What Are NoFollow Links and DoFollow Links? Do I Need Them?

What are nofollow links and dofollow links

I get asked A LOT about DoFollow and NoFollow links — about how they work, what they are for, how and when to use them, and if they really matter. As a reminder, search engines move through the internet by following links from one web page or blog post to another. You could say that internal links are like roads through a website, and outbound links or inbound links from one site to another are like bridges.

When one web page links to another — whether it is an internal link between two URLs on the same website, or a link from one site to another — it passes some of its “page rank” (where it ranks in the search engines) to the page it is linking to, giving it a boost.

Here’s a quick review of how links pass page rank:

  • Do Follow Links — Also known as follow links or regular old HTML links, are links that allow search engines to follow them from one web page to another or one website to another. These links are thought to pass some page rank — also referred to as SEO juice, link juice, and Google love — with it.
  • NoFollow Links — Have extra HTML markup added to the link code to prevent search engines from following the link, and to prevent a page from passing on any of it’s page rank. NoFollow links operate as a sort of detour, telling search engines not to follow this link.
  • NOTE — Some SEO experts argue that search engines still do follow (travel through) NoFollow links, but that they just don’t count them toward the passage of page rank. For example, search engines are now taking into account links from social media sites that are set to NoFollow. It’s important to remember that SEO is not an exact science, and that what works for one person may not work the same for you, or that what works today, may not work tomorrow.

Why You Need Both NoFollow And DoFollow Links

Some so-called experts will tell you that you shouldn’t waste your time with inbound link building strategies that result in gaining NoFollow links. They’ll advise you to only focus on gaining DoFollow links for the chance of gaining some potential page rank and a boost in your rankings.

While it’s no secret that building quality inbound links to your website is an effective SEO strategy, don’t listen to this advice! If you do, you may be sabotaging your website’s success without even knowing it! You see, search engines may not follow or even pay attention to NoFollow links, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable. Consumers who use the internet, consume content, search for solutions to their problems and needs, and spend money DO pay attention to those links — and not the HTML behind them.

The fact is that NoFollow links can generate website traffic, increase exposure in new communities, and help you gain citations for your website — all of which will help you improve your success online.

So stop worrying about whether a link is a NoFollow or DoFollow link, or if the link is good for SEO. Instead worry about whether or not the link makes sense for your business, is good for your brand, and whether or not it can be found, and clicked on to bring new visitors to your website.

What Does This Mean For Blog Commenting?

One of the more common strategies bloggers have employed to gain back links to their website is commenting on blogs. Unfortunately to help avoid comment spam and prevent the passing of page rank, many blogs have their comment links set to NoFollow by default.

Does this mean you should stop commenting on blogs? No Way! First, I hope that boosting your SEO isn’t the only reason you’ve been commenting on blogs — because that’s not what it’s about. Commenting on blogs that you resonate with is about conversation, about sharing thoughts, about supporting the author, starting and building a relationship, and about being part of a community. The fact that a link to your site accompanies the comment should be viewed as a bonus.

Plus, if your comment isn’t lame and spammy, others reading the comments may like what you have to say and click the link to visit your site and learn more about you.

Mix Up Your Link Building

With the recent search algorithm changes, many website owners were penalized for what appeared to the search engines as spammy link building practices or for lots of what were deemed bad links.

Search engines, especially Google, are looking for natural authority — and they reward it with improved search engine rankings. If all of the inbound links to your website are DoFollow, if every mention of your brand is a link, if every link to your site uses the exact same keyword, that could look unnatural and suspicious, and the search engines may think you’re trying to game the system.

You need diversity in the way you show up online. You want to build a mixture of NoFollow and DoFollow links, of plain old brand mentions and citations that aren’t links, and of inbound links containing a variety of keywords and longtail key phrases. This approach shows a natural presence online. It demonstrates to search engines that you’re letting your authority grow organically and not trying to cheat to get ahead.

Plus, gaining a NoFollow inbound link from a high authority site can still help boost your rankings, and even more important, send lots of new traffic to your website. Even a mention on a highly-popular authority website can be beneficial because it shows that people are talking about you.

When To Use Nofollow Links:

You can strategic set outbound links and internal links on your website to NoFollow to sculpt the page rank of individual pages — but that is a more advanced strategy!

Here are some of the more common instances where a NoFollow link makes sense:

  • NoFollow links to untrusted content, or user generated content you don’t control
  • NoFollow affiliate links
  • NoFollow outbound links that are irrelevant to the content of the page or site (like links in testimonials)
  • NoFollow paid links
  • NoFollow links to log in, sign in, registration, or purchase links
  • NoFollow links to downloads, opt-in gifts, and paid products (also done at the page level)

The Bottom Line On NoFollow And DoFollow Links

Don’t worry so much about link building for search engines. Instead focus on gaining exposure for your brand and website above all else by joining in conversations, engaging with others online, building relationships, and publishing great content consistently. Understand that both NoFollow links and DoFollow links are good for your website. While one is used to direct search engines, both are used the same way by consumers looking for a solution to their problem — and they aren’t looking at the HTML!

What about you? Do you successfully use NoFollow links? I’d love to hear from you below in the comments.

