How Valuable are NoFollow Links? | The Experts

nofollow

A large amount of what I do at Electric Dialogue revolves around link building. So I suppose it is only natural that I’d be interested in nofollow links and their potential value to my work.

During my own research I thought that approaching a handful of people (who I knew to be experts within the SEO industry), and asking if they’d be interested in contributing to this piece, would help other people find answers easily to the questions I used to have.

Fortunately, they all kindly agreed and here we are!

Right, here’s how it worked. I asked each of our experts the same five questions about nofollow links and they answered with their own two cents worth (unaware of what each other had said). Pretty straight forward.

So without further ado let me introduce our guest experts (although I expect you’ve heard of them before): Gianluca Fiorelli, Jon Cooper, Ruth Burr and Paddy Moogan.

gianluca fiorelli

Gianluca FiorelliILoveSEO


1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being incredibly and 1 being not at all) how valuable are nofollow links to a link builder?

“Good question. My first answer should be: “Depends on what do you mean by valuable”.

Let me explain. If you are looking for a direct SEO value, as saying “rank signal”, surely a followed link is much more useful, even though – but that’s a theory which was never confirmed by Google or someone else – it is possible that Google gives a “trust” value to a nofollowed links from authoritative sites (as it seems doing from co-citation). So, in that case the value should be 5.

Instead, if you are thinking at link building as a way to put your site in front of your audience in sites it is following, then the value of the link, even no followed, rises to 10. Personally, even if I’d love to have it as follow link, what I look for from sites as the New York Times, The Guardian, Adobe or, in our industry, SEOmoz, is the visibility and the organic traffic that link can offer me. And visibility and traffic can lead to links… followed links.”

2. What does, or doesn’t, make nofollow links valuable?

“I think I’ve already said what make a nofollow link valuable in the previous answer. What doesn’t make them valuable? Having a nofollowed link in a site that doesn’t own authority and doesn’t drive traffic and visibility to my site.”

3. When is the most effective time for us to use nofollow?

“When you want to follow the Google guidelines, hence whenever you link to something not editorially (for instance an affiliate link or a “paid link”). Or whenever you think a link may be interpreted by Google as not genuinely editorial.”

4. How has the value of nofollows changed in the last 3 years?

“I don’t think its value has changed that much during the years. But, yes, possibly it is considered as a co-citation by Google, and what we have seen is that co-citation have a stronger force right now in how Google shapes the SERPs.”

5. What do you predict for their future in link building?

“To predict is always hard when it comes to SEO and Google. Sincerely I don’t think that nofollow links will change as a value in the next future, but – yes – possibly they will be more important as a trust signal when present in authoritative sites and a taken as a popularity signal as if they were co-citations.”

 

jon cooper

Jon CooperPoint Blank SEO

1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being incredibly and 1 being not at all) how valuable are nofollow links to a link builder?

“It’s hard to quantify something that isn’t a standalone indicator of something (i.e. it’s like saying “how important are apples to your diet?”), but I’d say a 3 or 4.”

2. What does, or doesn’t, make nofollow links valuable?

“They’re still valuable because a lot of dumb webmasters started abusing the nofollow attribute, meaning Google has started to ignore it more & more over the years and has started to treat it more like a regular link. I also know a few spammers who really don’t care if the links they’re getting are nofollow, because they’re still linking great with them.”

3. When is the most effective time for us to use nofollow?

“There’s never really a time, but rather, it’s always relative; to me, I’d only go after nofollow links if I was trying to fit the mold of what a typical high ranking site’s link profile looks like for a specific keyword. If they all have 15-20% nofollow links, then I’ll try and get some so I can be in that range too.”

4. How has the value of nofollows changed in the last 3 years?

“As I said, Google has started to treat them more like regular links (in my opinion and from my experience) because so many webmasters abuse the attribute to try and keep link juice from flowing out of their site (i.e. something like a WordPress plugin nofollowing all external links), and I’ve seen more & more spammers not caring whether they’re getting a lot of links that happen to have the nofollow attribute.”

5. What do you predict for their future in link building?

“I think the trend will continue. I don’t think nofollow will ever go away (still has the same purpose for which is created for, i.e. for blog comments), but I do think Google will continue to give it a little bit more weight if we continue seeing a lot of people abusing it, which doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.”

 

ruth burr

Ruth BurrSEOMoz

1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being incredibly and 1 being not at all) how valuable are nofollow links to a link builder?

“Like so many other things in SEO, the answer is “it depends.” I’d rather have a nofollow link that drives traffic than a followed link from a sketchy site any day.”

2. What does, or doesn’t, make nofollow links valuable?

“Link building should always, always be done with driving traffic in mind. If it’s not a link that a real person might see, click on, visit your site and then buy something, the value of that link goes way down, followed or not. If you can get a great link from a reputable website that your target audience visits a lot, then I say go for it. Obviously you can’t have all nofollow links, all the time, but a mix is fine.”

