Nofollow Attribute: Why We Use it and Why it’s Important

Understanding One of SEO’s Most Misunderstood Concepts
Published on 
March 2, 2024
Updated on 
March 2, 2024
Posted in 

In the most technical sense, nofollow is an HTML attribute (rel=nofollow) that directs search engines like Google not to pass SEO value (aka link equity or link juice) through the link to the target page. 

The referring domain (or linking site) is telling Google’s crawlers, essentially, that it doesn’t not want to pass on its domain authority and trust to the website being linked to. 

There are plenty of reasons for this, which we will get into later on in the article, but that is the basic function and result of a nofollow attribute on a link. 

In the below article, we’re going to do a deep dive into the world of the nofollow link attribute. It’s a world we, as link builders, understand well. 

Let’s begin. 

Google’s introduction of the nofollow attribute

The "nofollow" link attribute was introduced by Google in 2005 as a way for webmasters and site owners to provide a signal to search engines that certain links on their pages should not be considered when calculating PageRank.

PageRank is Google's algorithm that measures the importance of web pages based on, among a wide range of other factors, the number and quality of high authority links pointing to them.

The primary purpose of the nofollow tag was to combat spammy and manipulative link building practices. Webmasters could use the attribute on specific links to indicate that they didn't want to vouch for the content of the linked page, and they didn't want the link to be taken into account when Google assessed the linked page's authority.

This was particularly useful in scenarios where user-generated content, such as comments on blogs and forums, could potentially contain links that the site owner didn't endorse or trust. By using a nofollow link attribute, website owners could mitigate the impact of such links on their ranking in the search engines.

Over the years, other search engines like Bing and Yahoo! adopted the "nofollow" attribute, and it became a widely accepted standard for webmasters to control the flow of PageRank through their sites.

That’s, more or less, it. 

Other types of link attributes

In addition to the nofollow link attribute (and, of course, the dofollow link tag), in 2019, Google introduced two new link attributes, "sponsored" and "ugc" (user-generated content), to provide more nuanced information about the nature of links.

These attributes help search engines better understand the context and purpose of links, but "nofollow" remains an essential tool for managing link authority on the web.


The "sponsored" attribute is used to identify links that are part of advertising, sponsorships, or other forms of compensation (aka, sponsored posts). When a website contains links that have been paid for or are part of an advertising agreement, the "sponsored" attribute helps search engines understand that these links may not necessarily be editorial endorsements or organic citations.

rel ="sponsored" attribute example inside code

UGC (User-Generated Content)

The "ugc" attribute is meant for links within user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts. It helps search engines distinguish between links that are created by the website owner (editorial links) and those that are added by users in the form of comments or other user-generated content.

rel ="ugv" attribute example inside code

These attributes, when used appropriately, provide search engines with additional information about the nature of links on a page. 

While the "nofollow" attribute is a more general indication of a lack of endorsement, "sponsored" and "ugc" allow for a more nuanced understanding, helping search engines better interpret the context in which these links appear. 

It's important for webmasters and SEO practitioners to use these attributes accurately to ensure that search engines can appropriately assess the relevance and authority of linked content. 

Dofollow links

"Dofollow" is not actually an HTML attribute like "nofollow," "sponsored," or "ugc." Instead, it's a term commonly used in the context of link attributes to refer to regular, standard links that allow search engines to follow them and pass link equity from the source page to the destination page.

dofollow (no) attribute example inside href code

Here's a brief explanation of dofollow links:

  • A standard, regular link is essentially a dofollow link by default. If you don't add any specific link attribute (like "nofollow," "sponsored," or "ugc"), the link is considered dofollow.
  • Dofollow links allow search engines to follow the link and pass link equity (PageRank) from the source page to the destination page. This means that the destination page may benefit from the authority and relevance of the source page.

It’s important to note that when people talk about "dofollow" links, they are usually referring to standard links without any additional attributes that instruct search engines not to follow or pass equity through the link.

Dofollow links are the default type of links used on the web, and they contribute to the overall link profile and authority of a webpage. At dofollow, we specialize in building niche relevant backlinks (the kind that move the needle in the search engine rankings and help build serious organic traffic). 

Our industry relationships and years of expertise have allowed us to build the kinds of dofollow backlinks that most people just don’t ever get access to: 

Ultimately, it’s dofollow links you’re after–for the most part–from a purely SEO perspective. 

Nofollow attribute uses

The "nofollow" link attribute is a versatile tool for webmasters and site owners to manage the impact of external links. 

