Nofollow Links: The Complete Guide



May 7, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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If you’ve spent any time reading about SEO, you’ve likely seen some links being referred to as “nofollow.” What exactly are nofollow links, and what purpose do they serve? What makes nofollow links different from “dofollow” links?

This guide will explain everything you need to know about nofollow links — what they are, how to use them, and why you should care.

What Is a Nofollow Link?

Nofollow links use the “rel nofollow” tag to direct search engines to ignore the link when crawling the page. Nofollow links don’t usually affect SEO. They don’t pass PageRank to the linked page, and a low-quality nofollow link likely won’t hurt your rankings.

How Are Nofollow Links Different Than Dofollow Links?

Usually, when Google crawls a page,  it also crawls all outbound links on that page. However, if you tag those links with the rel nofollow tag, Google and other search engines won’t crawl it. For the most part, they will pretend those links don’t exist.

You can use nofollow tags in the page’s metadata to specify that all links on a page are not to be followed. Alternatively, you can insert the nofollow tag into individual links, using this format: .

Rel tags, or rel attributes, are just a way of describing the relationship between the linking document and the page it’s linking to. The rel nofollow tag is a type of rel attribute.

Since Google won’t usually crawl nofollow links, they typically don’t help or hurt your website.

If a high-authority site links to your page with a nofollow link, it generally won’t boost your rankings. The same applies the other way around — if low-quality sites link to you using the nofollow tag, it likely won’t hurt your site.

A dofollow link, on the other hand, sometimes called a follow link, doesn’t have any unique tag or code. All links are, by default, dofollow unless specified otherwise with a nofollow tag.

Using WordPress, it’s possible to make all of your links nofollow by default. You can do that by going to Settings and then clicking on External Links. If you want to override the rule and make a link dofollow, you would have to add a rel= “dofollow” attribute to individual links.

What does Google say about nofollow links?

According to Google Webmasters, links with a nofollow tag are “generally not to be followed.” The word “generally” was used on purpose — tagging a link as nofollow is not a hard guarantee that the search engines won’t crawl it.

When to Use NoFollow Links

You should use a nofollow tag when you don’t want Google to associate your site with the page you’re linking to. There are several situations in which you should use the nofollow tag as part of your on-page SEO strategy.

When You Have Too Many Links

Outbound links can help boost your rankings, but this will only work if you use them wisely. Too many outbound links can negatively impact your rankings. That’s because Google might view your site as a “bridge page,” or a page without any intrinsic value of its own.

If you have too many outbound links, Google might assume you set up your site with the purpose of providing backlinks to other sites or that you are accepting money for outbound links. These are black-hat tactics that Google disapproves of, and these practices can lead to an automatic algorithm penalty.

When You’re Linking to a Low-Quality Site or Page

Another reason to tag a link as nofollow is if you’re linking to a low-quality site. That can include new sites, sites without a lot of content, or sites with a low Domain Authority.

There are some situations in which you’ll need to link to such a site, such as if it’s the original source of your data. A signup form should also be linked to using a nofollow tag. It won’t usually have enough content to be valuable for SEO.

Regardless of your reasons, if you don’t want Google to notice you’re linking to a site or page, use the nofollow tag.

When You’re Linking to an Irrelevant Site

Sometimes, you’ll need to link to a page that’s not relevant to your niche or industry. For example, instead of going off on a tangent unrelated to the main idea of your blog post, you might link to an article. That way, interested readers can learn more about that unrelated topic you mentioned.

In that case, you should use a nofollow link. Google uses links to determine what kind of topics your blog talks about and what keywords it should rank for. You don’t want Google associating your blog with another niche or keywords you don’t want to rank for, so use a nofollow link to prevent that.

When You’re Using a Sitewide Link

Sitewide links are links that appear across your entire site on multiple pages. They might be placed in the header, in the footer, or in a sidebar widget. You should tag these types of links as nofollow.

When You’re Inserting an Affiliate Link

If you’re an affiliate marketer, tag all your affiliate links as nofollow. Linking to affiliate products naturally in your posts can help you drive traffic to those products and get more sales. However, these types of links are bad for SEO.

Even if you use a URL shortener such as Bitly or a plugin such as Pretty Links, it’s best to tag the links as nofollow.

When You’re Accepting Payment For a Link

If you’re getting paid for placing links on your site, whether or not the client is contributing a guest blog post, it’s best to tag that link as nofollow. Otherwise, Google considers you to be taking part in a link scheme since the link is passing PageRank. That violates its link scheme guidelines.

It’s generally not a good idea to accept payment for links in the first place, however, as it can negatively impact the user experience.

