Those of you who have studied or at least read about SEO are likely to know to what we are going on about, but for those who are completely new to the world of webdesign, SEO and google will likely to be clueless! If your a bit lost, or just interested in the differences between follow and nofollow links then this blog is the place for you.
When websites place a link to any other website or source there is an attribute which can be applied to this link known as follow, from here we can say if we wish for a search engine spider (or bot) to follow the link or to ignore the link and carry on. This will be a relatively short blog post for us but people commonly ask us whether a nofollow link is worth having in regards to SEO.
What is a Follow link?
In order to get your head around this setup, why it exists and how the whole network of links all work you have to appreciate the way that the majority of links work on the internet. When websites are created they have a wealth of links on them, both internal and external to allow visitors to move between the many pages of information. This web of links, whilst allowing traffic to flow also allows the search engine bots (known as spiders) to find pages and each link to a page gives a brownie point to that page.
As the bot trawls through the internet, finding all the pages it will add up the brownie points for the pages and uses this (amongst many other things) to help work out which content to list the highest on search engine results. The idea being, if lots of links go to a page then surely the page has decent information and is worth linking to.
By default all the links we see will be follow links, this allows the bots to use the links to help rank and evaluate how trusted a page is. So in short, we can consider a follow link as one which awards brownie points, a link which goes to a source that is trusted and approved.
So what is a NoFollow link?
This is where it get’s interesting, we can now add a tag to a link which tells any bot or spider to simply ignore the link, don’t count it and don’t give that link any brownie points but why?
As the internet moved on from small static pages to having lots of dynamic content such as user comments there became an apparent abuse of spam linking to trick search engines into giving a page an unnatural ranking. We live in a world where people will happily lie, abuse systems and trick systems and thus there are times we need to protect against this.
Link building used to be a big industry adopted by most self claimed SEO experts, but it was a black hat (unethical) technique at best and would rely on creating comments, blog posts, forum posts etc and including a link back to your site for the bots to see. It got to the point where a small website could potentially have 10’s of thousands of links back to it, all from spam comments and posts. Just imagine carefully crafting your website, fine tuning all the content to be perfect and any outgoing links are to known, trusted sources to only be bombarded by 10,000 spam comments linking to random sites that you have no idea who or what they are!
This is where the nofollow links come into play, many systems such as WordPress will no nofollow any guest/comment link by default and fortunately this has rapidly reduced the number of spam comments and posts on the internet. It’s a much welcome feature for web masters and moderators but at the same time demonstrates just how much of spammy world it is online.
So in short, a nofollow link is a perfect attribute to be applied to comments, forum posts, any paid advertising and any content deemed to be untrusted, untested or unknown.
So does that mean nofollow links are useless?
In short, no. The correct way to branding your business online is to provide valuable content or services. If you have left a good comment, some information or genuinely offering your services or product to people who have a use for it then the referral traffic can be really beneficial. It’s also worth noting that it only takes 1 person to locate your site to gain a follow link on a trusted source.
We can also look at the modern approach search engines are taking as they have more processing time available to them. They will be looking for brand mentions, NAP (Name, Address & Phone), Social Signals and other areas which they can tie to a specific person or site. The more you can leave around the internet as a footprint the bigger you will look to a search engine.
To summarise, a nofollow link will not provide you with any brownie points, search engine juice or magic for SEO like it used to. But they do allow the flow of actual traffic, build up your brand and allow your online footprint to grow. As we said, it only takes one real web master to see your link, like the content and link back to you with a follow link.
How do I know if a link is nofollow?
There’s a few ways of doing this, the first would be to view the source code and find the a href tag and look for a part that says rel=”nofollow” if it is missing, or says something else then the link will be a followable link.
We appreciate for some, delving into the source code of a site can be a bit daunting, so there are plugins that do this too such as NoFollow Simple for Google Chrome (as a plugin)
The best way to end this blog post is to say that getting a fine balance between follow and nofollow links is the best practice. If your getting nofollow links from a signature on genuine forum posts or comments then that is great, but if your leaving spam comments or ones with no value then be very cautious.
Building links with local trusted networks of companies and similar web masters is and always will be the ideal scenario. This can be achieved by creating valuable content that people will find useful and helpful.