Rel=”nofollow” – What is it and How Does it Benefit SEO?

Patrick Coyne
Patrick Coyne Director of Organic & Local Search

Ah, the NoFollow tag. One of most useful arrows in any digital marketer’s/webmaster’s quiver. The rel=”nofollow” tag lets you control how Search Engines crawl links on your website, which can ultimately lead to a better online presentation of your content and help you avoid possible SEO pitfalls. Adding the NoFollow tag to a link is fairly easy once you get the hang of it, but many are unsure of when to implement the tag. So we decided to put together a quick run through to help you understand how to implement rel=”nofollow” and address some of the common situations in which you would want to use it.

But first, a brief overview of how Search Engines crawl and rank websites in their Search Engine Results Pages:

When a Search Engine crawls a website for the purpose of indexation, they also follow every link on that website. Google considers these links to be endorsements of those websites, the idea being that you wouldn’t link from your business’s website to a blog post unless you thought that blog post had value. That endorsement is used by Google and the other Search Engines in determining Rankings – the more endorsements, the higher you rank. This is why links are so valuable and why everyone who owns a website is desperate to earn as many quality links as they can.

confused guy.
This guy doesn’t understand rel=”nofollow”. Don’t be like him.

What is rel=”nofollow”

The NoFollow tag is an HTML attribute that instructs Search Engines not to follow a hyperlink. In essence, rel=”nofollow” tells Search Engines that while you are linking to this website, you are not endorsing it, and therefore no value should be passed on to this website because of your link. A Search Engine will generally not crawl that link and the content that is on the linked URL.

Actual human users can still click on that link and go to that other website just as they normally would, but Search Engines stop dead in their tracks when they see the rel=”nofollow”.

Keep in mind that putting a NoFollow tag in a link doesn’t mean that a Search Engine can’t access and index a URL, it only means that this particular access point is closed to the Search Engines.

rel=”nofollow” link example

If you were to create a regular DoFollow link using something like a WYSIWYG editor, the URL would look something like this:

<a href=”https://arcintermedia.wpenginepowered.com”>an example link </a>

 

By default, links are DoFollow. Now here’s the same link but with a NoFollow tag:

 

<a href=”https://arcintermedia.wpenginepowered.com” rel=”nofollow” >an example link </a>

 

Why would you use the rel=”nofollow” tag

Pictured: A happy couple that understands and loves rel="nofollow"
Pictured: A happy couple that understands and loves rel=”nofollow”

As we wrote previously, links are very valuable. And Google won’t stand for anyone intentionally creating low-quality spam links in an attempt to manipulate the Search Engine Rankings. Google can even punish websites that create these unnatural links.

In order to avoid such cruel and unusual punishment, a webmaster will use the NoFollow tag to demonstrate to the Search Engines that you are not creating links in an attempt to manipulate Rankings. Basically, if the link is unnatural, such as a link where an advertiser pays to get on a site versus people finding a page and deciding on their own to link from their site, it needs the NoFollow tag.

 

Here are a few examples of when to use the tag:

  • Advertorials, Paid Links, Affiliate Links: A good rule of thumb is that if an advertiser pays to be on your website, use NoFollow. Other examples of advertising that require the NoFollow tag include sponsored articles and Banner Ads.
  • You Don’t Trust/Like the Content: Sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable being associated with a website, but you still need to link to that content. It’s better to nip any possible association in the bud now and avoid being lumped in with a bad link neighborhood.
  • User Generated Content/Comments: This is an example of hedging your bets. While user generated content like comments can be fantastic, you could find yourself dealing with spammers who post comments and content with the sole purpose of generating links. And although you didn’t intend for this to happen, your website could end up paying the price.
  • Press Releases: Press releases were a frequently used and abused linkbuilding tactic a few years back – so much so that Google finally dropped the hammer, devaluing these links and letting everyone know that links within press releases should feature the NoFollow tag. Make sure to treat these links like you would a paid link.

 

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