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Part of good SEO practice is to understand how backlinks work and what kind of impact they have on your website’s ranking. It’s all about trust and reputation, which Google and other search engines value when ranking web pages and blogs for search results. 

So, what’s a nofollow link, and how does it fit into the SEO puzzle? Let’s take a closer look. 

What Is a Nofollow Link?

Backlinks fall into different categories. Dofollow and nofollow are a couple of major categories. A nofollow link is a hyperlink with an HTML “rel” attribute inscribed with the value ‘nofollow.’ This attribute communicates to search engines against crawling and indexing the link. Typically, the nofollow attribute instructs search engines against following that link. 

It’s a publisher’s way of saying to search engines, “I am not endorsing this link; I am just adding it for reference.” 

The nofollow attribute was intended to be used on links the publisher doesn’t necessarily endorse or trust. It could include user-generated content, paid links, or any other reference links the publisher does not want to pass their website’s authority onto. 

The initial idea behind this was to combat spam and manipulative link-building practices. Publishers needed to differentiate all their outbound links. For example, you want to pass on SEO juices to a partner’s website, but you may have to reference a site that you don’t endorse.

Understanding Backlinks

The tradition of referencing sources to increase the authority and credibility of information dates back centuries. The point of referencing was to allow readers to verify the information being presented while crediting the original source.

This concept has evolved over time and emerged as backlinking in online content. However, backlinks serve more than just referencing; they’re also a crucial factor in determining a website’s ranking.

Search engines borrowed heavily from the principles of academic referencing to develop algorithms. If many publishers out there reference your blog or page, search engines get the impression that your content is of high quality and deemed relevant. 

Here’s another way to look at it: Would you feel more confident referencing some data from an Ivy League school’s study or Wikipedia? Your argument will certainly gain more weight with data from an Ivy League University or a constitutional agency.

In fact, it’s more convincing if one authority figure speaks than getting the same information from multiple lesser-known sources. The same is true of backlinks.

A high-profile website is considered an authority in its niche. Having a backlink from such a site counts as an endorsement of your content, and it may do more good to your site than having multiple backlinks from smaller websites.

How Nofollow Links Differ from Dofollow Links

Not every backlink adds value to your site. The authority of the linking site determines the link’s value, the content’s relevance, and whether it’s dofollow or nofollow.

Dofollow tells search signals to follow the link and pass on some authority to your site. Nofollow links, in contrast, don’t pass on any authority and may not directly affect your site’s search rankings. 

The benefit of winning a dofollow link stands out clearly: it adds more value to your backlink profile, improving your site’s ranking potential.

But what happens when multiple spammy websites are linking to some blog or product listing on your site? If the links are dofollow, it might harm your site’s ranking potential. That’s where nofollow links come in handy and help protect your site from any negative impact. 

Furthermore, nofollow links are a way of maintaining the integrity of your content. By using them on paid or sponsored links, you can ensure that readers understand the nature of the link and that it’s not an organic recommendation.

Reasons for Using Nofollow Links

There are several reasons why publishers and webmasters opt to use nofollow links in their content:

  • To prevent spam: As mentioned earlier, nofollow links were a response to combating spammy link-building practices. By using them, publishers can protect their site’s authority and reputation.
  • For paid or sponsored content: If you’re promoting a product or service through your website, it’s ethical to use nofollow links to disclose the nature of the partnership or advertisement. 
  • User-generated content: Nofollow links are also recommended for any links included in user-generated content, such as comments or forum posts. Spammers can’t take advantage of your site’s authority by posting comments with links.
  • External or affiliate links: If your website includes external or affiliate links, it’s good practice to use nofollow or sponsored tags. It protects your site from spam and also helps you comply with search engine guidelines.

Do Nofollow Links Help in SEO?

The answer to this question is still debatable among SEO professionals. While nofollow links don’t directly impact a site’s ranking potential, they can indirectly help in improving SEO efforts. Here are some ways nofollow links can benefit your website:

  • Attracting more referral traffic: Even if nofollow links don’t pass on link juice, they can still drive traffic to your website. For example, Investopedia’s audience may want to verify the information provided and, hence, click on the source link to read more. 
  • Building your brand authority: By using nofollow links, you can protect your site’s trustworthiness. It also shows that you’re following ethical practices and care about the quality of your content.
  • Encouraging natural link building: With nofollow links, you can still build relationships with other websites and encourage them to link back to your site. It’s actually one of the ways you eventually wind up with some dofollow links.
  • Boosting credibility with search engines: By using nofollow links, you’re showing search engines that you’re following their guidelines and not manipulating your site’s ranking potential. 

Always Balance Your Backlink Profile

While do-follow links can benefit your website, it helps to have a balanced link profile. Don’t make all your outbound links nofollow, but only reserve your do-follow links for high-quality and relevant websites.

On the other hand, try to get organic do-follow links pointing at your site from high-authority websites. If any links coming to your site are from content sponsored by you, mark them as sponsored or nofollow using rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored.” This will ensure search engines don’t penalize your website for having an unnatural link profile.

Additionally, it’s important to regularly audit your backlink profile and disavow any spammy or low-quality nofollow links. Keeping a clean and balanced backlink profile can improve your site’s overall credibility and authority. 

Here are the basics of backlink building to help you navigate the process. 

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Author Jarod Thornton

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