Karsten MadsenCo-founder & CEO @ Morningscore.io
Let’s face it – SEO is not getting any easier. If you don’t have years of experience under your belt, some of the countless recent changes might confuse you. And nofollow links can be one such challenge – which today we’ll tackle together. In this article, we’ll first look at whether nofollow links are worth your time, energy, and money. Next, we’ll also quickly touch upon exactly how Google handles nofollow links. And lastly, we break down whether it’s possible to rank only with nofollow links. Let’s dive in, starting off by answering if nofollow links are any good for SEO.
Contextual nofollow links can be highly valuable since they are a natural part of the internet. It is normal to have nofollow links, and they help you diversify your backlink profile. Consequently, maintaining a natural backlink profile is an important SEO practice for preventing penalties.
As such, well-placed, contextual nofollow links can drive relevant traffic to your website and spread brand awareness. Nofollow links from known websites can also help you sculpt authority in your industry – and, therefore, bring you many marketing opportunities and future collaborations. Having a strong brand is an important element for SEO success – and nofollow links can improve that.
For example, imagine an article on a large media website like Forbes.com or Entrepeneur.com. Outbound links on most large websites of this class are virtually all marked with the nofollow attribute. However, given the exposure you receive being mentioned on such a platform, you can easily boost many other marketing signals.
Those could be anything from social media exposure influencer partnerships to even more guest contribution opportunities. For these reasons, nofollow links can be a great way to accelerate your digital PR strategy and create a ripple effect in your link-building approach.
So how can you judge whether a specific nofollow link will be beneficial to you? Simply answer this:
“If you had to build this link for a strict client who has to pay for it, would you feel comfortable showing them that link?”
Last but not least, since Google changed how it treats nofollow links, they now pass more value than before. How come? Let’s answer that by looking at how Google handles nofollow links next.
How does Google handle nofollow links?
Historically Google has treated nofollow links as “directives”. Essentially, this meant that Google disregarded all nofollow links, determined that they do not affect the website’s authority, and did not use them to influence the rankings of that website.
However, the March 1, 2020, Google Algorithm Update introduced changes to how Google handles the nofollow tag. Together with the addition of rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”, Google now considers the rel=”nofollow” links as “hints”. In other words, contextual, high-quality links can still contribute to your web rankings.
To put it simply, currently, Google’s search ranking algorithms treat the nofollow attribute as a suggestion on whether any ranking credit should be passed to the linked website. Based on the quality of the link and the context it provides, Google can either count the link as a beneficial credit to the website, disregard it as a signal from the index altogether, or count it towards their spam signals calculations.
These changes mean that things are no longer “black and white”, and Google’s collecting even more signals from the web to determine the search result page’s rankings. In fact, as long as your nofollow links are contextually relevant and well-placed, they can even potentially be considered as dofollow links by Google.
However, you can most certainly assume that nofollow links appearing on thin, irrelevant pages are still considered fully “nofollow”. Consequently, they likely pass no beneficial value between the websites at all.
Can you rank #1 on Google only with nofollow links?
The reality is that in 2022, creating backlinks is harder than ever. Yes, the number of potential opportunities, i.e., the supply, has grown tremendously. However, the demand has outpaced the supply.
Additionally, most of the popular tactics used in the past are so overused that SEOs simply ignore them. And even if you decide to buy (sponsor) your way to a great backlink profile, that doesn’t come cheap either.
SEO is an increasingly popular practice, which leads to increased competition in Google Search. Nowadays, most websites rank at the top with the help of strong dofollow backlinks. As such, having only nofollow links is rarely sufficient in achieving the desired rankings for most companies.
Actively reaching out and “begging” for links is often frowned upon. Meanwhile, creating great content with original research requires plenty of resources. As such, building links can be an especially daunting task for a small business.
To better visualize this, imagine that you and your competitor are optimizing for the same low-competition keyword. All things equal, you can outrank your competitor with only nofollow links. The logic is simple – some good signals, even though relatively, are better than none.
However, note also that this is a hypothetical scenario – and things are usually much more complicated. Countless variables come into play in SEO – and businesses are becoming aware of them at an ever-increasing rate.
Nowadays, SEO is a very widespread practice, and many businesses are using it to generate sales. This is absolutely understandable given that 67% of all clicks in Google Search go to the top 5 results. Moreover, 70% of marketers say that SEO is more effective at driving sales compared to PPC channels like Google Ads.
Because of that, naturally, the competition for your keywords and topics increases. Therefore, many of the websites that rank at the top currently do so with strong dofollow backlinks.
In turn, having only a few nofollow links might not be enough to rank at the very top for more competitive keywords. For that reason, it’s important to objectively judge your competitive space. With the help of an SEO professional, you can quickly create an SEO competitive analysis that will inform your plan of action.
Build nofollow links and improve your SEO
To conclude, nofollow links are still valuable for SEO – and will be so for the foreseeable future. In essence, you should implement them as part of your link-building strategy. That is, even if you’re not actively reaching out to get nofollow links, you should not turn down contextual links marked with “rel=nofollow”.