The role of nofollow links in SEO
Backlinks are a Google ranking factor, but nofollow links aren't. Instead, these links tell search engines not to pass authority. There's much debate among the SEO community about whether nofollow links can boost SEO.
Unfortunately, search engines haven't made any clear statements. Google has, however, noted that they simply don't follow nofollow links. So while nofollow links likely don't have a direct impact on your SEO, they can affect your website traffic. Let's take a look at some of the indirect ways nofollow links may impact your SEO strategy.
Increases website traffic
Let's say you're a pet business that sells dog food. If a popular pet blog gives you a nofollow link, they're not passing authority to your website. However, they're still promoting your brand in some way since nofollow links can send traffic directly to your website.
Diversifies backlink profile
Search engines look for a natural backlink profile. Natural backlink profiles demonstrate authority because it means you're producing quality content other sites want to link to. However, if your profile only consists of dofollow links, it can appear spammy. Search engines want to know that you have a diverse profile, which consists of nofollow and dofollow links as equally as possible.
Some websites, especially news sites, will use nofollow links automatically, and search engines know it doesn't make sense for all your backlinks to be dofollow. If all your backlinks are dofollow links, it can signal that you may be employing spammy or black hat SEO practices.
May protect against penalties
Followed paid links are against Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Therefore, if you want to pay a publication to link back to your website, you can only get a nofollow link. Some people don't believe that Google can accurately determine if a link is paid. However, even if Google can't find paid links, they have a tool that allows individuals to report a website for buying or selling links.
Most website owners won't risk a Google penalty that impacts their rankings and website traffic. If search engines find out that paid links are being given the dofollow tag instead of the nofollow attribute or tag, it can be detrimental to both sites.
The impact of nofollow links on page ranking
Most experts believe that nofollow links are largely ignored by search engines. In other words, they don't pass authority. However, dofollow backlinks are a ranking factor that can increase your performance in SERPs.
Google has strict guidelines website owners must follow, so they'll review your backlink profile to determine if you're engaged in spammy practices like purchasing backlinks. If you don't have a good balance of nofollow and dofollow links, you could get penalized, affecting your page ranking.
Therefore, while nofollow links don't directly impact your rankings, they may indirectly affect them. The entire goal of SEO is to increase website traffic organically, which in turn, increases conversions. Even though nofollow links don't improve your rankings, they can increase traffic to your website, ultimately supporting your SEO goals.
Best practices for using nofollow links
What's most important when considering your external links strategy is the type of links. Nofollow and dofollow links are both important, even though nofollow links don't pass authority from one site to another. That said, there are instances when it's appropriate to use nofollow links instead of dofollow links, such as:
Identifying low-quality or spammy websites
Nofollow links can be used to link to low-quality websites or those that search engines may consider spammy. If you're writing a blog and want to cite your source, but the source is on a low-quality website, you might use nofollow links to prevent your website from passing authority to another.
You should always use the nofollow tag if you've been paid to provide a link. According to Google's Webmaster Guidelines, all paid and sponsored links must be tagged as nofollow. This includes any paid links in blogs and websites of any kind. And paid links don't only refer to the exchange of money. Instead, Google considers a paid link any link you give in exchange for something else, whether it's money, products, or services. Technically speaking, Google even considers link exchanges — when both websites exchange backlinks — as a violation of the guidelines.
User-generated content, such as comments on social networks or forum posts, should always include a nofollow link. The nofollow attribute, in this instance, signals to search engines that you're not trying to use these links as a method of advertising. Since anyone can comment on blogs and forums, it's always better to be safe to not pass authority to unknown and low-quality sites.