Adam White

Are Nofollow Links Actually Good For SEO? Here Is Proof...

This article is under our "Opinion" category. We recommend you share your thoughts with the author.

Chances are when you hear the term "nofollow" and "SEO" used in the same sentence you cringe a little.

Nofollow links are detested by SEOs as much as an IRS employee is at tax time.

It is simply unfair. But there is hope for the resurgence of the nofollow link. Read on, see what we discovered in our study about nofollow, anchor text, and rankings, and I promise you will look at nofollow links in a totally different light.

Nofollow's Unfair Bad Reputation

Back in 2005 the search engines got together and created the nofollow attribute to help fight comment link spam.

Shortly thereafter Google recommended to all website owners that they use it anytime they had a paid (sponsored) link ad. In other words, this was your way of telling Google that you were paying for links.

This allowed Google to differentiate between paid links and natural links. It protected many website owners when later Google updates hit because so many people were building unnatural anchor text profiles with their backlinks. 

If you were honest with Google and marked your paid links with a nofollow attribute, those links didn't count against you. What followed after is almost all SEO's jumped to the conclusion that any link with a nofollow attribute was worthless in SEO.

Buying and selling of links took a big hit, and most people doing SEO avoided nofollow links like the plague.

And it has basically remained that way ever since.

The Case For Nofollow Links

One of the biggest ranking factors for Google is brand trust.

In other words, they need to trust your brand before they will allow you to rank at the top of their search results. This is mostly accomplished by your homepage SEO, or in other words the backlink profile of your homepage.

But one of the key metrics Google uses to establish if your website is a trustworthy brand is whether or not you have any nofollow links.

Think about it for a second.

A nofollow link sends a message to Google that you are paying for the link because it is an ad.

Advertising is the lifeblood of business. 

If you are a real brand then wouldn't Google expect you to be advertising?

In fact, what you are really doing when you get a nofollow link is you are telling Google, "Hey, we are doing business, and this is our ad copy."

Now Google can look at the anchor text and see how it is relevant to your actual website and give you credit for the anchor text, without the risk of being tagged with an unnatural backlink profile.

The point I am trying to make is it seems as though Google expects to see nofollow links in your backlink profile, and if there are none, that potentially raises a red flag for an unnatural profile.

Proof That Nofollow Links Are Good

As we have built the software for SEOJet, we have done a ton of backlink research. We looked at #1 ranked sites in every niche, category, and industry and they all showed something very interesting about nofollow links.

Did you know that #1 ranked web pages on Google have an average of about 20%-40% nofollow links pointing to that page?

Sometimes it is even higher. 3 out of 10 links are nofollow links. 

Think about that.

The link attribute that was supposed to totally kill all SEO effects, shows up a third of the time in #1 ranked sites.

Let's look at a few examples of pages that rank #1 and what percentage of nofollow links each has pointing to that page. Note: I'm looking at just the page that is ranking specifically and not the site as a whole. 

Keyword: "backlinks"

  • #1 ranked site: https://www.gotchseo.com/backlinks/
  • Percentage of nofollow links: 28%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 30%

Keyword: "mortgage payment calculator"

  • #1 ranked site: http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/mortgages/mortgage-payment-calculator.aspx
  • Percentage of nofollow links: 31%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 12%

Keyword: "diet pills"

  • #1 ranked site: http://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/weight-loss-prescription-weight-loss-medicine
  • Percentage of nofollow links: 21%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 14%

Keyword: "online degrees"

  • #1 ranked site: http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/degrees
  • Percentage of nofollow links: 25%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 16%

Keyword: "best fidget spinners"

  • #1 ranked site: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-fidget-spinners/
  • Percentage of nofollow links: 23%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 21%

Keyword: "internet business"

  • #1 ranked site: https://www.thebalance.com/top-internet-business-ideas-you-can-start-today-1794709
  • Percentage of nofollow links on #1 ranked page: 31%
  • Percentage of nofollow links for entire site: 17%

Now keep in mind that not every #1 ranked site is this high. There are many that are under 20% but as we look at more and more #1 ranked sites, this is a common theme that we keep seeing.

Obviously, this test or this data is not the end all be all of SEO. We're just looking at who Google has deemed worthy to rank #1 and then we examine their backlink profile.

