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Why use the Nofollow tag for search engine optimization?

Why use the Nofollow tag for search engine optimization?
Why use the Nofollow tag for search engine optimization?

Content Manager at Serpstat
The nofollow attribute is a direction for search engine robots that instructs them not to follow the links on the website, and therefore, not to transfer the link juice.

It is vital when linking to any untrusted sources, where not using this attribute may result in a severe authority loss.

So, let's get straight to the point.

What is a Nofollow tag?

The nofollow tag is an HTML attribute meant for preventing search robots from following a specific hyperlink or all links on a web page. That way, you refuse to "share" the link juice with the website the said link(s) leads to.

Back in the day, it was common to rely on the basic nofollow attribute for all types of links the website didn't want to associate with, whether it's sponsorship or advertisement links, links to shady websites or unauthorized self-promotion in user-generated content (comment sections, blog posts), etc.

However, going forward, the situation started shifting.
In 2019 Google introduced new, more precise rel values, aimed at providing additional information about links to search engine bots. Besides the basic nofollow, these values are recommended:

  • rel="sponsored" - for paid links (sponsorships, advertising, and other paid collaborations);
  • rel="ugc" - for links in user-generated content, including forum posts and comment
For other scenarios, the basic rel="nofollow" tag remains suitable.

Does it mean that now you have to immediately replace all the basic nofollow attributes with new tags for old sponsored/ugc links?

No, the good-old nofollow attribute still works. But from now on, keep that recommendation in mind.
So what does the basic HTML nofollow tag do, and what does it look like?

First, it can allow you to give directions to search robots regarding the entire website page if you use the following line of code:
<meta name="robots" content="nofollow" />
In this case, the bots are asked not to follow any links located on the page.

Alternatively, the nofollow attribute can be placed into the HTML <a> tag, as seen in this example:
<a href="http://site-address" rel="nofollow">link text with nofollow attribute</a>
This attribute signals to search engines that a specific link should not be followed.

It can be used on its own, or in combination with newer "ugc" and "sposored" tags.

How does the Nofollow tag affect the website ranking?

Opinions about nofollow links in SEO are divided.

Some experts believe that since nofollow links don't directly affect website rankings, there's no point in getting them.

Others claim that they are still valuable for website promotion, despite them not passing on the link juice.
What's Google's stance on rel nofollow tags?

Well, it's not that simple.
Previously, Google used to completely ignore all the nofollow links, so they did not have any impact on crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Since 2020 Google might take into account the nofollow links, and use them as suggestions or, as they call it,"hints" for crawling, indexing, and ranking.

So for the search engine, this attribute is more of a recommendation, not a strict rule it has to comply with.

Google may still choose to completely ignore the nofollow links, but in some cases, they might have an indirect impact on website authority.
Anyway, building nofollow links to your website surely does have its advantages, as first, they are easier to get than dofollow links, and second, they also allow you to:

  • distribute your content, generate more links and brand awareness, and get more traffic to your website;

  • achieve a more natural and diverse link profile (if it only consisted of dofollow links, search engines could find it suspicious);

If you regularly receive links from popular sites with good reputation, even if they're nofollow, you can still gain more trust from search engines, despite ranking signals not being directly transferred.

Although, that could only work if you do it smartly, and in moderation. Google's algorithms are getting smarter and smarter every day, so using any black hat SEO will not get you far in the long run.

When to use the Nofollow tag:

1
For external links to any untrusted resources you don't want to be associated with, and don't recommend the search robot to follow.
2
On pages with user-generated content.

The basic nofollow tag, that was previously recommended, still works. Now you can also use the more recent rel="ugc", or a combination of two values.
Taking good care of UGC pages is absolutely crucial since they tend to be filled with links to untrusted sources, which causes your website's trust to decline, and therefore, has a detrimental impact on its rankings.
4
For sponsored links. Google slightly prefers the "sponsored" attribute, but the "nofollow" tag is also acceptable.

When NOT to use the Nofollow tag:

1
To forbid Google to index a certain page. For this purpose, there's noindex meta tag.
1
For links used for the website's internal linking.

Such links are dedicated to distributing the link juice between the site pages, and make the website promotion more efficient. The Nofollow tag in the HTML code would make internal linking far less effective, if not useless.
3
For stopping Google from crawling links within your own website. In this case, Google recommends reaching for disallow rule.

How to detect nofollow links

For successful search engine optimization, it is vital to check external and internal links for nofollow attributes from time to time. That way, you can add or remove them, when necessary.

So, let's take a look at ways of finding such external and internal links.

Checking the code of the page

First, right-click on the link anchor and choose "Inspect".
Inspect element in Google Chrome
Check out the HTML code for a Nofollow attribute:
Nofollow in the page's code
It's also necessary to look for the Nofollow attribute in the Robots meta tag.

In the following example, all links on the page get ignored by crawlers:
Nofollow noindex in meta Robots on the page
To simplify the process, you can use the NoFollow plugin for Google Chrome. As usual, in order for it to work, you need to download the extension first, and then activate it on the extension panel.
NoFollow plugin for Chrome
The plugin highlights the links with the nofollow tag with a dotted frame:
Nofollow links highlighting in Chrome

Find external nofollow links with Serpstat

To find out which website's external links have the nofollow tag, you can also use Serpstat's Backlink Analysis tool.

This instrument will allow you to see the list of website links, their anchors, and types: nofollow, dofollow, UGC, or sponsored. This report is not just a dofollow/nofollow checker tool, you will also get the data on the website's Domain Rank, which is Serpstat's alternative to PageRank, the target pages the backlinks lead to, and a ton of other useful backlink data.
Nofollow noindex in meta Robots on the page

Conclusion

1
In certain cases, you need to add the nofollow, ugc, or sponsored attribute to external links on the website.
2
When linking to third-party sites you don't want to be associated with, use the rel="nofollow" to avoid losing the search engine's trust, and maintain the link juice.
3
The majority of links you use for the site promotion should be without this attribute, as it can influence page position in search results.
4
Don't use Nofollow for your internal linking to avoid negative consequences.

This article is a part of Serpstat's Checklist tool
Checklist at Serpstat
Checklist is a ready-to-do list that helps to keep reporting of the work progress on a specific project. The tool contains templates with an extensive list of project development parameters, where you can also add your own items and plans.
Try Checklist now

FAQ:

What is a nofollow link?

It’s a link with a nofollow attribute, which indicates to the search engine that the link should not be followed by the search bot, and the PageRank should not be transferred. It can be assigned to any website you want to link to but don’t want to be associated with.

Why is nofollow important?

Linking to untrusted low-quality websites significantly decreases the authority of your website, and therefore, has a negative impact on your rankings in search results.

What is a sponsored tag?

Sponsored tag is an attribute recommended for advertising, sponsorship, and other paid links on the website.

What is an ugc tag?

UGC stands for user-generated content, so the ugc attribute is meant for users’ comments, forum posts, reviews or any other sections where unwanted links may appear.

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