What is DoFollow? What is NoFollow? Follow Along and See.

If you’ve done much of any reading on link building at all then you’ve probably seen people mention “nofollow” and “dofollow” links. But to the person who is new to all of this, it may be kind of confusing. So I’d like to help break it down for you.
When creating a link on a webpage using HTML, the standard code for that link is:

<a href=”http://www.yoursitehere.com”>Anchor Text</a>

This includes the HTML tag, the URL the link will be going to, the text that will be shown on the webpage for that link, and the closing HTML tag.

You’re able to add more HTML to the code above in order to tell the search engine spiders whether or not you want them to follow the link when crawling your website. You may be thinking … “Why wouldn’t I want the search engine spiders to see all of the links on my site?” This is a very valid concern, which I will address further down. But first, I’m going to show you how to modify the HTML in order to tell the search engine spiders to crawl a link or not.

To tell the spiders to crawl a link, you don’t have to do anything. Simply using the format shown above, the search engine spiders will crawl the link provided.

To tell the spiders NOT to crawl a link, you need to add the following code to the HTML code above:
rel=”nofollow”

The complete code would then look like:

<a href=”http://www.yoursitehere.com” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text</a>

Basically, there is no true “dofollow”. Dofollow in a manner of speaking is just NOT using the “nofollow” tag.

Why Does Nofollow Matter?

For the official word on nofollow links here’s what Google says about them:

“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Also, it’s important to note that other search engines may handle nofollow in slightly different ways.”

The whole idea behind nofollow was created because search engines thought it would help cut down on link spam.  That’s where people were trying to get links from anywhere and everywhere they could.  With the nofollow tag a webmaster could indicate that a link wasn’t really approved by them or if it was, they didn’t want it being followed by Google.

Once it went public, the nofollow tag was built into many forum applications and even the blog commenting code for blog platforms like WordPress. The thought was the nofollow tag would cut down on the number of spam commenters and forum posters that were really just out to get a link.

It was a nice idea, but I’m not sure it’s helped.  From running sites allowing comments (even those that are nofollowed), I get a lot of comment spam. So the spammers keep trying regardless of nofollow.

Beyond comments and forum posts, many individual sites have jumped into using nofollow in the hopes of cutting down on spam.

Wikipedia nofollows all their external links now. As part of their service, Wikipedia allows people to cite references to external pages. Due to this, the reference section of all of their pages was getting overrun with people just trying to get a link back to their site.

So in a pretty drastic move, they nofollowed all the outgoing links. It was worth a try, but I’m sure they still get a lot of link spam in their references.

When Should YOU Use Nofollow?

There are many instances you might want to use the “nofollow” tag on your site, such as:

1) In your blog’s comment section (if using most blog software, this is automatic).

Google calls this untrusted content. They think since you don’t know who’s trying to comment on your site (for Pete’s sake, they could be a spammer) you should just automatically nofollow all those links and it will hopefully discourage spammers from commenting at all. It’s worth a try and may cut down on a little of your spam comments, but if you’ve run a blog for even a week, you already know it won’t get rid of it.

2) Paid links.

Again this is recommended by Google. Essentially, your site’s PageRank gives a small amount of rank power to the sites you link to (which helps their search engine ranking). If you have a paid link on your site, it’s essentially buying a higher rank in Google. And they don’t like that. Often it’s the person putting the paid link on their site who gets in trouble (not always the guy who bought the link), so you may want to nofollow any paid links on your webpages.

3) Areas of your site you don’t really want in the index.

Using a nofollow tag to link to these pages is not a sure-fire way of keeping the pages out of the search engines, but it may help.  You might as well use the nofollow tag on those links as you don’t really want the search engines following them to your exclusive pages.

Used in that way, nofollow can help you control the status of the links on your webpages.

Nofollow and Link Building

The next factor is your link building.

If you’re trying to build links to your site then you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time building nofollow links.  Since Google doesn’t follow them, it’s like those links don’t exist.

But in the end you’re going to get at least a few nofollow links. In fact, it’s probably better to have a mix of both nofollow and dofollow as it’s only natural to have some.

But you don’t want to spend a whole lot of time getting a link unless it’s going to either be dofollow or send you some traffic.

For instance, writing guest articles for other sites is a common link building practice. At the end of the article you can usually include a resource box where you talk about yourself and link to your site.  It’s not a good idea to spend the time writing a fantastic article for a site that gets next to no traffic and will only give you a nofollow link.

It’s not going to be worth it.

