Links are a fundamental part of the web, both for users and for search engines – they are essential for finding new content. However, not all links are created equal – did you know that links can have a number of extra attributes added to them, that changes how they are seen by search engines? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at ‘nofollow’ links and what they mean for SEO, as well as recent changes by Google to nofollow links.
What is a nofollow link?
A ‘nofollow’ link is traditionally a link where search engines are instructed to not ‘follow’ the link, or assign weight to it in their algorithms – to all intents and purposes the link is not considered in their graph of the web. Nofollow links were originally introduced to deal with comment spam, as it gave webmasters an easy way to devalue links that they did not trust. Since then, nofollow links have become more widely adopted and are now used in a variety of circumstances.
What impact would a nofollow link have on my website?
This depends on the context of the nofollow – if applied to internal pages on your site it may affect how internal link ‘equity’ flows through your website, which may in turn impact your search engine rankings. Nofollow can also be used when linking externally, if the webmaster in question does not want to pass ranking factors across to the site being linked to (it may be an untrustworthy site, or one they do not want to give editorial credit to) In terms of backlinks, nofollow links are generally viewed as less valuable than regular links.
Recent changes to nofollow links
Recently, changes have been made to nofollow links to give webmasters more granular control over what type of nofollow they want to apply – ‘sponsored’ and ‘ugc’ (user-generated content) tags have been added as subsets of nofollow to give webmasters more specific ways to flag links on their sites (although the normal nofollow attribute can still be used for sponsored and user-generated content if the webmaster wishes)
Additionally, Google have recently stated that although nofollow links were treated as a ‘directive’ in the past, meaning that Google would always obey the link flag, now they are seen as a ‘hint’ meaning that they may be used in crawling, indexing and ranking calculations. Google will determine this on a link-by-link and site-by-site basis, and although nofollow links still will not carry as much weight as regular links it is possible that they may be included in overall calculations.
It was safe to say in the past that nofollow links in purely SEO terms carried little weight, but now the situation is a little more complex. An in-content, editorial nofollow link from a positive article on a high-quality publication is certainly a long way removed from a spammy comment link, and evaluating links both internally and externally looks to now be best done on a case-by-case basis.