So the question becomes, are these sites ranked #1 because they have nofollow links and Google expects that as part of a natural backlink profile? Or is it that nofollow links actually carry SEO value?

Either way, it seems to be in your best interest to have nofollow links pointing to pages you care about.

Nofollow Case Study

Since I don't target key phrases on my homepage, I decided to test the effect an exact match nofollow sitewide link would have on my rankings. 

I wanted to rank for the phrase "backlink software." It is not a huge term but it describes exactly what SEOJet is and I was stuck in the high 20's for the phrase.

So I went to an SEO blog that ranked really well for many SEO related terms. I got a nofollow sidebar link with the anchor "backlink software".

Within a week I ranked #1 for the phrase "backlink software". I would have been shocked at this result, but the truth is I had done the exact same thing before.

All I did was buy one nofollow sitewide link on relevant sites using the exact match anchor and I ranked #1.

SEOJet ranking history for "backlink software"

I had no other links pointing to my homepage with that key phrase.

I do think that the relevance of the site I was advertising on had an impact on how it affected my rankings. But the results don't lie. A Nofollow sitewide link in that instance seemed to have real SEO value.

Now I do think there are other factors at play, for example, I have built a ton of brand trust with Google with branded anchors that point to my homepage. I am not sure how well this would work with a brand new website although I haven't tested it on a new site.

Actionable Takeaway

I wouldn't jump to any conclusions based on one case study, but there is enough evidence to make this a point of future testing. If there is actual SEO value from a nofollow link, how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?

I remember back in the old days of SEO when sitewide links were all the rage. They held some serious SEO juice. In recent years most SEO's don't bother with them. 

Armed with this new data, as part of my SEO strategy I would actively seek out extremely relevant websites where you can purchase a sitewide link and tag it with the nofollow attribute. 

Additionally, I would make sure the anchor text of that link was an exact match keyword I was trying to rank for. By adding the nofollow attribute, you don't have to worry about search engine penalties so you can be as aggressive as you want with the anchor text.

Give that a shot and see if your rankings jump for the keywords you are targeting in the nofollow sitewide links.

I thought I made a terrible mistake by accidentally giving sitewide nofollow... and it worked. I agree with the theory above.
Anchor links does work and if you shouldn't be scared of getting nofollow links. The main pitfall is if you do to many anchor links and you get to a point that +50% of your links is nofollow anchor links. This might alert som search engine pots, but it's not for surtain.
Thanks for the information
Hi Adam,
I also believe that nofollow links do have a certain value in Google's SEO algorithm. I've been doing some research on competitors' backlink profiles for my small business clients. I found it interesting that competitors with a small amount of backlinks but a nofollow link or two from high authority sites, ranked extremely well. Take for instance the website, expertise.com. They list the top 25 or so service companies (electricians, plumbers, etc.) for a certain area. All of the outbound links to said companies are of the nofollow variety. But since it is relevant and pertains to that particular industry, I believe Google takes that very seriously as a vote of confidence which translates into a huge boost in SERP for those companies.

Of course, unless you have a backlink data from webmaster tools, there is no way to know exactly how much of an impact but I think it would be foolish to dismiss the SEO value of a nofollow link. As you have alluded to, the one constant with Google is change. What may have been treated as a non-factor 5 or so years ago could be treated very differently. Since high authority websites are so concerned with losing "link juice" I feel like nofollow has been abused.

My philosophy is to give credit where credit is due. If I link to a website, that means I value it in one form or another. I won't put a nofollow attribute on that link. Anyways, I appreciate your insights in this article! It looks like you take your research very seriously.
Ryan Faucher
Ryan, thanks for the comment. I think Google likes to tell SEO's what they want them to believe to change behavior. Like when Matt Cutts announced that guest posting for links was dead. They wanted to stop the spammers so they made a heavy-handed claim. In reality, guest posting is still the most effective way to build links, you just can't do it in a spammy way. I think it's the same with nofollow links.
Thanks for this study, Adam :)
Shibily CH
Im glad it was helpful for you.
Adam, thanks for sharing this. Anytime someone sticks their neck out to present new ideas for SEO there will always be nay-sayers but just remember that an SEO that is unwilling to test something because they don’t believe it will work is an SEO that gets left behind. Google always changes their algorithm and we should always be testing everything as you suggested.

