NoFollow and DoFollow Links

Ultimate Guide to NoFollow and DoFollow Links

If you are trying to improve the ranking of your website by building links to it from other websites, it is critical to understand nofollow and dofollow links: what they are, how to use them and how to find them.

Before we get into the detail, let's define the terms to provide the context for this article.

NoFollow - Definition

The nofollow link was invented to combat blog spam. It tells the search engine looking at it that the link is not trustworthy - and thus does not improve the ranking of the target site.

To explain, let's say you have a site which has a link on it to When a search engine such as Google crawls and finds that link, it will normally improve the ranking of However, if that link is a nofollow one, the ranking of will not be improved.

Technically, a nofollow link is one which is modified by the value rel="nofollow". A link normally looks something like this:
<a href="">Google</a>
A nofollow link is modified as follows:
<a href="" rel="nofollow">Google</a>

Note that a nofollow value only affects the ranking of the target site; it does not block it from being crawled.

Google's official policy on nofollow is as follows:
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.
(Note the use of 'in general'... this implies that Google sometimes does follow nofollow... and in fact that's true! See research at the bottom of this article).

DoFollow - Definition

A dofollow link is one which does improve the ranking of the target site. Technically speaking, there is actually no such thing as a dofollow link; it is a made up term to refer to any link which does not have the rel="nofollow" value in it. To the user looking at a web browser, nofollow and dofollow links appear identical. There is no easy way to tell them apart.

The Importance of NoFollow and DoFollow Links

If someone is trying to improve the ranking of their website, they should care immensely about what types of links point to their site. One can work for months or years to have tens of thousands of links point to their website - but if they are all nofollow, then their website's ranking will not be improved one bit.

A very important thing to note is that the vast majority of blog sites are automatically nofollow. This means that if you add a comment with a link to your site on a blog, the link will not help your page ranking. Many website builders try to artificially increase their ranking by leaving posts on blogs, in the mistaken belief that they are helping their ranking. Not so! A tiny minority of blogs do use dofollow links, but you have to know how to find them (which we will get to soon).

When is NoFollow used

NoFollow is generally used in the following scenarios:
  • In the comments section of a blog and similar web pages to discourage spam. For example, the most commonly used platform for blogs is Wordpress, which automatically inserts nofollow in all user comments.
  • When you deliberately do not want to increase the ranking of the target website.
  • To preserve your own website's ranking (your own website's ranking is 'leaked' in proportion to the number of dofollow links in your site).
  • Google has actually asked webmasters to use nofollow in these scenarios:
    Untrusted content: If you can't or don't want to vouch for the content of pages you link to from your site — for example, untrusted user comments or guestbook entries — you should nofollow those links. This can discourage spammers from targeting your site, and will help keep your site from inadvertently passing PageRank to bad neighborhoods on the web. In particular, comment spammers may decide not to target a specific content management system or blog service if they can see that untrusted links in that service are nofollowed. If you want to recognize and reward trustworthy contributors, you could decide to automatically or manually remove the nofollow attribute on links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.

    Paid links: A site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. In order to prevent paid links from influencing search results and negatively impacting users, we urge webmasters use nofollow on such links. Search engine guidelines require machine-readable disclosure of paid links in the same way that consumers online and offline appreciate disclosure of paid relationships (for example, a full-page newspaper ad may be headed by the word "Advertisement"). More information on Google's stance on paid links.

    Crawl prioritization: Search engine robots can't sign in or register as a member on your forum, so there's no reason to invite Googlebot to follow "register here" or "sign in" links. Using nofollow on these links enables Googlebot to crawl other pages you'd prefer to see in Google's index. However, a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs, and so on — is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.
    It is worth noting that Google have said they can figure out about 80% of all paid links and and will discount them anyway.

How To Find DoFollow links

If you've read to this point, and are considering (or possibly in the midst of) improving the ranking of your website using link building, you should have realised that it is vital to identify which blogs are dofollow. There are basically three ways to do this:
  • Plugins: these are addins to browsers such as FireFox that differentiate nofollow and dofollow links by color.
  • DoFollow search engines: these search engines find dofollow blogs based on keywords.
  • Blog lists: lists of dofollow blogs that have already been compiled by other users.
The DoFollow Plugins, Search Engines and Lists page on this website provides a great guide to these. Note of caution: once blogs enter a dofollow list, they often become magnets for spammers, forcing their owners to either shut them down or to convert them to nofollow. Hence it is worth checking any blog with a dofollow plugin to ensure it is still dofollow.

History of NoFollow

Blogs enable users to interact with the website by leaving comments, names and links. Spammers quickly learnt that they could insert links in blogs, which were often unmonitored. This reached near epidemic proportions to the extent that search engines became concerned that mass linking schemes threatened to destroy the integrity of search results.

The nofollow value was introduce by Google in 2005 to avoid abuse by bloggers (called "spamdexing") who were adding comments with links to artificially inflate their website ranking. Google wrote in 2005:
If you're a blogger (or a blog reader), you're painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites' search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like "Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site." This is called comment spam, we don't like it either, and we've been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel="nofollow") on hyperlinks, those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn't a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it's just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists... We encourage you to use the rel="nofollow" attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.

Disadvantage of NoFollow

The main disadvantage of the nofollow value is to reduce the ranking value of a legitimate link. The other main disadvantage is in reciprocal linking where webmasters ask you for a link exchange to boost both websites' rankings, but then add the nofollow code to your link - cheating you out of your link exchange.

The theory and reality about NoFollow

The theory holds that the ranking value of nofollow links are zero. In fact, several studies have been done that show that Google does - very rarely - increase rankings even when the links are nofollow. These studies include the following:

The results were mixed - some said nofollow is followed by Google, others said it was not. Even as late as August 2011, one researcher said that:
This is even truer today – Google looks for a mix of links (dofollow and nofollow) and having only dofollow links is actually a negative ranking factor.
So what's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Nobody really knows as Google shrouds its algorithms in secrecy. The summary is that while nofollow links won't actually hurt you, they probably won't help you a great deal either.

Criticism of NoFollow

There are numerous criticisms levelled against the nofollow modification of links, including that:
  • NoFollow does not prevent spam, the very reason for its existence.
  • NoFollow is confusingly named (should be norank) since the link is still followed.
  • NoFollow harms the natural connectivity between websites.
  • Search engines should be intelligent enough to identify spam; they should not be using an artificial technique.
  • Spam should be removed via human blog moderation, not through a 'one scheme fits all' technique like nofollow.
  • Legitimate comment is shutdown as spam.
  • NoFollow prevents the dissemination of free speech.
  • NoFollow was developed by search engines without other parties taking part in the discussion.

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