There’s a big debate in the world of search engine optimization (SEO): Are nofollow backlinks improving your position or bringing it down? The latest survey by Cemper is posing that question to webmasters and SEO pros around the country, and the results are unsurprising. Experts remain divided, with some singing the praises of nofollow backlinks while others claim they’re nothing but a waste of money, time, and bring unnecessary risk to internal links. Who’s right?
It all depends on your circumstances and goals. Understanding what exactly a nofollow link is can be tricky. It’s basically a value amount that can be given to the element of HTML via the “rel” attribute. The purpose is to tell key search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) that hyperlinks shouldn’t make a difference in the link target’s rating within the search engine’s index. Some SEO experts say that there are indirect benefits of using nofollow with Google, and direct impact with other search engines which might still use nofollow as a means of ranking.
How Does this Work with SEO?
Good news: No matter which side you take, nofollow backlinks aren’t going to hurt your SEO strategy. Whether or not they help is up for debate, but at the very least you won’t get punished via SEO for using them. In best case scenarios, they’ve been proven to help generate brand buzz and optimize guest blogging opportunities. For those who are mostly chasing conversions and traffic (not prioritizing your ranking in search engines), nofollow links might be the ticket.
There are piles of older studies on dofollow vs. nofollow links which are still worth considering. They show that when you build organic backlink profiles with a cocktail of nofollow and dofollow links, that variation can serve you well. Anchor text variation is crucial for all types of links, whether they’re branded or not, nofollow or dofollow. Naturally, linked pages and anchor texts vary—which makes it an organic approach that search engines love. For anyone creating a link building strategy, avoiding a specified nofollow and dofollow links setting (and choosing them yourself) will result in a more natural anchor text that’s not awkward and reads as editorial.
On Search Engine Dominance
People often default to Google when discussing search engines and SEO—and with good reason. It’s the most popular search engine in the US, but there are others that deserve some attention. Just because a backlink in Google doesn’t impact SERP scoring doesn’t mean it won’t matter with another search engine. Remember: SEO is about search engines (with an “s”). There’s much more than one, and smart webmasters focus on more than the Big G.
However, if you’re like most businesses, you still call Google your king. In that case, it’s good to know that Google actually does crawl (and index) documents that are nofollow. They’ll get indexed, but they won’t enjoy a boost in rankings. In other words, those backlinks are worth something.
The Strongest and Weakest Links are Equally Important
When thinking about backlinks, remember this: Without users clicking on them, your whole SEO campaign is useless. Also, links link things—like websites and blkogs. They’re what make “the web”. When you dabble in nofollow links, you might be searing the Google graph link but you’re not nixing the people connection. It’s kind of like how citations in books aren’t less important than citations which are in-text.
Perspective in links is a fluid thing. Since it won’t hurt you and may help depending on your goals, they’re worth checking out. After all, most social media backlinks are nofollow and they’re a hot commodity. Maybe they’re the underdog SEO add-on you’ve been looking for.