Understanding follow and nofollow links is important if you are a webmaster, blogger, copywriter, or business owner looking to maximize your digital performance.
Adding these to your SEO toolbox can help boost your website’s profile. Let’s go over what they are, why they are used, and how they can help you connect with your target audience better.
What are Follow Links?
Follow links are backlinks (or inbound links) that tell search engine crawlers to follow the hyperlink. This type of inbound link signals a relevant and useful link to crawlers. Essentially, the author is vouching for the linked site and telling readers “Hey, I found this page useful. You might want to check it out too.”
They are also commonly referred to as “do follow” links. They tell crawlers to follow the link, crawl the page, and give the linking page the credit. With each follow link from other pages, a linked page receives “votes” for credibility. The more votes a page has, the more likely it will receive an increase in SERP rankings.
These are the cream of the crop when it comes to inbound links. You want them because they drive readers to your page and crawlers to your content. They also give you a taste of the oh-so-sweet link juice that every site needs (more on that later).
What are Nofollow Links?
These are a different breed of inbound links. Unlike do follow, these have a “nofollow” attribute in the HTML tag telling crawlers not to follow the link. Readers, on the other hand, see the same thing as a do follow link. It’s a hyperlink that opens a new page when they click on it. The only way to tell the difference is to look at the HTML tag.
Another notable difference from do follows is that nofollow links do not earn points for credibility. To search engines, these types of links are unreliable. For whatever reason, the linking site is unwilling to vouch the liked site. Therefore, they simply do not follow the hyperlink.
At least, that was the case until recently. In 2019, Google changed their strategy and now sees nofollow attributes as “hints” rather than directives to ignore.
By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.” – Google
Why Use Nofollow Links?
If search engine crawlers don’t “count” nofollow links the same way they count do follow links, why do they exist in the first place?
Initially, nofollow links were created to fight spam and backlink abuse.
In the early 2000s, blogs began to establish themselves as a lucrative sector of the online world. Seeing this, spammers would take the opportunity to comment on posts with links back to their own site. This proved to be an effective tactic and it spread like wildfire, wreaking havoc in SERPs.
Users were no longer able to obtain the information they were looking for from skewed search results.
Comment spam threw off search engine algorithms and caused spammer sites to rank well. With quality sites getting pushed down in rankings, Google had to find a way to prevent comment spam and maintain trustworthy search results. So, in 2005, they helped develop a superhero of sorts: the nofollow link HTML tag.
Common Nofollow Links:
- Paid links / Sponsored content
When to Use rel=”ugc” and rel=”sponsored”
Nofollow links have evolved since their inception. There are now ways to specify outbound links with the HTML attributes rel=”ugc” and rel=”sponsored.
Rel=”ugc” is for user generated content. Comments and forums are both types of user generated content.
Rel=”sponsored” is for sponsored content. Use this for advertisements, affiliate links, or anytime links are exchanged for money or goods.
Crawling vs. Indexing vs. Ranking
Search engines have three basic functions: crawling, indexing, and ranking.
This is when Google deploys robots to sweep the internet. These robots are often referred to as “crawlers” or “spiders.” They scan content and HTML codes of every URL they can come across.
It is important to note that crawlers discover website URLs via links. They start by inspecting a few pages and follow backlinks on those pages to find new ones.
Alternatively, they can find pages via a sitemap file which should be regularly updated by the webmaster.
Once content is discovered, it is then indexed. This means storing it for referencing when a user initiates a search.
By using the HTML code “noindex,” the webmaster can prevent the indexing of irrelevant pages.
Ranking is when a search engine organizes indexed content from most relevant to least relevant each time a user submits a search.
A digital marketing agency working on SEO’s aims to rank businesses well on a SERP. A business wants to reach their potential clients via the web. A search engine’s goal, however, is to provide the most relevant and useful content to the user.
Once all three work in harmony, then ranking becomes natural and makes sense.
Why are Backlinks Important?
Simply put: because they let crawlers know a site has been vouched for and regarded as a reliable source.
The more websites link to your content, the more trust you have with users and the internet as a whole. Search engines count backlinks as “votes”. The more you have, the more reliable your site is – and therefore, more likely your site’s ranking will increase. Higher rankings translate to more traffic, more visitors, more sales, and more success.
How to Build Backlinks
We know they are an important part of building a successful website, but how do we get them?
Create Quality Content
This is the best way to organically earn backlinks. If you publish exceptional content, others will want to link to it.
Here is a list of quality content examples compiled by NeoMam Studio’s CEO, Gisele Navarro. The groups on the list produced innovative content that made people want to share their page via backlinks.
If you can create eye-catching, thought-provoking, link-worthy content, others will notice. Better yet, others will link to it.
- Leave comments on blog posts. Make sure they are well-thought-out ideas that advance the discussion.
- Respond to forums. Similar to comments, responses should contribute reliable information.
- Give testimonials on someone else’s product or service. If you give someone kudos, they may want to share it on their site and potentially provide a link to your endorsement.
Contact other site owners and ask them to link to your site! For this to work you will need to be able to justify how your site adds value to their content.
Check For BacklinksFind mentions of your site, brand, product, or service and ask the owner to include a backlink. This helps you get the credit and is an easy win for both you and the site that mentioned you. There are several free backlink checkers like this one from Moz.
Guest BlogOffer to guest blog for someone else. Before reaching out, be sure to have a list of useful topics that cater to their genre or niche.
Once you are ready to publish guest content, you could add a link to your own site when referencing something relevant.
The Skyscraper TechniqueThis technique is when you find proven content with lots of earned links, create something better, and then promote your content.
This effective technique will require you to create something superior to the already successful content. Be prepared to put in the work.