Unless you think they will eventually grow enough to send you some traffic in the future I’d pass on this. Either you want traffic or a decent, dofollow link (or both) or it’s probably not worth your time.

How to Easily Spot NoFollow Links

One way to spot nofollow links is to right click on a site and click ‘View source’. Then go up to ‘Edit’ and then ‘Find’. From there you’ll want to type ‘nofollow’ into the search box.

All the instances of nofollow will be highlighted (at least that’s how they look in my browser).

Using this technique, you can scroll through and see if the link you’re concerned about is nofollow or dofollow.

As you can imagine, this is tedious.

Another easier way is to download an extension for your browser. The following are a couple of extensions for the Firefox browser that will highlight nofollow tags for you:

Try those out if you need a fast and easy way to find out whether a link is nofollow or not.

Also please realize that a site can switch any link to nofollow at any time. You have no control over it so in the end, it’s not worth losing a whole lot of sleep over.

Another thing to consider is that even though Google states they don’t follow the nofollow tag, other search engines handle things differently (although Google has an awful lot of the market share on search so it may not matter).

So it’s up to you whether you want to give nofollow much consideration in your link building.  Remember, if you’re going to get traffic from the link, it’s a good link that you should happily accept whether it will be followed by the search engines or not.

44 replies
  1. Millions4us
    Millions4us says:

    Hi Lisa
    Great article and i love the way you back up your information with the original source (Google Matt Cutts). Some webmasters show no proof and there for trust issues are questionable. Thanks again!
    Frank Z.

    Reply
  2. deden
    deden says:

    A good article to read. It’s worthy that the page is located at the first page of search results. The information you provide as good as or better than Wikipedia’s.

    Reply
  3. site internet nice
    site internet nice says:

    Thank you Lisa for all this precision, it is true that I did not make the difference between Dofollow and empty rel!.
    However, I heard that it was necessary for a good SEO, that it have 1/3 of the backlinks in Nofollow there.
    What do you think about that ?

    Reply
    • Lisa Parmley
      Lisa Parmley says:

      The best method for gaining backlinks is to attract them. If you do that then you’ll have a good mix of anchor text as well as no follow links. Google claims those don’t count so I wouldn’t waste the time to intentionally build no follow links back to your site. I think you could spend your time better. All the best …
      Lisa

      Reply
  4. Vincent Park
    Vincent Park says:

    Thanks Lisa, it was really useful. I am new to all these webmaster tools and your article explained nofollow vs. dofollow differences and how it affects google ranking.
    Park

    Reply
  5. staircase design professional
    staircase design professional says:

    in this case more than half of the built links are no-follow. anyway thanks for taking time to explain this

    Reply
  6. Vince
    Vince says:

    This is exactly what I was looking for.
    I didn’t want to look like a newbie and ask anyone about no-follow, do-follow and you’ve answered my questions.
    Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  7. Skin Care
    Skin Care says:

    If you do that then you’ll have a good mix of anchor text as well as no follow links. The best method for gaining backlinks is to attract them.

    Reply
  8. Robert
    Robert says:

    Excellent article! You have done a great job on explaining the pros and cons of dofollow and nofollow. I recently downloaded SEO Quake which takes all the guess work out. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  9. nasirkamal
    nasirkamal says:

    I’m greatly happy to get such type of educational website. I have learn a lot of things from this article. Specifically, what is no follow and do follow.

    Reply
  10. Chetan
    Chetan says:

    Lisa, What a explanation? I’m a truly impressed. Just today i feel to check the results about waht is No-follow and checking the results on daily basis. and today i have seen you’re article on Google. When i read you’re points it’s so distinctive and conscious. Great Write Up 🙂

    Reply
  11. davanna
    davanna says:

    Just wanted to add my thanks for the very informative article. So many of the articles are overly technical and do not a give a good overview. I will make sure to bookmark you and check back for more great info!

    Reply
  12. Desatascos Barcelona
    Desatascos Barcelona says:

    I think today is not very relevant if the link is ‘shallow’ or ‘nof’ at the time of positioning and facing the SEO, Google once the link appears on the web, given the value and reputation that deserves that site regardless if whether the site where the link is given ‘nof’

    Reply
  13. Steve
    Steve says:

    One important reason to NOT use noFollow, Google ranks you higher if there is activity on your page. People are more likely to leave a comment if they get a reward for leaving one, in this case credit with Google back to their website. In my case I block Spam with Spam blockers. I do glance at the comments periodically and approve the ones that make comments that are relevant to the article, beyond random praise. http://wordpress.org/plugins/sem-dofollow/

    Reply

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