When to use nofollow links
Despite launching over a decade ago and remaining unchanged since 2005, the nofollow attribute is still one of the most prevalent sources of search engine optimisation (SEO) confusion.
Nofollow 101: from implementation to present day
Every early 2000s SEO practitioner understood that links were a crucial component of Google’s ranking algorithm. The desires of some to secure the highest possible ranking unfortunately outweighed their desire to do so honestly, and the abuse of links began to spread.
Quantity overshadowed quality and any means possible was used to build a substantial link profile. When the abuse of blog comments began to sweep the Internet, Google began working on a solution, which eventually resulted in the birth of the nofollow attribute.
Nofollow was initially intended for use wherever users could add links. However, it wasn’t long before Google also wanted it to be used for paid links.
As Google ultimately began penalising websites for having too many unnatural links, understanding when to use the nofollow attribute is now more important than ever.
The value of nofollow links
Using the nofollow attribute means that a link from your website to another site will have no intrinsic PageRank value. It also means that Google can’t penalise your site for linking to low-quality websites or for having a large outbound link profile.
Many large websites, including CNN, have started placing nofollow attributions on every outbound link. However, their links are still inherently valuable because of the site’s large user base.
Never underestimate the value of awareness. A nofollow link from an authoritative website will provide potential visitors with a direct opportunity to click through to your website, which can be enormously valuable even if you aren’t experiencing any direct PageRank benefits.
To follow or to nofollow, that is the question
It’s best practice to nofollow links from the following sources:
– Forums and comments
User-generated content is typically always spam heaven. You might choose to carefully moderate comments, but things will invariably slip through the net at some point.
– Sponsored links, ads, and paid links
Every form of sponsored and paid content must be nofollowed. No excuses.
– Press release links
A classic case of abuse it and lose it, press release links have been over-used and must always be nofollowed.
The process of evaluating editorial links is often more complex, but the following situations are examples of when followed links are acceptable.
– Guest post author bylines
If your guest poster is reputable, if they post regularly on your site, and if their site is one you trust, allowing a single followed link with their name/company name as the anchor text is permissible.
– Editorial content
If you are directly citing a source, if you are providing an unbiased and uncompensated product or service review, or if you reference a positive connection that you share with another site, you can include a followed link because those sites are fully deserving of the link you can provide.
In short, if you genuinely want to link to another site and if you’re not being pressured to do so, a followed link will be fine. Conversely, if you’re being paid for a link or if you aren’t convinced a site deserves a followed link, it’s best to utilise the nofollow attribute.