Whether it's combating comment spam, handling paid links, or moderating outbound links in user-generated content, the strategic use of the "nofollow" attribute contributes to a more controlled and authoritative online presence while adhering to search engine guidelines.

Mitigating comment spam in blog comments

When it comes to managing user-generated content, such as blog comments, the "nofollow" link attribute plays a crucial role in mitigating comment spam. 

Comment sections on blogs are vulnerable to spammers who attempt to exploit the platform for link-building purposes. By using the "nofollow" attribute on comment links, website owners can signal to search engines that these links shouldn't be considered when evaluating the linked page's authority.

This discourages spammers from engaging in comment spamming as they don’t get anything out of it. 

Despite the fact that Google is now very good at cracking down on blog comment spam and it’s web developer guidelines expressly forbid against it, you would be surprised how many people still attempt it–especially with the use of automated tools to make it much more scalable and hands-off. 

Curbing the influence of paid links

Another significant use case for the "nofollow" attribute is in the realm of paid links. When websites engage in paid partnerships or advertising where links are part of the deal, using the "nofollow" attribute is a common practice.

This helps distinguish between editorially given links and those that are part of a commercial transaction.

By applying "nofollow" to paid links, website owners can adhere to search engine guidelines, ensuring that these links don't pass undue authority to the linked pages. It's a way to maintain transparency and integrity in the link ecosystem.

Managing outbound links in user generated content

In environments with user-generated content, like forums, the challenge lies in distinguishing between links that contribute positively to the discussion and those added for promotional purposes.

Forums often contain outbound links in user posts, and by utilizing the "nofollow" attribute selectively, forum administrators can regulate the flow of PageRank. This not only helps in controlling the impact of promotional links but also encourages a healthier and more authentic community where users are motivated by the quality of their contributions rather than SEO gains.

Why nofollow links are still valuable

If you spend a lot of time reading comment sections of popular SEO facebook groups or have only done some superficial exploration of the world of link building, you would be forgiven for believing that the only good kind of link is a dofollow link. 

But that is far from the case. Nofollow links have various important roles to play in search engine optimization through: 

  • Maintaining Relevance through Referral Traffic
  • Strategic Implementation for Google Rankings and Crawling
  • Beyond PageRank: Nofollow Links and Google's Algorithm
  • Anchor Text and Semantic Significance
  • Diversified Backlink Profile: Nofollow Links and SEO Strategy
  • Balancing Authority and Relevance with Nofollow Links

Maintaining relevance and brand awareness through referral traffic

The value of nofollow links extends beyond their impact on search engine rankings. While these links may not directly contribute to the linked page's PageRank, they play a crucial role in driving referral traffic. When users encounter a nofollow link in a blog post or article, they may still click on it if it appears relevant or interesting.

This generates referral traffic, redirecting users to other valuable content or resources. In this way, nofollow links contribute to a website's overall visibility and engagement, even if they don't carry the same weight in terms of link authority.

Strategic implementation for Google rankings and crawling

Nofollow links are valuable in the larger context of search engine optimization strategies. When webmasters strategically use nofollow attributes, they have a level of control over how link authority is distributed across their site. 

By guiding search engine crawlers away from certain links, webmasters can influence how Google perceives the relevance and authority of different pages. This strategic implementation is particularly useful in situations where a website wants to prioritize certain pages for ranking in Google search results. Nofollow links allow for a nuanced approach to sculpting the flow of link authority within a website, influencing the overall structure of Google rankings.

Furthermore, from a crawling and indexing perspective, nofollow attributes assist search engines in efficiently navigating a website. When search engine bots encounter nofollow internal links, they understand that these links shouldn't be followed, saving resources and ensuring a more focused crawl.

This targeted crawling improves the efficiency of indexing, allowing search engines to understand and rank the content that truly matters. In this way, nofollow links contribute to a more strategic and resource-efficient approach to search engine optimization.

Beyond PageRank: Nofollow links and Google’s algorithm

While nofollow links may not directly contribute to a page's PageRank, their role in shaping Google's algorithmic understanding of the web is significant. 

Google, in its complex ranking algorithm, considers various signals beyond just link authority. Nofollow links, along with other factors, contribute to the overall context and relevance of a website.

When Google encounters a nofollow link within a blog post or on a webpage, it acknowledges that the link might not be an explicit endorsement or a signal of authority. However, it does recognize the existence of the link and its anchor text. This information, along with other on-page content, contributes to Google's understanding of the topics and themes associated with the linked page.

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

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