NoFollow Links – Risky or Irrelevant?

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NoFollow links – risky or irrelevant? Can NoFollow Links Put Your Website at Risk?

The value of NoFollow links has often led to heated debates among online marketers and SEOs. Ever since Google Penguin has been rolled out, the risk of links has become a central question.

It is often claimed that links marked as NoFollows have no impact. Some SEOs still rely on former Google statements suggesting that NoFollows do not pass PageRank, taking this as “evidence” that spammy NoFollow links cannot put you at risk of a Penalty.

In this article you will learn the result of a poll regarding the risk of NoFollow links carried out among SEOs. In addition, you will see what can be concluded from hard facts, i.e. Google statements in Reconsideration Requests for 4,649 spammy links.

 

What are NoFollow Links?


What are NoFollow links?

A NoFollow tag is a way that allows webmasters to tell search engines “Don't follow links on this page" or "Don't follow this specific link." A link can have one or more rel attributes, where “rel” is short for “relationship”. These attributes help define the relationship a link has with a page that it points to.

A NoFollow link looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.example.com/rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>

Such links are used in blog or forum comments in an attempt to take away the incentive for automatic link spammers to place their links there. Interestingly enough, however, this has hardly reduced comment spamming. Well, guess why!

 

Debates and opinions on the effects and risks of NoFollow links

The debate on NoFollows is often focused on the following questions:

    • Do NoFollow links affect rankings in search results and how does Google evaluate this value?

Let’s look at a practical case. A link from Wikipedia is obviously more relevant as to traffic and thus more important for SEO even if the link is marked as NoFollow.

Some people believe that NoFollow links pass Trust. However, this could also imply that negative Trust could be passed as a spam signal.

    • Can a high amount of low-quality NoFollow links in your backlink profile put you at risk of a website Penalty from Google?

If you suffered a Google Penalty, you should focus on bought links and on the spam examples that are provided by Google. But what if there were NoFollows among those bad, manipulative links named by Google?

    • Should NoFollow links be disavowed?

Many SEOs and consultants believe that disavowing a link will simply turn it into a NoFollow. This would imply that there is no point in disavowing a NoFollow link. But what if it’s precisely those NoFollow links that are causing problems?

The statement that disavowed links are “merely” turned into NoFollows was a casual remark from Google when they gave an explanation of the Disavow Tool. However, this would mean that harmful NoFollow links cannot be made ineffective through disavowing.

    • Should you bother with NoFollow links at all or are they completely meaningless?

Concluding from the above-mentioned presumptions, one could believe there is no need to deal with NoFollow links as they don’t imply any effect or risk, and the Disavow Tool does no longer have an impact on NoFollows.

If, however, it is assumed that Google’s explanation is a simplification, on the one hand, and inconsistent, on the other, investing more time in the analysis and review of NoFollow links would be worthwhile.

 

Google’s statements on NoFollows

How does Google handle NoFollow links?

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.”

Source: Google Support

John Mueller from Google said in a Hangout on August 26, 2013 that it is sufficient to look at the links from Google Webmaster Tools, and that only Follow links require attention.

On September 9, 2013 - Matt Cutts said that

typically, NoFollow links cannot hurt your site.

The fact that he used the word “typically” is an indication that NoFollow links can hurt your website in exceptional cases. If you assume that approximately one million websites worldwide have suffered a Penalty, one percent (1%) would still amount to ten thousand cases where NoFollow links were harmful.

 

How the SEO community sees NoFollows

In July 2014 we started an open poll asking, among other questions, whether the participants believed that NoFollows can put a website’s ranking at risk or not.

Slightly more than 50% of the 181 participants believed that NoFollow links can have a negative impact on their results in Google.

NoFollow links

NoFollow links

Opinion of 181 participants whether NoFollow links can be risky or not.
 

Statements from the Google spam team concerning 4,649 spam links examples

The evaluation of the answers from the Google spam team makes things even more interesting. In 2013, Google began to provide spam link examples as part of their answers in Reconsideration Requests. This is thus only an indication, and not a complete cleanup of bad links.

A total of 4,649 spam link examples for 854 domains could be collected from the period between August 16, 2013 and July 2, 2014. Precisely these links named by Google were checked with the Link Check Tool (LCT) to measure the status of the links as of July 2, 2014.