I have also seen first hand an uptick in rankings after placing an ad on a site that was a nofollow link and I’m definitely going to continue to test this. Thanks again.
Jeff Millett
Yeah its tough when you present a new idea that changes the way people do SEO it is usually met with resistance. But SEO changes and so we have to be willing to test everything and then change with it.
Hi Adam,
Very nice article & good effort to make this post after analyzing lots of website. Thanks Adam for giving these wonderful article. These types of articles are very helpful for people who always wanna know staring to deep in SEO. One more help i want from your side...will you please analyze my website & tell me what changes should i do to perform best in SEO [link removed by moderator]. I hope you will help me. Thanks in advance.
Your 'backlink software' example is erroneous. In addition to the exact-match backlinks that David mentioned, the homepage page also had its title tag and headline changed to switch from 'link management software' to 'backlink software' (as you can see in the Wayback Machine). So yes of course its rankings for the latter are going to improve.

Your conclusions are not supported by the evidence in any way. You commit the classic 'correlation != causation' fallacy and have cherry-picked data to support your pre-conceived conclusions. Nofollow links are dropped from the link graph, as every good SEO knows, and Google tends to ignore every aspect of them. If they didn't, comment spam would still work like a charm.
Barry Adams
Barry, yes I did also change the homepage title to move the phrase "backlink software" closer to the beginning of the title tag, but as any good SEO knows, there is no way in the world that making that one change would take me from being stuck in the 20's for 6 months to #1. I agree that comment links are worthless but I think you make a terrible assumption that a comment link is the same as any other type of link.

And as I stated in my article, "I do think that the relevance of the site I was advertising on had an impact on how it affected my rankings. But the results don't lie. A Nofollow sitewide link in that instance seemed to have real SEO value.

Now I do think there are other factors at play, for example, I have built a ton of brand trust with Google with branded anchors that point to my homepage. I am not sure how well this would work with a brand new website although I haven't tested it on a new site."
Adam White
You revamped the title tag entirely and changed the page headline to include the focus keyword, which was almost entirely absent before then. Yes, that would actually result in a significant ranking boost, considering the amount of link equity already flowing to your homepage. If you manage to rank for a keyword in the top 20 without mentioning it with any prominence, then making it that page's focus keyword would indeed have a strong ranking boost as the result.

In short, your claim about nofollow links has zero credibility, and you are either trying to deliberately mislead or simply don't understand how SEO works.
Barry Adams
The evidence, for those wondering: https://web.archive.org/web/20170603211908/https://seojet.net/ - note the total absence of 'backlink software' from this page.
Barry Adams
That's fair, but to say that the nofollow link played no part in the quick jump in rankings I think is jumping the gun a little. Don't you think it is at least worst testing? The point of the article is there seems to be SEO value in a nofollow link. By the way, this is not the only test I have ever done, just the only one I talked about in the article.
Adam White
I think 'jumping the gun' is making the claim that a single nofollow link was the sole cause for that ranking boost - and doubling down on that claim on multiple occasions until contrary evidence became undeniable - when you simply applied known on-page SEO best practices to achieve that ranking boost. A single nofollow link, which we know Google drops from the link graph, or an optimised title and headline? Hmm, which could it be...

