As any seasoned SEO professional will tell you, links are the lifeblood of the web. They are like the streets and avenues that interconnect this expansive megalopolis, allowing search engines to discover new web pages and helping them determine how to rank these web pages in their search results. Links also come in two different main variants, namely no-follow links and do-follow links.
Do-follow vs. No-follow Links
Do-follow links are simply standard HTML links which don’t contain individual link codes that instruct search engine robots—also called bots, crawlers, or spiders—not to follow those links. You don’t really need to do anything to make a link do-follow. By default, all hyperlinks are do-follow, which means they can positively influence their target pages’ search engine rankings. A typical do-follow link looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.example.com/”>Anchor Text</a>
Conversely, no-follow links are the opposite because they contain hyperlink or meta tag attributes that tell robots not to follow the links. In other words, they instruct search engine robots that the links should not influence the target page’s search engine rankings.
A no-follow attribute on a page-level meta tag tells search engines not to follow any outbound link on the entire page. Its code looks something like this:
<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” />
On the other had, a hyperlink attribute value that tells search engines not to follow individual links typically looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.example.com” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text</a>
What Makes Do-Follow Links Important
For the very reason stated above, do-follow links are valuable from an SEO perspective because they pass on link juice to websites. As you may know, link juice—or link equity as it is more formally known—is a search engine ranking factor that is based on the concept of specific backlinks or inbound links passing value and authority from web pages to target web pages.
So, for instance, if you were operating an auto parts e-commerce website, you’d certainly want to get do-follow links from high-authority, trustworthy, and popular motoring blogs and websites. Doing so as part of your link building strategy will likely result in link equity being passed on to your own website, thus increasing your search engine rankings as well.
History of Do-Follow Links
During the 1990s, in the early days of Internet search, major search engines worked by employing antediluvian algorithms that generated ranking results depending on how many times particular keywords appeared on their webpages. If webmasters simply used the right keywords that matched the search terms being entered by people, their websites had a very good chance of ranking well for those words.
As you can imagine, many people easily gamed this system by simply producing huge content portfolios while aiming for the greatest keyword densities possible. It was like the Wild West. Never mind that you were basically running content factories or simply spamming web users; as long as it gave you the edge against your competitors, you created such content.
Then, in 1996, computer scientists Larry Page and Sergei Brin developed the PageRank technology, a search algorithm that promised to be a smarter alternative to the ones being used by the leading search engines of the time. The technology is based on the principle of analyzing relationships between websites, and its underpinning is the measurement of the web pages’ quality based on the number of links pointing to them.
The idea was for these backlinks to serve as votes of confidence for the web pages they are linking to. In theory, people will naturally only link to web pages that are trustworthy and are of high quality. And so, Google was born, forever changing the landscape of Internet search.
However, webmasters and early SEOs soon found another way to circumvent the PageRank algorithm. As blogging exploded in popularity, so too did the practice of spamming the blogs’ comment sections—all because people understood the importance of links as a ranking signal. Along with publishing low-quality content in dubious websites and content farms, spam comments were used for creating huge numbers of links to deliberately manipulate the search engine rankings of their target websites.
In an effort to curb the incidence of comment spams, Google’s Matt Cutts and Blogger’s Jason Shellen proposed the implementation of the no-follow attribute value as a way to prevent links in spam comments from influencing their targets’ PageRank values. In January 2005, Google, along with Yahoo and Microsoft (Bing), adopted this solution.
Since then, the algorithms used by major search engines have advanced by leaps and bounds, and even PageRank today is no longer the only main determinant for a website’s resulting ranking in Google search results. Nevertheless, do-follow links remain important for the simple reason that they continue to serve as a signal to search engines that others vouch for the reliability and quality of your content.
Best Practices for Creating Do-Follow Links
Incorporating do-follow links into your content is vital to SEO. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of them:
Create both internal and external do-follow links
Creating links to relevant internal pages on your website as well as to external resources elsewhere on the web can really help your website. Internal links help extend your visitors’ journeys within your site, and they also help search engines crawl and index your site’s deeper, less popular pages, thus giving them the chance to rank better as well. Creating proper external links, on the other hand, can help boost your site’s relevance, while also encouraging the webmasters of the sites that receive your links to return the favor by linking back to your site.
Make sure that your do-follow links are relevant to the web pages they link to
It’s always a good idea to make your links highly relevant to the content of the web pages they target. So, let’s say you’re a lifestyle blogger, and you’ve just written a review article about your new pair of shoes. However, for some reason, you decide to link this to a post about cooking a portobello mushroom burger. This link would not provide as much link equity to your target page as compared to when it links to a blog post about your shoe collection instead.
Acquire do-follow links from top-quality websites
One of these days, you might decide to start a link building campaign that involves writing guest blog articles in partner websites. For this purpose, you should target popular, high-authority, and trustworthy websites for your guest blogging endeavor because such sites can pass more link equity to your website than less popular websites or sites with questionable quality.
Avoid manipulative linking
While creating helpful backlinks can do your website a lot of good, manipulative linking can be detrimental to it. For example, you run a tech blog and your city’s local Apple store has forged a partnership with you that involves creating content about their products. You might be tempted to link to their website for every instance that “iPhone” is mentioned in the content piece you’re doing, but this could actually be perceived by Google as being manipulative. Never overdo link creation when one or just a few links would suffice. In a nutshell, if a link doesn’t really help or provide any value to web users, then perhaps you shouldn’t create it.
Do-follow links are a powerful tool that you can employ to improve your website’s link profile and authority. Understanding how they work and using them correctly can help you take advantage of their benefits.