The rel=”nofollow” link attribute was developed as a method of controlling link spam, especially within blog comments. Webmasters did not always have the ability to apply nofollow to individual links, prior to this ability a webmaster would have to use content=”nofollow” which would effectively mean that nofollow was applied to every single link on a page. This blanket style nofollow was not particularly effective because it prevented websites from allowing link juice to flow internally within their website and also grouped all links into one. Nowadays though webmasters are able to pick and choose which links they apply the nofollow attribute to.
What does nofollow mean?
Link spam is one of the biggest pains in search engines’ digital backside. Black Hat SEOs would post hundreds if not thousands of comments on multiple blogs without taking into consideration the relevance or quality of the website, nor would the comment and link offer any value to the user. They would do this for the sole purpose of gaining a backlink and therefore link juice. Obviously this was not ideal for search engines such as Google which take into account backlink portfolios in their ranking algorithms. In order to prevent this link spam, the nofollow attribute was developed so that these spammy links were not counted in search engine algorithms. It is the digital version of the blocker lemming, telling the search engine bot not to count the link as a link and therefore not allow any link juice or PageRank to flow via the link. It is often considered to mean that the content on the other side of the link cannot be validated or is untrusted.
There is no such thing as a ‘dofollow’ link. A hyperlink is by followed by robots as default if it does not have the nofollow attribute applied to it.
Avoid being penalised for advertorials
Nofollow can also be used by businesses that are advertising on other sites. As we know, Google strongly dislikes paid links and will actively penalise any website that engages in such tactics. That is not to say that websites are not allowed to advertise on other websites. Best practice dictates that any link that has been bought, whether that be as part of an editorial contribution or banner advertisement, should be nofollowed. It is a way of saying to Google, ‘I have paid for this advertisement which will direct users to my site, but I am not trying to buy links in order to manipulate search results’. Interflora were famously ousted from Google’s index in early 2013 for buying links and not applying nofollow to them. In addition, the newspapers that sold these links were also penalised by Google for their misdemeanours with Google sending a very clear message that both the buyer and the seller of links would be penalised.
Avoid Bad Neighbourhoods
In the past links have generally been considered to be one way referrals, i.e it is the person building the link that is in fault if it turns out to be spam. This has changed somewhat due to quality factors becoming more and more important to search engines. As a result, linking out to certain websites immediately associates your website with the destination of the link and in turn any websites that the other site is then associated with. Therefore, if you link out to a spammy site or what is known as a ‘bad neighbourhood’ it can have a detrimental effect on your authority and as a by product, your ranking. The nofollow attribute gives webmasters the ability to discount any untrusted links and avoid association with any of these bad neighbourhoods.
Should I be link hoarding?
Many webmasters have taken it upon themselves to try and prevent their site leaking link juice via links pointing to webpages outside of their domain. This is known as ‘link hoarding’. Whilst in theory it appears to be a good option, it also immediate devalues any references that you may make within your content. You also immediately shut yourself off from any potential benefit from co-citation and the association with relevant websites. We would advise that if you are producing high quality content and are referencing other high quality websites then do not concern yourself with hoarding your link juice.
Is a nofollow link worthless?
Not at all. In our guide to link building we mentioned that whilst links are important from an SEO perspective they are also great additions to a marketing campaign in a referral capacity. An attractive link from a high quality website should push targeted traffic to your website. In turn, this increased exposure to your content may also earn you links from other sources. So don’t discount a website just because they automatically nofollow all of their links!
Implementing a nofollow on links
Content Management Systems like WordPress automatically apply the nofollow attribute to all user generated links to prevent comment spam. If you want to add nofollow to links you need to place rel=”nofollow” in the html code of a hyper link, e.g:
<a href”=”www.untrustedsite.com/” rel=”nofollow”>anchor text</a>