Your entire premise is based on a lie.
Barry Adams
Yeah, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. You definitely give more weight to on-page SEO than I do, especially in the SEO category, but you're probably much better at it than I am.
There is some horrible advice in this article, I wouldn't trust this case study. Looking at how SEOJet has ranked it's fairly obvious it's based off aggressive link building and their anchor text is Backlink software (36%) build backlinks (21%)... so 57% of their backlink anchors are focused on their money term. NoFollow links aren't going to get you ranking #1 so don't waste your time actively building nofollow links!
David Iwanow
David, thank you for sharing your opinion on this.
David Iwanow
David, thanks for the feedback. However, the 36% with the anchor text "backlink software" is all from the one sitewide nofollow link. So if anything you have only solidified my point which is I did no other link building for that phrase other than the sitewide nofollow. And the term "build backlinks" is a phrase we're targeting on a different page. As I stated in my article the nofollow link was built to my homepage and that is the page I ran the test on. And as I stated in my article "I wouldn't jump to any conclusions based on one case study, but there is enough evidence to make this a point of future testing." How is that horrible advice? Test everything.
Is there any difference between nofollow link in content and nofollow link in comment?
David James
David, as far as I'm concerned comment links have no value unless you are getting click through traffic from them.
Adam White
Exactly.
That means nofollow links are still biggest factors in ranking a website or keywords?
Elmer
I wouldnt say the biggest factor but so many SEO's had written them off as a non-factor. They do have SEO influence.
Adam White
Yes, absolutely right. Because it these links are no value then why the Google still giving credits to these when it comes to traffic. I use nofollow links as they have good value. Thanks, Adam.
Good to know. I really appreciated to you on this quality work. You are doing a great job . Keep it up.
Any links to your site are good if real, live people click them. It's not just about optimising it is also about providing great content and that is what Google seems to be pushing for.
Simon Cox
Simon, I agree. Links that bring you relevant traffic are exactly the kind of links you want. Now you if you can also improve rankings in the process you have a big win.
Hello Adam,
Wonderful little article and very knowledgeable. Like nofollow links for building the brand authority where I use Quora for extracting those precious text links and micro blog links which are totally nofollow.
Jyoti Thapa
Jyoti, I would recommend nofollow links on your inner pages as well, not just for brand building. The research we have done on this showed that inner pages that ranked #1 had 30% nofollow links.
Adam White
Hi Adam,
So you were saying that we should use nofollow links for internal linking post instead of do-follow?
Febriyan Lukito
Not for internal linking but for external links that link to your site.
You need a good number of nofollow links for your Google SEO profile - too many dofollows would be an imbalance and a red flag
Hi Adam,

Thats a really valuable sharing

What I believe and according to my experience links always do wonders if you get it from worthy and authentic sources, whether do-follow or no-follow.

But having a backlink from spammy kind of sites can still hurt whether they are do-follow or no-follow. The more you get mentioned in trusted sites the more Google trusts you.

Cheers!
JD Aadam
That is a great philosophy to use when link building.
no-follow or dof-follow still make me confuse
No-Follow links are good, when used correctly... Nice post!
THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS!!!! I have a couple of former clients that I would have loved to shove this in their face when I tried to explain to them that no-follow links are NOT a waste of time.
Philip Kushmaro
Yeah, convincing people after so much negative talk about nofollow links is difficult. But showing them real data can really help.
Very interesting results. My agency recently agreed to redesign the website of a local newspaper in exchange for some advertising. I'll be completely honest, I got AGGRESSIVE and added a NoFollow footer link on each page going back to our site. Google indexed about 600 new links going to our site then next week and our rank dropped by about 7-8%. It's since recovered fully, but I have to wonder if adding all those links at once caused the rank drop or not. We did some other link-building in the same week, so I really don't know exactly what caused it.

NOTE: I feel it's important to note that this was our agency site, and we wouldn't do something that reckless for a client, LOL!
Blake Akers
It was because of that. 600 links all of a sudden triggers an "alarm" but if they are legit or at least look legit you can sometimes get away with it. You are lucky and you did.
Philip Kushmaro
I know, LOL! It was one of those conversations that went like: "Well since it's just our site and we're not getting leads from it yet, let's see what happens". Since then we've ranked on the map for SEO Birmingham and most related phrases, so I wouldn't take that risk.
Blake Akers
I think relevance plays a big part in how a nofollow effects your rankings. I would really try to stick with sites that are in the same niche.
Adam White
Good point, and footer links aren't really favored by Google at all. But all of our competition here in town have them on client sites and I don't think they are even bothering with the NoFollow tag like we do. Birmingham's been SLOW to adopt digital, and I don't see many other agencies practicing modern link-building around here at all.

My thoughts about relevancy are that since it is a local news authority and we are legitimately maintaining/redesigning their site, we probably want those links. After all, Birmingham shows up for our URL a lot when we put it into Ggoole's keyword planner tool, so there's some local relevance to be gained.
Thanks for proof.
Aleks Ritov
You bet.
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