A NoFollow link has an attribute 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 links to.

A NoFollow link looks like this:

<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Link Not Passing PageRank</a>

NoFollow links are often rendered in forums and blog comments, in an attempt to take away the incentive for link spammers to spam their links there.

A typical example of using NoFollow would be

We’ve also seen NoFollow links as result of link greed

As well as PageRank sculpting on internal links, a method called dead in 2009

Adding a NoFollow attribute to a link avoids PageRank being passed, hence the link not being an unnatural link anymore according to Google’s guidelines.

In 2019 Google introduced 2 extra NoFollow variations to mark links as UGC links or Sponsored Links, which didn’t find much adoption until today. This update was dubbed the “NoFollow 2.0” update.

Here is an example how a UGC NoFollow link looks like in HTML code:

<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow ugc">Link Not Passing PageRank marked as coming from user generated content(UGC)</a>

Here is an example how a UGC NoFollow link looks like in HTML code:

<a href="http://www.sponsor.com/" rel="nofollow sponsored">Link Not Passing PageRank marked as being sponsor i.e. paid for</a>

Sometimes there are some odd patterns to find

<a href="http://www.sponsor.com/" rel="nofollow PinkySwearIReceivedNoMoneyForThisLink">Link Not Passing PageRank</a>

or

<a href="http://www.sponsor.com/" rel="nofollow remove-my-penalty-please">Link Not Passing PageRank</a>

or

<a href="http://www.sponsor.com/" rel="nofollow dofollow">Link Not Passing PageRank</a>

In all the three above cases all the extra attributes are ignored by Google.

NoFollow links cannot generally hurt you, but in certain circumstances they can hurt you.

We believe you should choose to evaluate NoFollow links, if you disagree, you can choose to ignore them.

The impact on NoFollow links on search engine rankings and penalties is discussed controversially.

SEOs are divided into two ‘SEO schools’ regarding the evaluation of NoFollow links:

  1. NoFollow links are not “followed” and therefore don’t carry any risk or value at all

  2. NoFollow links might technically not pass page rank. However, other aspects can transfer, like trust or indicators for link spam. Therefore, Google may issue penalties if NoFollow links are overdone.

Google has stated that NoFollow links will be completely ignored. However, in September 2013 Matt Cutts said that a large number of NoFollow links could hurt and even result in a manual action:

We too have the opinion that NoFollow links can, under certain circumstances, be harmful to search engine rankings and result in manual penalties, because Google generally tries to identify spamming intents.

We regularly hear from clients that their penalty was only lifted after they investigated and removed large quantities of NoFollow links. From this we conclude that Google in certain cases tries to identify intents of spamming even if NoFollow links are used.

With Link Detox (DTOX) and Competitive Link Detox (CDTOX) you can choose two different modes for NoFollow evaluation:

  1. Ignoring NoFollow links: This means that a zero DTOXRISK score is assigned to all NoFollow links in our software.

  2. Activating the NoFollow evaluation: This means that a DTOXRISK score is calculated for NoFollow links – although this will be a different value than the calculation for Follow links

The results of the NoFollow evaluation mode show alternative evaluations of DTOXRISK for all links including NoFollow links, based on the assumption that NoFollow links should be evaluated as well, but with a different calculation of risk scores.

How to switch NoFollow Evaluation On and Off

In LinkResearchTools and LinkDetox® you can select the evaluation mode when you

  • start a report in DTOX or CDTOX (in LRT Classic)
  • set up a backlink profile in a project (in LRT Smart)
  • reprocess the DTOXRISK

And you can even alternate.

The decision you make when starting a report is not final. If you run a report ignoring NoFollow links you may decide later that you would to see the results with the NoFollow links evaluated. You do not need to re-run the report to do this, but you can Reprocess the report to recalculate DTOXRISK and select the NoFollow evaluation mode you want to see.

Please note: such recalculation does not use any Link Crawl Budget and can be done as often as you wish, although the processing takes server resources and thus time.

Further Reading

Can NoFollow Links cause a Google Penalty?

Yes, we’ve seen that happen. We also received spam examples from Google specifically pointing to NoFollow links.

How many SEOs believe NoFollow Links should be audited and taken care of?

In 2014 already 50% of webmasters and SEOs decided to take the risk of NoFollow Links serious. With the NoFollow 2.0 introduced in September 2019 we believe the number has gone way up. We also recommend everyone to audit NoFollow Links.

Can Link Detox/LinkResearchTools (LRT) perform link audits without NoFollow links?

Yes, the option to decide if NoFollow links are audited and calculated a potential link risk for exists since 2014. Users can perform the audit in two phases, first without NoFollow links, then with NoFollow links included.

Can nofollow links hurt your Google rankings?

Yes, we’ve seen that happen. We also received examples from Google specifically pointing to NoFollow links.

Do NoFollow links have value?

If you have NoFollow links on reputable and trusted sites, they certainly have value. Just think about links from Wikipedia. With the NoFollow 2.0 introduced in September 2019 we believe that the value of such links has increased even more.