About Jennifer Bourn

As Creative Director of Bourn Creative, Jennifer leads all consulting, strategy, and creative projects. She is an award-winning designer, specializing in custom WordPress theme design, brand design, Legos (Yes, Legos), and graphic design for small business.

Entrenched in the world of online business, Jennifer consults with clients around the world on branding, website planning, and marketing strategies that leverage the internet to generate leads, attract clients, and create opportunities. She speaks regularly at live events, conferences, and workshops around the country, as well as on radio shows, teleclases, webinars, and podcasts.

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Comments & Feedback:

  1. Hi Jennifer , thanks so much for your great write up and sharing this awesome information content with lots of details. Happy Sunday :-)

  2. Jennifer,
    Thanks for simplifying this and explaining what no-follow and do-follow actually mean and achieve.
    Very helpful.
    Write on!~
    Lisa

  3. First, love the image! Second, every time I start reading one of your SEO type posts I’m like, “Say what???” and then I keep reading and you get to the part where you break it down for the layman so I totally get what you’re talking about. It’s like you start out talking to Sheldon but then talk to Penny (Big Bang Theory reference). The good news is, I am actually doing exactly what you are suggesting… Keep bringing on the techie/geeky stuff. It helps the creatives like me!

    • Jessica — I LOVE Big Bang Theory! Thrilled the breakdown is helpful. So many SEO people speak in big words and jargon, and make it seem so much harder than it really is … maybe because they want you to feel confused so you’ll hire them :) Keep up the good work!

  4. Jennifer, this was a fascinating and very easy to understand explanation of the different types of links. Thank you!

  5. First I was going to comment this week, Then I was not going to comment.
    I read more of your article.
    Then I was certain no way should I comment.
    Of course by the end of the article I knew I had to comment.

  6. Mira Dessy, Nutrition Educator and Real Food Advocate says:

    Thanks for explaining this. I hadn’t realized that this was something I needed to be aware of.

    • Mira — I don’t think it’s something you need to worry too much about or be stressed over … but It’s definitely good to understand just how they work and what the hullabaloo is all about!

  7. Thank goodness we have you to break this down for us! It is so easy to get lost in all of the technical issues and seo strategies.

  8. Jenn-How are these settings “set”? It sounds like you are saying you can set a page one way or the other, can you set an individual link too?

    Thanks for another great post.

    Conrad

    • Conrad — At the page-level, the no-follow settings are done in the SEO settings for the page. Both Genesis and Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin include radio buttons you select to turn this functionality on. At the individual link level, you simple add the code rel=”nofollow” to the link HTML.

  9. You know Jennifer, I have been building websites since before WordPress was around or other Content Management Systems.

    And for the life of me… I still don’t get the follow and NoFollow goobady-gop.

    Honestly, it’s too much for me to think about. I just focus on developing reader-worthy content that has value and practice in-site linking.

    Your article was great though. I read it over and over again and I like the way you broke everything down. But I still don’t get it.

    So when someone asks me about DoFollow and NoFollow. I am just going to send them to this post. Because… for the life of me, I just can’t wrap my head around it all.

    Anyway, that’s all I have.

    Thanks for taking the time to write the article though. I know how difficult it can be sometimes to write. I really applaud and appreciate it.

    Cheers.

    • Wayne — I hear you! To we get questions about this a lot, so I felt I needed to address it … especially in a series about links! But I’m with you. I don’t pay too much attention to the type of link.

      My focus has always been on doing what works best for me and my audience. If it works our great for search, awesome. If it doesn’t, I don’t sweat it. My audience isn’t a search robot, it’s real people looking for help.

  10. I honestly don’t worry about the nofollow or dofollow stuff. I look more at the site’s topic or audience. I look to see if the people that read the blog would be interested in reading what I write about before I worry about trying to get a link on that site. I think that’s more important than whether or not the link is dofollow or nofollow.

    • DeAnna — To be completely honest, I don’t pay attention to them either! Trying to be super calculated with my actions or trying to game the system is just too exhausting. Plus, it’s a zero-sum game.

      I just focus on reading blogs I like or articles that interest me, I comment if I feel compelled to do so, and if it works out, great!

  11. Thank you for this awesome piece of information. Can you post some websites that provide dofollow links.

    • Avinash — Thank you so much! Unfortunately I can’t provide you a list of specific websites that provide “do-follow” links, as we don’t advocate that pursuing these specifically is a smart idea. Targeting sites that are “do-follow” only makes it seem like you’re trying to cheat at SEO or game the system — Yikes!

      It is a much better strategy to find blogs and website that are relevant to your business, niche, or industry — those that provide great content. Read their posts, build relationships with their authors and owners, and leave comments on articles that really resonate with you.

  12. Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for the post. It’s very informative.. but I’m still confused a bit with this Dofollow and Nofollow things..

    Recently I just came to read a blog post which says, if we implement alexa.com’s ranking widget on our site, they will create 2 Dofollow links to their own site and that’s bad for our site..! What’s your opinion? Since I’ve implemented this on my blog, I’m struggling to know, whether I need to keep this widget or not.. Hope you will reply me.. Thanks in advance..

    • Joseph — I would remove the Alex widget from your website. Most people have no idea what Alex is, what it means, and they don’t care — which means the same is probably true for your visitors. Plus, I doubt it is adding any value to your site for your visitors, and they should always come first.

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