3. When is the most effective time for us to use nofollow?

“I think nofollow links have value as part of a branding play. A link or a piece of content from a site whose audience is very similar to yours is a great way to build awareness, whether it’s followed or not.”

4. How has the value of nofollows changed in the last 3 years?

“One thing Wil Reynolds has spoken on at MozCon and a lot of other places is the idea of RCS (Real Company S%$&). The idea is that as an industry, inbound marketers need to move toward practices that are about real, quality business practices and marketing tactics rather than trying to find ways to trick or game the search engines. Worrying about your mix of nofollowed vs. followed links is a great example of something that online marketers could be focusing less on.”

5. What do you predict for their future in link building?

“These days inbound marketing is more about building quality content and a strong brand. If you’re building good content and good relationships with a community who shares and links to your content, you can be less concerned about whether individual links are followed or nofollowed. The best links build themselves!”

 

paddy moogan

Paddy MooganDistilled

1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being incredibly and 1 being not at all) how valuable are nofollow links to a link builder?

“It’s not quite as black and white as that! As a “pure” link builder, I guess the answer would be 1 because they don’t flow PageRank and therefore don’t affect search results. But as a marketer, if a link is nofollow but sends me a load of traffic (and customers) then it is very valuable!”

2. What does, or doesn’t, make nofollow links valuable?

“There are two main ways they can be valuable in my opinion. The first is what I mentioned previously in that if they send good traffic, then they are valuable. The second way is that if you get coverage and a nofollow link on a very high profile website, then you may get followed links from other websites as a result of them seeing this coverage.”

3. When is the most effective time for us to use nofollow?

“I’m not sure there is an effective time because most of us would not actively seek nofollow links. But if I were to get a nofollow link, I think the most effective time would be when I can get one on a website that has lots and lots of relevant traffic to my industry so that I know that I’ll at least get some benefit.”

4. How has the value of nofollows changed in the last 3 years?

“I’m not aware that the value has changed at all to be honest. I have always felt that nofollow links can, in certain circumstances, be counted by Google. But that is just my own speculation and I’ve felt that way for many years since I first tested it. Aside from that, I don’t think it’s changed much.”

5. What do you predict for their future in link building?

“I think more websites will adopt nofollow and it will grow to be a slightly bigger percentage than the single digit percentage it is right now. I can’t see Google or any other search engine changing how they handle it. There is an argument to say that they will try and figure out when to actually ignore it, but I think this is a bit too granular for Google to put their resources into and they have bigger priorities!”

Round-up

Wow that’s a whole lot of information! So here’s a quick round-up; the general consensus seems to be that it is hard to say definitively what the value of nofollow links are because it depends on your aims.

The pure link builders out there would argue that because nofollow links are not thought to pass value they are only a tiny bit more useful than no link at all.

However, others take the view that SEO is no longer solely about increasing rank. Instead it is about traffic, revenue and brand management; which means even if a link is nofollow it can still be of major value if it attracts a lot of traffic etc.

With regards to their future all of our experts don’t expect any dramatic changes in how they’re handled by search engines. Some predict that there may be a small increase in authority, but will still never be viewed in the same way as followed links.

There you have it

Thanks again to all of our expert contributors! If you have anything you want to ask them, you can get in touch with them via Twitter or the comment section below!

 

About Josh Hansen

Josh is our link building specialist and enjoys coming up with innovative ways to help our clients achieve their digital targets. He is also a qualified Google AdWords PPC professional and content specialist. When he’s not dabbling in SEO, Josh is an avid sports fan (except cricket), book worm and lover of the great outdoors. Follow Josh on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

23 Responses to “How Valuable are NoFollow Links? | The Experts”

  1. Todd McDonald April 22, 2013 2:49 pm #

    Hey Josh,

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together – always nice to hear other SEO’s thoughts on this subject matter.

    One thing that I found interesting that didn’t come up was the potential impact of nofollow links within the knowledge graph. One thing we’ve certainly seen and read in Google’s patents on the subject relate to them using sources such as Wikipedia to help them build their database and justify/support facts. This to me indicates there might be quite a bit of value in obtaining a nofollow link from a site such as Wikipedia that we may not fully understand or know about. The mention of citation/co-citation might be relevant here.

    It would also be interesting to here if any of the respondents think Google might place some value or “record” (for lack of a better word) the anchor text of nofollow links and factor that into their algo.

    thanks for putting it together!

    • Josh April 22, 2013 3:07 pm #

      Hi Todd

      Thanks for your comment I’m glad you found the article interesting!