You can also use the “rel sponsored” tag instead of the nofollow tag, as explained in the next section.

When You Have User-Generated Links

User-generated content refers to content that comes not from you, but from users. That includes comments under blog posts and forum posts. You may allow readers to leave links in their comments but tag them as nofollow.

On WordPress, you don’t have to worry about this, as comment links are automatically tagged as nofollow.

You can also use the “rel ugc” tag, as explained in the next section.

NoFollow Vs. Sponsored Vs. UGC Tags

In the past, nofollow links were used in all of the above situations. However, Google has recently introduced two more tag categories: rel sponsored and rel ugc.

Instead of rel= “nofollow,” you would use rel=”ugc” or rel=” sponsored.”

Use the “sponsored” tag when a link is sponsored in any way. That includes paid links, sponsored articles, guest posts that you accepted payment for, and affiliate links.

The “rel ugc” tag, on the other hand, is for user-generated content, such as forum and comment links.

These three link tags — nofollow, sponsored, and ugc — have the same effect: Google will generally disregard them when crawling a page.

Bing Webmasters also treats sponsored and ugc tagged links as links that should be disregarded.

Bing Webmasters also indexes content for Yahoo. Together with Google, they make up almost all search engine traffic.

Although Google recommends using sponsored and ugc tags when applicable instead of a nofollow tag, you can still use a nofollow tag in those cases; it’s not against the rules. However, you can also use a sponsored or ugc tag in conjunction with a nofollow tag with a comma in between (don’t include a space).

For example, you can use both the nofollow and the sponsored tags.

Consider using both the sponsored/ugc and nofollow tag if a significant portion of your traffic comes from search engines other than Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It’s not entirely clear how certain alternative search engines treat rel sponsored and rel ugc links.

Does NoFollow Guarantee the Link Won’t Be Followed?

Some people mistakenly assume that if they use a “nofollow” tag, Google will disregard the link 100% of the time, so they can use as many nofollow links as they want without any SEO-related outcome. However, that’s far from the truth.

NoFollow Tags Are Mere ‘Hints’

Unfortunately, while search engines generally don’t follow links with nofollow tags, there is no solid guarantee here. Google Webmaster states that “Links marked with these rel attributes will generally not be followed.”

The keyword here is “generally.” Google explicitly announced that “For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.”

Before that, it was a strong rule — Google didn’t follow nofollow links. Now, it’s a suggestion, but there’s no guarantee that a nofollow link won’t be crawled.

What about Bing and Yahoo? According to a statement on Twitter by Fabrice Canel, Bing’s principal program manager, Bing has always treated nofollow, ugc, and sponsored tags as “hints” instead of firm rules.

In addition, nofollow links can also be crawled by search engines via sitemaps and other methods, even if they don’t follow them when crawling your page.

What does this mean for you?

Use NoFollow Links In Moderation

The first thing to extrapolate from this is that you still need to exercise prudence when using nofollow links. Just because you now know about nofollow tags, that doesn’t give you free rein to insert as many outbound links as you want to any type of webpage.

Since it’s possible for a nofollow link to be crawled, you should try decreasing the number of outbound links you have, especially to low-quality sites and affiliate products. Use outbound links in moderation, even if you tag them as nofollow.

You Can Still Benefit From NoFollow Backlinks

The fact that nofollow links are mere “hints” also has an upside for you: You can benefit from nofollow backlinks. If the only type of backlink you can get from a blog post is nofollow, go for it.

Low-Quality NoFollow Backlinks May Also Hurt You

At the same time, it stands to reason that if you can benefit from high-quality nofollow backlinks, you can also get hurt from too many spammy or low-quality nofollow backlinks.

A marketer might set up a network of low-quality sites linking to their leading site, intending to drive traffic to it. They might use nofollow tags for those links, but that doesn’t mean Google won’t notice what they’re doing. You can still get penalized for such a link scheme.

How to Tag a Link As NoFollow

Making a link as nofollow is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to add a rel= “nofollow” tag after the target URL.

You can do this in the HTML version of your page, regardless of which platform you use. However, if you’re using WordPress, you won’t have to bother with any coding.

When you insert a link in WordPress, you can use the All In One SEO plugin, which will automatically give you the option of making each link a nofollow link. If you choose to make a link nofollow, the plugin will automatically insert the rel nofollow tag for you.

NoFollow Vs. No Index Vs. Disallow

Nofollow tags are often confused with no index and disallow tags, but they’re entirely separate things. While a nofollow tag is placed in a link to tell Google not to crawl it, disallow and no index tags are used in the robots.txt file of your website.

