Dofollow and nofollow links are a huge part of SEO and something that you should know, even if you are not an SEO expert yourself. However, this does not always make it easy to understand the difference at first – isn’t a link just a link?
While the difference between the two is simple on a surface level, they are actually both very important for all kinds of Search Engine Optimization work and site link building. But what are nofollow and dofollow links?
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A dofollow link is your typical internet link: it is the kind that you create by default with no additional tags, flair, or extra features.
This allows a user to follow it to the destination URL but also has the ability to transfer authority (also known as “link juice”) between the sending and receiving site.
A nofollow link is a link that visitors can still use as normal but has no ability to send this link juice to the target site.
This means that internet crawlers, and therefore search engines, do not take the link into account when deciding how a site’s link profile impacts its search rank.
In simpler terms, do-follow links can help with SEO directly, whereas no-follow links cannot.
While this does not make nofollow links bad (in fact, they can be incredibly useful), they are meant to be used in a very different way.
Dofollow links pass link juice to other websites, meaning that they pass ranking power.
In SEO, a link from one site to another is almost like a vote of trust – Google and other search engines see the dofollow link and treat it like a boost to the recipient’s authority.
This means that dofollow links can enable sites to rank higher as long as the links are relevant to both parties and can strengthen the recipient’s rankings overall.
Since dofollow links are seen as an endorsement, they are a very desirable thing to gather for SEO purposes.
Dofollow backlinks – especially high-quality links from notable sites – can have a massive impact on your SEO performance
Dofollow links are important because they can help you boost your search engine ranks, putting you in a more visible position for potential customers within your target audience.
A dofollow link also tells search engines that your website is relevant to other websites and that said sites are endorsing other users visiting it.
Links are one of the core ways to boost your rankings and improve your SEO, which makes dofollow links from high-authority sites extremely desirable.
The more of them you have, the higher your site will rank for relevant terms on average.
Unlike dofollow links, no follow links do not pass PageRank boosts or link juice. This is essentially a sign that a website is linking to another site without wanting to endorse it.
Nofollow links do not block users from being able to travel between sites, but they do tell search engines to ignore any trust factor and endorsements that a regular dofollow link would have implied.
This means that they have only a very minimal impact on your SEO if they even have any impact at all.
Nofollow links are often used when a site owner cannot vouch for or trust the site that they are linking to or wants to make sure that they are not boosting the SEO of a site that they are not familiar with.
This can also be important if a site owner is only linking to one specific element of a site rather than endorsing the whole thing.
There are many reasons why a site might choose to use nofollow links.
Some platforms do it to avoid giving endorsements to unfamiliar websites, while others use them as a way to link to sites that they are merely referencing as a piece of context in some content.
In other cases, a site might have only specific links tagged as dofollow.
This is quite common on social media platforms to prevent users from leeching authority off them – they may only have a single dofollow link field on each profile, with heavy restrictions on how it can be used.
Are Nofollow Links A Bad Thing To Have?
It is easy to assume that nofollow links are bad, given that the nofollow tag stops the link from impacting SEO.
However, they are actually quite important, both as the person placing them and as the recipient.
As the link creator, a nofollow link can stop your links to other websites from reflecting badly on you.
A site that keeps giving link equity to scam sites or other low-quality websites will usually have its own rankings reduced, too, since it is endorsing very poor-quality platforms.
This also means that articles can reference other content directly without giving authority to those websites.
This can be useful if you want to link something produced by a competitor or a spam site but do not want to contribute to that platform’s SEO in the process.
As a link recipient, it is good to have a healthy mixture of dofollow and nofollow links. Not only does this make your site feel more legitimate, but it has a direct effect on your search engine rankings.
Search platforms will notice if literally every link you receive is dofollow, and this can come across as your site paying for a constant stream of dofollow links.
By retaining nofollow links in your link profile, you are showing that you have an authentic set of backlinks gained in multiple different ways.
Their authority-blocking tag can also work in reverse sometimes.
Nofollow links from spam websites are much less likely to damage your SEO compared to getting a lot of regular dofollow backlinks from questionable or spammy websites.
