30 second summary:

  • The debate in the SEO community about the variation in the value of backlinks continues.
  • Google has changed its position on these links.
  • What do we get for our efforts?
  • Are nofollow links worth the pain?

Are nofollow links a waste of time?

SEO practitioners have been told for years that nofollow links have no value. It has become a mantra that has been repeated to the point where it has become a vulgar term for us.

However, is this a healthy approach to link building? Should the opportunities for these decreased backlinks be ignored in the future? Here I want to stand up for those low search engine signals.

What is a dofollow and a nofollow link?

I will be brief. There are no dofollow links. By default, all links start as follows for search engines. Google released a new attribute called nofollow many years ago and asked website managers to add it to links in their comment section as unscrupulous spammers ravaged their algorithms. For these black hat SEO types, creating lots of links on multiple websites was an easy way.

Over time, some websites have added this attribute to other parts of their content, if not their entire website, to discourage marketers from linking to their sites for SEO purposes only. As a result, many marketers have lost interest in these websites for providing high quality content.

Google, with all its whims, updates their position

A little over a year ago, Google came out and informed us that the algorithm had been updated to include some nofollow links as clues. The extent of what this means can be interpreted.

But it tells us that Google is paying attention to them. This does not mean that I recommend the open season and that your link building strategy should be entirely based on it. But they definitely have more value than most people realize.

Nofollow backlinks can still provide authority

The quality appraiser guidelines published by Google placed great emphasis on expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EAT). If you go through the idiom you will find that they give authority to the authors of content mentioned in news articles and publications. Even Wikipedia is specifically mentioned (which has no following links as a guide throughout its website).

Forbes, Huffington Post, and Medium are great examples of websites that have only nofollow links. But I can imagine that these quality assessors would have little concern.

If you ignore these publications, you may be missing out on one of the keys to increasing your website’s authority assuming there is a lack of link juice.

The search console consistently provides these links in its reports

As much data as is available in the Google Search Console, there is a lot more information that we in the SEO community would like to see that is not readily available in this tool. Still, Google has consistently provided a lot of nofollow links mixed in with the regular backlinks in the reporting. Why do you think is that so?

Google easily recognizes the difference between them and still offers them and has for years. Not only that – they also consider them in the top link text (anchor text) section which is a big part of this puzzle.

A mix of the two types has always been considered healthy for a backlink profile for your website. Where nofollows can have a powerful impact is providing context. Be able to reinforce brand names and other keyword terms for your website and individual pages.

No one can expect to get accurate keyword match anchor text regularly from high authority websites. But mentions in forums, now comments, and other posts can provide context, if not link strength. If you’re trying to refine your pages’ keyword focus, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

More direct traffic

Qualified traffic of any kind is valuable. If your entire job is to improve the ranking of your website, this point does not apply. But being an SEO usually means getting more organic traffic to your website. It is hard to deny that visitors to your site from high traffic websites are not considered to be visitors because of the intent of the link.

When visitors to these websites read their content on a specific topic and inevitably click a link to your website, that’s a win in my book. It is, so to speak, the whole point of your work.

Not to mention that someone who’s researched a topic and came across your company name mentioned multiple times on industry-specific websites cemented the brand awareness that everyone is always talking about.

Summary of the non-following backlinks

Much of this is known to seasoned marketers, and sometimes a helpful reminder is welcome. Those new to the industry often hear ridicule on the matter and steer clear of these backlinks without doing their research or testing them themselves.

These hints to the search engines can be of great value if used with caution and consideration. Don’t be so ready to get them out of control.

Rob Delory is the founder of the QuickSilver Agency. He can be found on Twitter @rdelory.