Disallowing a page stops Google from crawling that page altogether, while the no index tag tells Google not to include your page in the search engine results. You should use these tags for pages you want to hide from Google, such as a thank-you page that appears after a customer purchased a product.

How to Find Out If You Have Nofollow Links

Using Ahrefs, you can discover how many nofollow backlinks you have. Use the Link Type filter in the site explorer to filter for link type.

Available link types include, but are not limited to:

  • Dofollow
  • Nofollow
  • Redirect
  • Governmental
  • Educational

If you see a link on a blog pointing to your site, you can check the page’s source code to determine if it’s dofollow or nofollow. On Chrome, you can right-click on the link and click on Inspect to view the link’s HTML code. If there’s a rel nofollow tag, it’s a nofollow link; otherwise, it’s a dofollow link.

You may also see a “View Page Source” option when you right-click on the page, depending on the browser you’re using.

You can also get browser extensions that automatically highlight nofollow links. A good extension for Chrome is Nofollow Simple.

Are NoFollow Backlinks Worth Getting?

In your backlink outreach effort, you may come across some blogs that accept guest posts but won’t let you include a dofollow link. Is it worth spending time and energy to get a nofollow link, or are you wasting your time?

Are nofollow links worth getting? The answer is a resounding yes. Here are five benefits of having nofollow backlinks.

1. They Drive Traffic To Your Site

Even if a nofollow backlink doesn’t get crawled by Google, it can still drive traffic to your site. That is especially true if it’s on a popular blog or website. If you write a guest blog and it ranks on the first page of Google for a high-volume keyword, it might continue sending steady traffic your way for years on end.

2. They Help Create Brand Awareness

Nofollow backlinks can be crucial to building brand awareness and increasing your authority in your niche, primarily when they include your domain name as their anchor text. People who are interested in your niche may tend to read the same blogs.

For example, in the SEO niche, people tend to read blogs such as:

  • Moz
  • Neil Patel
  • Backlinko
  • Search Engine Land

If you get a backlink from such a blog, it can help drive awareness, regardless of whether the reader clicks on the link or not.

Later, when browsing Google and seeing your site pop up, people will be more likely to click on your site versus your competitor’s. The fact that they saw your site linked on a site they trust will make them more likely to click on your website when they see it in the search results or on social media.

3. They Can Help With SEO

As already explained, nofollow tags are only hints. Just because a link to your site is nofollow, that doesn’t necessarily mean the search engines won’t crawl or follow it.

Nofollow links can help for SEO. The more high-quality nofollow links you get, the more likely it is that some of them will get crawled and, as a result, boost your SEO rankings.

Adam White from SEOJet proved that nofollow backlinks do boost SEO rankings. He conducted a little experiment: He would try to get his site to rank for keywords using only nofollow backlinks. Within one week, he was able to get his site to rank for the keyword “backlink software” — with just one nofollow backlink!

Granted, it was a sitewide backlink (meaning the backlink was displayed  on a sidebar that showed up on every page). However, that was not the only time he has managed to rank for a keyword using that method. It has worked for him time after time.

Of course, that’s just anecdotal evidence, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we already established that nofollow links can and do get crawled by Google, at least sometimes.

4. They Are Part of a Natural Link Profile

By now, you know that nofollow links can help boost your SEO rankings. But did you know that not having nofollow links can hurt your SEO efforts?

Google expects popular websites to naturally attract all kinds of links, including nofollow links and even sponsored and ugc links. When your site is popular, people will link to you naturally, and many will use nofollow links. People will link to you in comments and forums as well, hence the ugc links.

If you only have dofollow links, it can look a bit suspicious to Google, as it can appear as if you are paying for all your links. It’s essential to have nofollow  links, as they make up part of a natural link profile.

5.They Lead to Dofollow Links

A nofollow link on a high-quality blog in your niche can lead to future collaboration opportunities with other bloggers. Not only will can you include those articles as samples when submitting guest posts to other blogs, but some bloggers may even reach out to you to collaborate.

What About Social Media Links?

Links from social media, such as links you post in your profile bios, tend to be nofollow. However, they are still important for SEO.

Google’s algorithm takes social signals into account. When people are talking about you and linking to you on social media, it’s likely to mean that your site is popular and offers relevant, exciting content. A lack of social chatter, on the other hand, generally indicates that your content isn’t that special. Try to get social media backlinks whenever possible.

If you haven’t been tagging some of your links as nofollow, now is the time to do so. Using the nofollow tag will ensure that you don’t get hurt by linking to products or low-quality sites. Also, if you’ve been avoiding getting nofollow backlinks, perhaps it’s time to rethink that strategy. Nofollow backlinks benefit you in many ways, including with SEO.

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