Nofollow Links From Spam-Filled Websites
The only time nofollow links actually are bad is a situation where dofollow links are also bad – when they come from spam or scam sites.
Whether it is blog comment spam links, links directly from spam sites, or some other source of terrible-quality links, these can have an impact on your Search Engine Optimization efforts even if the rel=nofollow tag is applied.
In these instances, the nofollowed links should be disavowed or otherwise dealt with.
Search crawlers hate spammy referring domains, even if their links are not providing any link juice, and will penalize all the links if they get the chance – which can also include penalties on your own site.
How Can You Identify Nofollow Links?
Nofollow links are determined by a single tag in the HTML code of a site.
While the code of an About page is very different from the code used in forum posts, the link should generally always be the same since the tag needs to be connected to the link code itself to work.
For example, a typical dofollow link will be:
Meanwhile, a nofollow link in the exact same context would be:
<a href=”(websiteaddress.com)” rel=”nofollow”>WebsiteName</a>
That extra rel=nofollow tag is what creates the nofollow links. This means that dofollow links can technically be turned into nofollow links with little more than a single rel=nofollow tag added, making it easy to switch them back and forth.
This “rel” attribute creates the nofollow links. As long as you can access the code on your own website, you can add the link attribute incredibly quickly.
Naturally, you can’t change the attribute on other sites. You have no control over the links that you receive beyond the ones that you have arranged yourself through collaborations with other sites.
However, you can use the Inspect feature on most browsers to take a look at their code anyway, which may allow you to check the status of the link.
Alternatively, you can use various Search Engine Optimization tools to scan through your backlinks and identify the nofollow links from the dofollow links.
While these differences might seem fairly obvious already, it is important to break down exactly why these two link types are so different. It is easy to make assumptions about small details in link building, but there are practical differences between a nofollow and dofollow backlink that are worth knowing.
- Dofollow links pass PageRank authority to other websites through that particular link, which can impact search engine rankings. Nofollow links allow referral traffic but do not contribute to SEO or individual ranking factors.
- Dofollow links count as an endorsement for a web page in the eyes of search engines. Nofollow backlinks reference another web page without endorsing it.
- Dofollow links are used as part of the ranking algorithm in search engine results pages, meaning that they have an impact on how the target sites will rank. Nofollow links can be changed, deleted, or repurposed without having any significant SEO impact.
- Dofollow external links rely on relevancy as part of their SEO impacts, meaning that relevant inbound and outbound links provide more link juice and SEO boosts. Since nofollow links do not impact SEO, they can be irrelevant and will not necessarily cause any problems with your SEO.
- Dofollow backlinks can be valuable, especially if they come from high-quality sites. Nofollow links can also be valuable, but to a much lower extent, and are not usually as hard to secure.
- Nofollow links are often used as sponsored links since nofollow-sponsored links have their own special “sponsored” tag. Dofollow links are not usually meant to be sponsored since these count as paid links, which is black-hat and against the rules of most search engines.
- Website owners can create dofollow links by simply entering a link into their code or site builder. Nofollow links may require an extra step or two to set up.
- Nofollow links are built to let traffic travel between sites, often using descriptive anchor text in valuable content that helps users understand what they are clicking on. Dofollow links are often used as an SEO feature and are, therefore, usually optimized to give the best SEO results possible.
If SEO is your main focus, then one core difference between dofollow and nofollow links matters most: the link juice transfer.
Nofollow links are much less useful for SEO as external links thanks to the nofollow attribute, and that means that you often want to secure more good dofollow backlinks wherever possible.
While nofollow backlinks are not bad, the nofollow attribute can sometimes be seen as a curse. Some SEO experts will spend a lot of time securing a linked page on other websites, only to find a nofollow backlink instead of a dofollow one.
High-quality backlinks with the dofollow attribute are the ones that pass PageRank the best, and that makes them the most important ones to seek out.
The most direct way to secure more links is to post helpful or useful content and simply ask for sites to link to you.
This can be more effective than you might think – if the other websites are in a relevant niche, then they may be willing to link to other pages that offer their audience something useful.
