Here’s a question we recently received: "Can you send us research or any articles you have regarding the theory behind inserting nofollows on links on a page, for example with the privacy policy or site map?"

The rel="nofollow" link attribute is designed to give webmaster granular control over the flow of link equity (PageRank).  Links that have the "nofollow" attribute end up passing zero equity, are not followed (crawled) and are dropped off the link graph of the major search engines.  Nofollow can be a great way to optimize your webpages to appear more relevant to the engines, and as a result, people.

If you think of each link on a web page as a valve that sends link equity down a pipe then you could shut off some of those valves and send additional equity down the pipes that matter the most.  Nofollowing is usually a good method of preventing link equity from propegating to pages that you don’t want or need ranking in the serps.

How do I use it?

Simply place the rel="nofollow" attribute into the <a> tag

Without nofollow: <a href="http://www.example.com">my link here</a>

With nofollow: <a href="http://www.example.com" rel="nofollow">my link here</a>

When should I use Nofollow? Examples

  • Unimportant pages – One idea would be to nofollow the privacy policy and terms & conditions pages on all pages of your site except the sitemap, then nofollow the sitemap on all pages except the home page – so you’d be saving equity all over the site but still letting the crawlers find your sitemap, from the home page, and all pages it links to.
     
  • Duplicate links – You could make sure you don’t pass link equity to the same page twice by placing using nofollow on duplicate links.  Note you may not want to always follow this rule if the cost of implementing nofollow attributes on duplicate links is higher than the perceived benefit (for example, I would probably avoid trying to write rules in your CMS that place a nofollow attribute on a link pointing to page "A" within your navigation if a contextual link on that same page is linking to page "A" as well… just too messy) – and be careful because it’s easy to shoot yourself in the footer since feedback on nofollow difficult to measure other than ranking changes. 

    A really conservative and safe approach would be to nofollow duplicated links within the copy of your page, so if you sold legal related services and you linked to your services page more than once within your page copy you might try nofollowing the link that says "services" and keep the "San Diego Family Lawyer" link followed.
     

  • Paid links and ads – Nofollowing paid advertisements is probably a good idea, however I’m sure many will argue against it.  Search engines want you to nofollow paid links because they argue paid links unfairly re-route equity and do not represent natural linking, which reduces an engine’s ability to serve up relevant organic results. Google for example even have a way for you to report paid links.
     
  • Comment links – it’s no secret that nofollow is used to reduce the effect of link equity, PageRank etc. from leaking away to sites that you don’t necessarily want your page recommending, especially if you let people post comments freely without moderation.
     
  • When you complain – that’s right, when you complain about someone or something and you feel you need to write about it, why not link to your example but not give out link equity at the sime time?  Sounds good because they didn’t deserve it anyways right? 😉

Tools for working with Nofollow tags

  • NoDoFollow FireFox pluggin – A simple pluggin for FireFox that, when enabled, highlights all links on a page in blue and all nofollowed links in pink making it easy to eye ball a page and see what it’s doing.  Try view this blog page for nofollow links, we’ve done a few minor tweaks here and there.
  •  Performing an anchor text analysis on our tool, built on top of backlinkwatch.com, will show nofollowed links (just look in the "Flag" column)

Alternatives to using Nofollow

  • A Meta tag nofollow can be used to prevent all links on a given page from sending any equity away from your page
  • And you could use a few Robots exclusion rules to prevent entire sections of your site from sending out link "juice".

Be careful with the above two because you can nofollow or exclude an entire page and still have other, indexed pages send equity down into it, wasting your resources – and the nofollow tag is great because you get granular control over the flow of PageRank and don’t necessarily need to worry about other pages waisting equity on your page in question.

What about opinions against the use of NoFollow?

Apparently the smaller the player, the riskier your online business model or the more negatively charged reputation you have with a search engine, the benefits of using nofllow seem to grow smaller and smaller, especially with respect to Google (because their quality raters have the power to filter/ban your site):

"If you are a corporation you are OK to spam, but Google engineers get their kicks by crushing small webmasters. They keep the web safe and healthy by policing smaller players, hoping that this consolidates traffic against larger corporations which will grow dependant on Google traffic, and will end up easily swayed by Google’s business interests. Short term the corporations are not well policed so that they can become addicted to free traffic, but after many of the smaller players have been driven off the web (largely in the next 5 years) Google will start policing the profits out of corporations too."

