How Do Nofollow Links Work for SEO? (Process Explained)

This search engine optimization (SEO) guide answers the question, “how do nofollow links work for SEO?”

Below, you’ll get a complete overview of the nofollow link process, including a detailed explanation of the working factors in SEO that affect a website’s search engine rankings.

There’s also a section with additional digital marketing resources that explain more about the fundamentals of nofollow links to help you create the most effective search engine optimization strategy.

How Do Nofollow Links Work For SEO?

How Do Nofollow Links Work for SEO?

Nofollow links work for SEO by instructing Google not to crawl or transfer PageRank to the destination URL. The nofollow link process allows websites to create outbound links that abstain from being an editorial vote for the target site so it does not add additional weight for search engine rankings.

Nofollow Link Process Explained

The process for nofollow links consists of adding the rel=”nofollow” attribute to the HTML anchor tag of a link. This tells search engines not to follow that link, thus providing limited SEO benefit to the linked page.

Nofollow links also work to keep website owners from being attributed to the site or content they are linking to from their web pages. If a linking website owner wants to avoid being seen as vouching for the other site, then a nofollow link is necessary to inform search engine crawlers about this relationship. This is especially useful when linking to websites with questionable content or being regarded as spammy.

The nofollow link attribute is also required when a website is linking to a URL on another site that has been paid for or given some type of value in exchange for the backlink. This is because search engines view such links as unnatural, and therefore, should be labeled in a way that follows search engine guidelines to protect the linking domain’s authority and trust. 

Nofollow Link Factors In SEO

Rel=“Nofollow” Tag

The first way nofollow links work in SEO is by tagging them with the rel=“nofollow” attribute, which is the classic way to label these types of backlinks. This HTML attribute sends a signal to search engine spiders that the link should not be followed or pass PageRank value to the target URL when crawling and indexing web pages.

By adding the nofollow tag to a link, website owners can also inform search engines that they’re not vouching for the quality of the linked content. This SEO practice allows websites to freely link to other sites that may have questionable content without being associated with the domain or transferring unearned link equity for off-page SEO.

Sponsored and UGC Attributes

The nofollow link process has also evolved to help search engines like Google identify the nature of particular links based on who created them and their purpose. For example, Google recommends that any links created as part of a sponsored relationship should be tagged with the sponsored attribute (rel=”sponsored”).

Similarly, any links created within user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts, should be tagged with the UGC attribute (rel=”ugc”).

This new way to classify nofollow links helps Google’s crawler better understand the purpose of a link, which helps the algorithm determine how much weight to assign to the URL when factoring it into their search engine ranking algorithms. However, Google treats all nofollow link types the same way: nofollow, sponsored, and ugc; meaning a sponosored link can be tagged as a nofollow link and vice versa.

Hint Not a Directive

Nofollow links now work as a hint and not a directive for search engine crawlers. Previously, nofollow links would not influence the search engine rankings of the destination URL because Google’s systems would ignore the link and not transfer PageRank or anchor text associations across to the target site.

However, in 2019, Google changed its indexing and ranking algorithms to take nofollow links into account as a hint; not a directive. This means that while nofollow links are still not considered equal to dofollow links (i.e., link votes that pass PageRank and trust signals), Google’s systems may still count nofollow links as a vote of confidence. It all depends on the quality and trust of the linking domain and web page.

Natural Element for Websites

One of the most important factors of the nofollow link process for SEO is that it’s a natural part of the Internet. Google and other search engines look at the ratio of nofollow and dofollow links on a site to determine how natural (or organic) it is for a website and individual URL.

A website with too many dofollow links and not enough nofollow links could be seen as an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings and may get penalized. However, the opposite can also be true: a website that has many more nofollow links than dofollow links may indicate that the content or domain is not very trustworthy and could experience ranking suppressions in the SERPs.

Therefore, having a good mix of both nofollow and dofollow links helps to create a more natural backlink profile for the website as well as individual URLs on the domain.

Drive Referral Traffic

Nofollow links also work to drive traffic to a target page. Even though search engines may not necessarily count these types of links as votes for SEO, people still click on them to drive visitors to your content.

Ultimately, the goal of all inbound links should be to drive more leads, customers, and sales for the business; not just the SEO value for higher keyword rankings. Therefore, nofollow backlinks are useful for driving referral traffic that can convert into sales and shouldn’t be overlooked when building links during an off-site SEO campaign.

Learn More About Nofollow Links

The links below explain more about nofollow links and how to use them correctly for better search engine optimization. Use these resources to expand your knowledge on the subject.

Nofollow Links Work for SEO Summary

I hope you enjoyed this guide answering the question about how do nofollow links work for SEO.

As you discovered, the nofollow link process instructs Google not to crawl or transfer PageRank to the destination URL; however, that signal is only a hint and not a directive. Nofollow links also work to classify the relationship between websites to meet search engine guidelines, drive referral traffic for businesses, and are a natural element on the Internet that shouldn’t be undervalued. That’s why it’s important to understand specific nofollow backlink factors in SEO to get the best ranking results and organic visibility for your website.