Ideally, you want to provide the right link and anchor text for their link, too – if they will accept it.
While you can’t always guarantee that they will not slap a nofollow attribute on the link, approaching them with a genuine offer and sticking close to their own niche can make a big difference.
This works quite well on sites that are regularly writing blog post updates or producing content on a consistent basis.
Approaching them with relevant links to something in their niche gives them something to create more content about, which can be a win/win situation, depending on their goals.
If reaching out does not work, collaboration can.
Whether it is working with your audience or a wider community to create user-generated content or partnering up with another site, creating content alongside somebody else can be a good source of both nofollow and dofollow links.
This kind of collaboration can be a good way to boost your natural backlink profile since you are getting other websites and communities involved in a practical way.
The more individual sites and people you have working with you, the more useful links you can reap from the arrangement.
Collaborating also sometimes allows you to save money on the link-gathering process by having other people contribute, whether they are writing entire articles or just making small blog posts that link back to your own platform.
Join Online Communities
Being active in online communities can sometimes help you boost awareness of your brand and help you get your content out there.
For example, if you write blog posts about technical product reviews, bringing them up in forums can expose others to them and potentially get more sites linking to you.
Remember that you can’t simply turn up and start placing links on a blog site, though. Not only are these links usually bad (or even automatically nofollowed links), but doing this also makes you look like a desperate company trying to trick users into clicking.
By being a genuine member of a community, you can integrate yourself well and gain more traffic while also spreading your site and content further.
Creating guest posts on other websites – or, in some cases, offering to host guest posts – can allow you to get links pointed at your site from another one.
Whether you are the one hosting or the one writing, a guest post gives you partial control over a brand-new piece of content that can make a big SEO difference.
Not only do guest posts usually end up with multiple links pointing back to your site, but good guest-posted content can also receive links from third parties that find it helpful, which naturally boosts your rankings in Google and other search engines.
A guest post can be a great option for getting yourself known in new communities or associating yourself with a larger site, but only if you make the right choices and come to a proper arrangement with the site owner.
Dofollow and nofollow link tags are not the only ones out there. For example, user-generated content can have UGC links. UGC links tell a search engine that a link was placed in a comment or forum post rather than placed intentionally by the site creator or article writer.
There is also the sponsored tag, which is reserved for paid advertisements and placements. Google requires that sponsored links be marked with this tag.
There are a lot of attributes and modifiers that can alter how links work, but most site owners only need to worry about dofollow links and nofollow link options.
The nofollow vs. dofollow differences are fairly straightforward, but just as a reminder:
- The link page transfers authority in rel=dofollow vs no authority in a nofollow link.
- Inbound links are considered by search engines in rel=dofollow vs. not considered in a nofollow link.
- The linked page is being endorsed with rel=dofollow vs. not endorsed with a nofollow link.
- Google search rankings are influenced by rel=dofollow vs. not influenced by a nofollow link.
In other words, a nofollow link has no search engine impact.
Whether it is an inbound or outbound link, the choice between dofollow and nofollow matters. Both nofollow and dofollow links have their uses, but there is no denying that a dofollow link from a good site is always better than a nofollow backlink.
Sometimes it is even a good idea to consider whether you want nofollow and dofollow links within your site – internal links.
These internal links help Google understand a website’s structure, which matters for SEO, but you do not always want crawlers to see every page connected to every other page.
In link building, the choice of a nofollow link and a dofollow link is important. A nofollow link cuts off any SEO potential that the link could have had, which generally means that you will want to prioritize dofollow options over anything else.
Just remember that a balance of both is recommended. You never want to have too many dofollows without some nofollows in there to make things more natural, especially if you are worried about search engines interpreting your site as buying links or relying on spam content to boost its rankings.
Scott Calland is a highly regarded content specialist with an English Degree. He has a passion for creating compelling content as a UK journalist that engages, informs, and entertains readers. With over 10 years of experience in creating news publications as a reporter, Scott has developed a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of how to craft content that resonates with audiences. Working closely with data analysts Scott’s research on topics is unrivalled for latest news updates.
Scott is also an investor in Searcharoo.