Link building is obviously one of the foremost facets of SEO. The more backlinks a site has from authoritative web properties, the more valuable it is in the eyes of Google. In the early days of Google, when it became evident that the search engine was using links as a criteria for ranking, spammers began to find ways to boost page rank through spam links and automated link building processes. This coincided with the popularity of blogging.
Google introduced the rel=nofollow attribute as a way to solve this issue in 2005.
“Nofollow” is simply an HTML attribute and a way for webmasters to tell the search engine bots that link juice is not to be passed through the link, and that it shouldn’t have any influence on the target site’s ranking in the search engine’s index.
The structure of the no-follow attribute is somewhat simple-
<a href=”https://www.techwyse.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text</a>
Wikipedia switched from having dofollow links to nofollow links to discourage people from making spammy edits and to stay as a neutral source of information. The idea was that by not passing any link juice to external sources, they could stop people from spamming it.
As we all know, Google gives more priority to dofollow than nofollow links. Still, discussions continue to rage on whether nofollow links have any value.
The History of the Nofollow attribute
By the year 2005, Matt Cutts and Jason Shellon proposed the idea of using nofollow links which neither affects the PageRank sculpting nor passes any link juice.
Nofollow links were introduced with an intention of preventing the pandemic spread of webmasters spamming blogs and forums in order to increase PageRank. And in September 2005, Matt Cutts recommended the use of the nofollow attribute for paid links too.
Benefits of Nofollow links
- Boosts referral traffic
It’s true that nofollow links don’t pass any link juice like dofollow links do. But they drive valuable traffic nevertheless. High quality and genuine content with well placed nofollow links can certainly bring in a ton of referral traffic.
For instance, a nofollow link we earned for one of our clients on a 97 DA site brings about 100-250 visitors to the website daily. Even if the the nofollow link doesn’t pass link juice, the website now ranks well on the first page, thanks to the user engagement.
- Boosts website authority
It’s true that a nofollow links doesn’t pass link juice. But any link is a ‘vote’ in the eyes of Google. Nofollow links, predominantly those from forums, blogs and other online community websites are seen as ‘votes’ and help to boost the website’s authority.
- Helps in having a balanced link profile
This is something that occurs very naturally, but is nevertheless, important for safe rankings. Having a link profile that is devoid of nofollow links can be a red signal. It is important that a good percentage of your backlinks are nofollow.
Matt Cutts has stated in several occasions that nofollow links are the ‘safe way’. Here’s his answer to a question whether we should use nofollow links from guest blogs.
Do no-follow links actually affect rankings?
There has been a plethora of studies about the effect of nofollow links on rankings.
Paul Marino did an interesting study where he astutely tracked the growth of traffic of a client site with link building efforts. Among the 99 links that were built, 88 were nofollow – which is about 89% of the link profile. The nofollow links clearly influenced Google rankings:
- They ranked the site #1 for the primary keyword (2000 searches per month) that they targeted.
- They ranked #2 for the secondary keyword with 8100 searches per month
- The other 3 keywords they targeted were gradually rising from page 2 to page 1 (at the time of the study)
The organic traffic saw 288% growth.
Although there can be over a dozen factors that could have influenced the rankings of the site irrespective of whether the links built to it were nofollow or dofollow, this study cements the fact that nofollow links do affect rankings.
Some of the best links that you can earn for your site are nofollow.
- Reddit comment links
- Wikipedia links
- Eye Catching advertorials
- Blog comments
- Links from press releases
- Links from Quora answers
Pre-2012, the great thing about press releases was that besides giving you a lot of link juice, they could also tap into the large audience for news content. According to the stats from ereleases.com, about 80 million people worldwide come online daily for surfing through news.
Press release links from media websites were all that were needed to bring in rapid increase in rankings and skyrocket traffic. In 2012, Google’s Matt Cutts quietly announced that Google would stop valuing press release links.
Google also updated their guidelines and publicly announced that links within the press release were to be nofollow from then on.
Here’s the actual video of John Mueller talking about press release and paid links:
MarketersMedia made headlines with their backlinking experiment to find out whether press release links still worked. They ran the test using a meaningless keyword “leasreepressmm” and built press release links to Matt Cutt’s blog. Before the test, a search for “leasreepressmm” showed that Matt’s blog didn’t rank for the keyword.
After, they built the links using “leasreepressmm” as the anchor text, the rankings of the website began spiking as a consequence of more than 400 backlinks built. At the end of the experiment Matt’s blog was ranked at #2 in Google for “leasreepressmm”. This made it clear that the links despite being nofollow, affected the rankings of the site for the target keyword.
While this may be an example of how Google is not entirely transparent of how they value links, there might be several other factors that came into play, such as the click through rate, the bounce rate, etc.
Also, even though Matt Cutts has stated in several occasions that nofollow links are the ‘safe way’, there are many who believe otherwise. In an open poll by Linkresearchtools.com, above 50 percent of the 181 poll participants had the opinion that spammy nofollow links could have a negative impact on their google results.
While the science of nofollow links is a little clouded, the facts are clear. Nofollow links matter in SEO, period.