Nofollow links chart

Spam links named by Google sorted by their link status

 

The result shows that already 27% of the links had already been removed and that 10% of the links have been turned into mentions in the meantime (meaning a domain is mentioned but not linked). About 3% of the spam links named by Google were NoFollow links, some of which have existed on article directories or press portals for years.

Below, Google provides two examples of links. The first link is an article directory that has been taken offline in the meantime. The second link leads to the relatively known press release PRNewswire.com.

Nofollow links chart

A typical rejection from Google

 

It takes a SEO’s trained eye to recognize that such a “press release” is simply a piece of text stuffed with Money Keywords that has obviously only been created for SEO purposes. Online press portals have been promoting the SEO value of their publications for years, and the domain PRNEWSWIRE.COM is relatively large – but there were other providers that had e.g. no hesitation in packing their clients against thousands of articles per day on relatively useless, article-stuffed domains, taking good money of course. And things were even more extreme on “free press portals”.

Nofollow links chart

 

SEO press release with keyword stuffing with Money-Keywords as commonly used for years

 

This example is especially interesting because the link was a normal Follow link first and changed to a NoFollow in July 2013 only after Google announced link spamming via press portals as a violation of their guidelines. PRNewswire took action quite quickly, but many other providers reacted to the change much later.

Further analysis of such cases needs to be done, but it seems obvious that the current status of an existing link does not necessarily reflect its effect on Google Penalties.

 

The true intention of Google

Google wants to make webmasters aware of their manipulation “attempts”, punishing the approach, not the links. And it does not seem absolutely necessary that the links are marked as Follows. However, this again contradicts John Mueller’s statements from August 26, 2013, cited above.

It seems that, at least in some cases, it didn’t matter that links which were used massively for spamming before were changed to a NoFollow status.

 

In conclusion

From the findings above, it seems that reviewing the link risk of NoFollow links is still a must. Against different statements from Google, any link can potentially lead to a Penalty.

In order to respond to the different views regarding NoFollow links, Link Detox has always offered users the option to hide NoFollow links by using slices – a feature that is used quite commonly.

 

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Christoph C. Cemper
Christoph C. Cemper is the CEO and Founder of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox. A well-known and distinguished expert in SEO who started link building for clients in 2003, building the Link Research Tools since 2006 and marketing it as SaaS product since 2009. When the famous Google Penguin update changed the rules of SEO in 2012, Christoph started Link Detox, software for finding links that pose a risk in a website’s backlink profile. He introduced ongoing link audits and risk management to the market in early 2011. In 2015, Christoph introduced Impactana, a new technology platform and SaaS product to measure the success of content beyond "social buzz", to find content, videos and people that make an impact.
Christoph C. Cemper
Christoph C. Cemper

Comments

comments

9 Comments

  1. Rick Lomas on March 24, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you for this Christoph. It will be great to have this evidence to show clients who have thousands of NoFollow links.

  2. @GaryPHorsman on March 27, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    RT @cemper: Should you include NoFollow links in your disavow file? http://t.co/xYj5q8apMO http://t.co/UaAE2iOFZf

  3. @cemper on March 27, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    What do you say? Can NoFollow Links lead to a Google Penalty? http://t.co/rYbs8E7jIc http://t.co/aHmXF2jZEH

  4. Jason Pedersen on March 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Christoph, thank you for setting the record straight once again. When will internet markets learn that junk backlinks just aren’t worth the risk?

  5. Max Pan on March 28, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you for the great article Chris!
    Some people just have no idea on the amount of power you can get from a Nofollow when considering other metrics of the link!

  6. Jimmy Kelley on April 4, 2015 at 12:10 am

    Great article Chris, it is good that someone has looked at nofollow links as too many seo’s out there seem to only care about dofollow links, great work.

  7. Neeraj Ojha on August 28, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I have an exception. As you said that nofollow links are OK then why google apply penalty when lots of comment spam are done ( all comments are nofollow mostly)

  8. Steve Joe on November 21, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    I agree with you Neeraj. It’s great confusion regarding the impact of nofollow links. But as far as I see them, they do nothing.

  9. Jasvinder on December 30, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Well, being a newbie in blogging, I just got to know about the dofollow and nofollow and read it somewhere that i need both type of links to rank.

    But i have a question in my mind, I read that, Nofollow links does not pass any link juice, so why should i create links, which does not get my blog anything?

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