Nofollow Explained

The “nofollow” attribute is one of the first things SEO trainees are taught and it is one of the most important concepts in search engine optimization. The strategic use of nofollow tags can help sites better optimize the distribution of link equity, prevent associations with sketchy external websites, and help increase search engine visibility.

A Short History of Backlinks

To understand why nofollow links are kind of a big deal, we first have to look at how the internet was back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Back then, spammy on-page SEO strategies were widely used, and some large and respected brands even engaged in these practices. It was around this time that Google emerged and started changing everything.

In contrast to other search engines that often returned irrelevant answers because of SEO manipulation, Google consistently returned highly relevant search results to its users. Google Search’s vastly superior performance laid the foundations for Google’s dominance in web searches today.

Early on, it was clear that Google was doing something very different from the other popular search engines. Eventually, early SEOs found that Google was using backlink analysis and the PageRank algorithm to determine the relevance and authority of different websites. This gave birth to a new range of SEO strategies designed to gather as many high-quality backlinks as possible.

And while the PageRank algorithm was soon rendered obsolete, almost three decades on, backlink profiles continue to be a major determinant of webpage ranking power, not just in Google Search but also in other competing search engines.

The Birth of Nofollow

Broken Link

However, in the first few years after backlinks were confirmed to be key to ranking on Google Search, black hat SEOs realized that leaving links in comment sections and forums actually provided a small amount of link equity to their landing pages. Given this, comment spam and forum spam became commonplace on the internet. It was so effective that some SEOs even spammed blog comment sections and forums full-time.

Another way the backlink system was exploited was through the use of article directory spam, where sites were set up to do nothing but accept low-quality articles with backlinks. Other similar tactics include web directory spam, where SEOs would submit their client’s information and links to different online directories. It was also popular to buy banner and footer ads, not for the branding but for the links on the images.

This all naturally resulted in a deterioration in the quality of online search results. To combat this, Google and other major search engines teamed together to introduce an HTML tag standard for nofollow links that allows webmasters to control the flow of link equity from their websites. The introduction of nofollow effectively gave webmasters a means to counter link spam and preserve their site’s link equity.

How is Nofollow implemented?

Nofollow could be implemented in two ways. The first way is a meta tag or meta robots tag added to the head section of a webpage. This disables the flow of link equity from the whole page, regardless if it’s an internal link to some other page on the same site or an outbound external link.

The other way to implement it is to add the attribute to individual links with a rel=”nofollow” tag. This only restricts the flow of link equity from that single link.

Where Should You Implement Nofollow?

Nofollow attribution can be done anywhere you need to control the outflows of link equity. However, they are most commonly used on links within the following types of content:

  • User Generated Content (UGC). UGC on forums and comment sections is commonly abused by black hat SEOs for link spam. Apart from a typical nofollow, the special attribute rel=“UGC” can be used to clue in Google’s bots of the reason a nofollow is being used on a specific link.
  • Sponsored Content. Google frowns on the use of dofollow links on sponsored links. To avoid a potential loss in search visibility, you can include the attribute rel=“nofollow” on these. Recently, Google and other search engines have also rolled out the special nofollow attribute rel=“sponsored” to help bots better contextualize the nature of these links.

Google is serious about link spam because, when left alone, it could seriously damage the relevance of its search results. Even big names like Mozilla and Amazon have been hit with manual penalties for not policing their online properties. Given this, webmasters should be keen to avoid giving dofollows for sites that may not be completely trustworthy.

How Do I Implement a Nofollow Attribute to a Link?

Fortunately, adding nofollows is easy. Follow the video starting at 12:31 to find out how SearchWorks implements nofollow on WordPress sites using popular plugins.

Single Link / Link-level Nofollow

We tend to implement link-level no follows more than page-level nofollows because we don’t commonly find instances where a blanket implementation is needed. In any case, adding nofollows to single links is simple.

If your page is on WordPress and you’re comfortable with HTML, you can directly edit links at the HTML level by adding a rel=“nofollow” in the opening tag. Simply follow the format in the example below and update your page:

<a href=”” rel=“nofollow”>The Most Trusted SEO Agency in the Philippines</a>

If you’re not comfortable with HTML or simply want to use the visual editor, you can use a trusted plugin like Title and Nofollow for Links.

If you have Title and Nofollow for Links installed, enter the edit page for the content with the links you need to edit. From there, you can simply select links in the content box and edit them through the “Insert/Edit Link” pop-up. On the pop-up box, select the button with the gear symbol labeled “Link options” and check the box for “Add rel=”nofollow” to link”. Click “Update” (or “Add link”, if you’re making a link from scratch) to complete the changes.

Page-wide Nofollow

If your site is on WordPress, you can download Yoast or other similar plugins to do this without going into the site’s HTML. Once you’ve downloaded Yoast, locate the desired page and select the “Edit Post” option. Alternatively, you can access the WordPress dashboard and find the page you wish to nofollow by selecting the “Posts” option from the left-side menu.

After entering the post editing screen for your selected page, continue scrolling past the content editor box until you reach the Yoast SEO section. Look for the “Advanced” drop-down panel.

Once you’ve expanded “Advanced”, you should see an option labeled “Should search engines follow links on this page?”. Select “No” and save or update your content. This will put a nofollow meta robots tag on the page header, restricting the flow of link equity from that specific URL.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to implement nofollow attributes to your pages is a key part of modern technical and on-page SEO. Being able to identify nofollow tags is also important for link building, as most of the value in link building is derived from the link equity that gets transferred to your landing page.

To find out more about our methods for gathering quality backlinks, read Effective Link Outreach Guide for High-DA Websites and The Degrees of Backlink Relevance. If you help with improving your site’s backlink profile, feel free to reach out and set up a meeting.

Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.