Where can I learn more about nofollow?

Google has a nofollow help page here:
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569

Matt Cutts is Google’s head of web spam and has a few thoughts on the matter.

 

Comments

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Mike from Salisbury • 8 years ago

Great post. What about affiliate links? should you or should you not use no follow? I would like to know what you think about this. Mike

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Mike Shannon • 8 years ago

I would say affiliate links (links pointing out to your affiliates) would be considered paid and are safest to nofollow, especially if your affiliates have known penalties/filters in place against their site(s) or they just happen to appear low quality and fit the spam profile that major search engines try to crack down on. 

Keep in mind there isn't always a way for an engine to know what kind of off-line relationship you hold with your affiliate in terms of payment - so in that sense you could get away with linking to your paid affiliates without nofollow - again I would make sure sites you link to, regardless of their affiliations with you, are of value to your visitors.

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Montreal web design • 8 years ago

Hi, Great post. But tell me if im wrong. No follow links are not related to rankings unless you add Noindex. Am I right? No follow links are just not giving any PR Juice but can still be indexed by Search engines? Thank you very much bil

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Mike Shannon • 8 years ago

 Hi bil, links that contain the nofollow attribute are not sending equity to the linked page and is just a way to control link "juice" at a granular level (sending more equity to pages that matter and less to pages that don't).  A noindex mega tag will prevent the engines from showing the page in their search results.  Yes, pages that contain nofollowed links are still indexable.

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Jeff • 8 years ago

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the clear info.

I have a community site where most advertising (I have a few affiliate ads) is in my market and most landing pages have a Google PR >=2. In part, I'm selling my page value to them. Do you think these should have a nofollow?

Also, In addition to ad spots, I sell a full size web page where a company can advertise in multiple states, so the navigation to them may be:
mysite.com/US/CA/theCompany.php and
mysite.com/US/OR/theCompany.php and
mysite.com/US/WA/theCompany.php
They're all the same page. Are you saying that I should do a nofollow on all but one path to that page so the page gets the maximum value? This is my first site (and I didn't realize what I was getting into) - It has about 1000 pages that terminate in the navigation path like this (only about 50 have content - are paid) but after 9+ months only a few are indexed while almost every other page on my site has been picked up.

I hope you can help. Thanks much!

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Mike Shannon • 8 years ago

Jeff, nofollowing paid links can't really hurt your website too much, it might piss off your advertisers though.  I'd consider nofollowing those links if you are doing a lot of advertising that way and also rely heavily on organic traffic - you don't want to rely too much on organic traffic and have some Google engineer assign a penalty to your site.

Regading the multiple pages, I'm assuming the pitch you are giving those advertisers is that they get all those pages vs just a single page - but if all those pages aren't receiving traffic in any form then they are not worth much to the advertisers in reality.

If those pages are receiving organic traffic all by themsevles then I would not nofollow links pointing to those pages, since it's likely Google is finding some reason to think the pages are unique or add value in some way to search queries. 

If most of the pages aren't already being found organically and they've got a significant amount of duplicate content then I'd just nofollow links to all pages except one to keep your site from losing equity (possibly even noindex those pages), assuming you did not plan to add original content or inbound links to those pages to make them unique enough to pull up more often in the organic results.  A better approach might be to require your advertisers come up with unique content for each page they rent out, that way both parties benefit (your website gets more quality pages in the index and they actually get more eye balls in front of their ads)

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melanie • 8 years ago

Where would I place the rel="nofollow" in this source code?
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Derek Roach • 8 years ago

The rel="nofollow" should be used within the "a" tag of the source code. For example, if you have a link to google.com and you would like to nofollow the link, you would structure the "a" tag like this: a href="https://mainpath.com" rel="nofollow"
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