!

Follow and nofollow — the skinny

by susan time to read: 7 min
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