      I agree with you that this does seem to point to there being value in getting nofollow links from authoritative sites like Wikipedia. After all nofollow links drive traffic just as well as followed links. Followed links pass authority and thereby increase ranking, which means more visitors to the site. A well placed nofollow link won’t pass that authority but you’ll almost bypass some of the necessity for ranking (don’t tell the purists!) because visitors will come anyway especially if it is on a site like Wikipedia/the BBC etc.

  2. Matt Antonino April 23, 2013 1:38 am #

    Well, I couldn’t agree more with the answers you received. I think “it depends” is a great answer to the value. I have a nofollow link from StumbleUpon that has sent me over 14,000 hits. I have a nofollow Facebook post that had 5500 readers and hundreds of hits to my site. Would I rather have the 2 nofollows or 50 dofollow blog comments? You tell me. lol

    As far as the “SEO value” of them pushing sites toward the top, I think if you don’t have nofollow in your link profile you risk link penalties bigtime. I think having a balanced and natural profile is the name of the game 2013 and beyond so as Jon said, nofollow is used by TONS of sites now – it would be incredibly weird not to have any, or many, right? Talk about your “manipulated backlinks” signal.

    I wouldn’t set out to get thousands of nofollow but I think when I can get them and they’re good links, I’m happy to get them.

  3. Studiumcirclus April 23, 2013 7:53 am #

    One good point to make is that a lot of links you would naturally obtain would be no-follow links. If you are ‘building’ (never been a fan) do-follow links, they often really stand out and can spike a backlink profile.

    It therefore seems a reasonable assumption that no-follow links can be invaluable during link building as “padding” (with no direct benefit of their own) to ease the consumption of your added do-follow links.

    I still think link attraction/earning is more sustainable and much less risky, however.

  4. Butler April 23, 2013 8:35 am #

    Surprising that no one mentioned the role they play as part of a ‘natural’ link profile in aggregate, which is arguably more significant than ever in 2012/13.

    • Gareth April 23, 2013 10:45 am #

      Agreed. I see so many profiles made up of 100% follow, then you see the brand in that niche with a natural profile of 30-40% nofollows

  5. Chris Simmance April 23, 2013 8:51 am #

    Nice post Josh.

    I have to agree mostly with the sentiments of Gianluca in regards to nofollow links. I think that value has to be calculated based on what it provides the site being linked to. i.e. PR or traffic. Both would be ideal of course but a good link shouldn’t be all about gaining PR any more and good levels of referral traffic may be more of a benefit than increased rankings(often with less rick).

    • Josh April 23, 2013 9:33 am #

      Thanks Chris, I have to agree with you there; links aren’t really about PR anymore.

  6. Yogendra Chavda April 23, 2013 8:54 am #

    Great article.

    What i think is, Nofollow and dofollow, both the links will give same meaning if we put it in this way..

    Dofollow link on one article’s author area which is on so and so site, having no traffic.. just backlink which is dofollow (hence, no traffic from that link)

    Nofollow link in one article’s author area which is on BIG authority article site and getting lots of clicks and my website is getting refferal traffic but no PR value.

    In both the link types i would strictly give importance to Nofollow link only as it is giving me traffic and visitors are finding relevancy in that particular link and that’s why they are clicking on it.

    I would always love those link which gives me TRAFFIC.. not just PR (which Google don’t even consider for Ranking purpose)!

    • Josh April 23, 2013 9:35 am #

      Thanks Yogendra, I completely agree with that. It all depends on what you’re looking for really but nofollows do have a place for the intelligent link builder.

  7. Vlad Rascanu April 23, 2013 8:47 pm #

    Funny how the story with Mozilla getting penalized came the very next day after your post :) http://www.seroundtable.com/google-penalizes-mozilla-16685.html.

    I guess this is clear proof that “nofollow” links do pass value, at least those from authoritative websites. If they didn’t then Google would have had no reason to apply the manual penalty.

  8. Siegfried April 24, 2013 8:28 am #

    hi Josh!
    excellent article – it proves one thing: nobody really knows the real value of a link :) most of information out there is a speculation based on observations. but there is so many factors it is hard to determine true value

    best regards and thanks for sharing!

  9. shell April 29, 2013 11:54 am #

    So it remains the mystery of seo follow or no follow.
    To me they are all a vote of confidence and yes i too have no follows that are bringing in larger amounts of traffic.
    Interesting article
    Thanks

  10. Aimy Wilson September 30, 2013 10:24 am #

    Thanks for the giving great explanation for dofollow or nofollow. The no follow link tag has done a lot of good for the online world – most SEO spammers won’t trouble posting unrelated links to blogs or forum posts if they know they won’t get to publish a follow link.

  11. sulitipid October 2, 2013 5:15 am #

    No-follow links are very valuable as long as it drives traffic I have 3 no follow links that gave me 500 pageviews each per day, while my followed links doesn’t perform that well

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