If you have a keen interest in what link building can do for you, but terms like nofollow and dofollow seem like they belong to a foreign language, this post is for you. We can help you decipher these terms and all the related terms as well. 

Before we move on to the interesting details, it would be helpful to learn the meaning of a term that you will hear often in the context of links – link equity.

What is Link Equity?

Link equity or ‘link juice’ as you may have heard it being called, is the authority or value that a page bearing the links passes on to the pages to which it is linking. It is a misconception that only external backlinks pass link equity. Even the internal backlinks on a site pass on some link equity. 

Link equity is important for a page to get a higher rank on Google and other search engines. It is the indicator of how much power a backlink holds. An understanding of link equity will help you use link building to get desired results. 

Several factors determine link equity, like the page rank, relevance, and indexability of the referring page, as well as the authority of the referring website. We have another great post that explains in detail various factors that may affect link equity. Nobody can accurately measure exact link equity, but it is possible to estimate it.

Your page does not lose any equity when it passes it onto another page. But your website may be at risk of a penalty from Google if it bears spammy and manipulative links even unintentionally. To avoid situations like this, you can use nofollow links when using outbound links, but if you use common sense when linking out, and regularly audit what kind of site’s you’re linking out to, you shouldn’t have any issues. 

The Role of Links

Without links, the best SEO strategy will still be lacking. Links play two important roles with respect to search engines:

  1. They pass link equity and enable crawlers to find pages. 
  2. Links also help search engines gauge the trustworthiness of pages, and index and rank pages.  

Not all links perform these roles, and neither should some of them be allowed to do so. As we mentioned earlier, spammy and manipulative links could spell trouble. 

The Anchor Tag

The anchor tag is an html element. It is used for creating a link from one webpage to another. If you are unfamiliar with the anchor tag, this is what a basic version looks like:

<a href=”https://thelinksguy.com/”>The Links Guy</a>

The value of the href attribute is the target destination of the link. It is the address (URL) of a website or page. In this case, the value of the href attribute is https://thelinksguy.com/ 

The anchor text is that which appears on the linking page. In this case, the anchor text is The Links Guy.

This is example of an anchor tag with the rel attribute: 

<a href=”https://thelinksguy.com/” rel=”nofollow”>The Links Guy</a>

Examples of Dofollow and Nofollow Link

  • This is an example of a nofollow link.
  • And this is what a dofollow link looks like.

Most people are probably puzzled at this point. There is no visible difference. Both the links look the same to a visitor of the page. That is, until you get underneath the surface and check the code.

Checking For a Dofollow and Nofollow link

The attribute rel set to nofollow (rel=’nofollow’) is the difference between nofollow and followed links. 

The anchor tag in case of a dofollow link looks like this: 

<a href=”https://thelinksguy.com/”>anchor text</a>

While the anchor tag of a nofollow link looks like this:

<a href=”https://thelinksguy.com/” rel=”nofollow”>anchor text</a>

You can find out if a link is dofollow or nofollow by checking the source code manually, or with software, or with browser extensions like this one.. All the tools that help check a link basically do the same thing – they look at the source code to see if it includes the rel attribute. 

More on checking manually: 

You can check the source code of a page manually by following these steps:

  1. Right-click anywhere on the page in your browser
  2. From the menu, select View page source
  1. In the source code of the page, look for the link 
  2. In the anchor tag, check if the attribute rel is set to nofollow. If it is, it means the link is a nofollow link. If not, then it is a dofollow link.

An alternative method of checking manually: 

  1. Right-click on the link
  2. From the menu, click on Inspect
  1. Check if the anchor tag has a rel attribute set to nofollow. 

This is the easier method of checking since you can pinpoint the code in a very specific area. 

Dofollow Links

A dofollow link may also be known as a ‘follow link’ or followed link. It is any link on a page that does not have the rel attribute. 

Points to note about dofollow links:

  • They do pass link equity. 
  • These links tell the crawlers to follow them from the referring page to the linked page. Dofollow links help crawlers discover more content. 
  • If you place a dofollow link to another website/page on one of your pages, it is like giving your vote of confidence to that page. 
  • If you want to improve your search ranking with backlinks, you should strive for dofollow links. 

When Should You Use A Dofollow Link?

Dofollow links will always be more beneficial to your website’s rankings for SEO than nofollow links, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely useless. 

However, there are instances where dofollow links may also do damage, so there are certain factors to consider when getting dofollow links, and we’ve listed these criteria here:

  • Relevancy: the content or website you’re linking to must relate or overlap with your niche. For example, if you’re a fitness company and get a dofollow link on a banking website, this may be suspected as a shady practice by Google.
  • Legit and Trustworthy Website: Before agreeing to get your dofollow link on another website, make sure you trust its integrity because receiving many links from suspicious websites with inaccurate information may bring you under Google’s radar for malpractice.
  • Access To Search Engines: Getting dofollow links from credible websites and having them within your content also allows search engines to map your page more accurately and create a sitemap.
  • Link Juice Boost: Dofollow links on websites help transfer link juice or PageRank from their page, allowing Google to view your website as high authority, especially if the backlink is from high-quality sites.
  • Complement SEO Efforts: Dofollow links aid your SEO practices by making your link profile appear more natural and improving your Google rankings, especially since you can drive traffic to your page if they’re placed on sites with lots of visitors.

Nofollow Links

Nofollow links came to be as a result of Google’s efforts to combat comment spam. After Google introduced the nofollow tag, other search engines also committed to the tag, although with some variations. 

The attribute rel=”nofollow” is the distinguishing and identifying feature. 

Nofollow links, in essence, work in an opposite manner to the dofollow links. They supposedly do not pass link equity and they tell the search engine crawlers not to follow them.

Do Nofollow Links Help With SEO?

This question definitely arises when you plan your SEO strategy. According to Google, they generally do not follow these links. However, their words imply that in some cases, they do value them in some way. 

Some targeted experiments have shown that nofollow links on high-quality sites and/or quality pages, seemed to make a difference to the page rank in search results for specific keywords. Some studies have found that dofollow and nofollow links had a similar impact on rankings, especially in the cases where the links were from relevant pages.

Nofollow links may have some kind of signal. In 2019, Google announced that nofollow links have evolved and that the attribute nofollow will work as a ‘hint’ (as opposed to an explicit directive) for ranking purposes. Here is an excerpt from a post by John Mueller:

However, more recently Danny Sullivan added some further clarification, after a few commented on the wording in this post. Note the parts we’ve highlighted in red. 

Link to Danny’s tweet

So it seems to suggest that they are being used in some way – although perhaps not directly passing any link equity. 

The jury’s still out on this however, and as you’d expect the careful wording from Google, debates and experiments in the industry will continue!
Where should you consider using nofollow links?

  1. For a natural link profile: A natural link profile consists of a healthy mix of dofollow and nofollow links. An unnatural link profile may attract Google penalties. Even a giant like YouTube has almost one-fourth (23 percent) of its links as nofollow.
  2. For increased traffic: A nofollow backlink is still a hyperlink that people can click. It will still lead people to your page and website. Such a backlink placed contextually on a high-quality and authority website can drive much traffic to your website. You could earn a followed backlink from the traffic so obtained if any of the visitors find your content useful.
  3. In the case of untrustworthy websites: If there are websites that you are not very sure about, nofollow links help you to be on the safe side. However, generally speaking when we build links at TLG, we have a checklist and number of checkpoints we go through  – and are clear on what site we want to take a link on, and which we don’t want. 

Auditing your website for outbound links that should be nofollow

For optimum SEO performance and to avoid penalties by Google, it is advisable to conduct a quick audit of your website regularly. This audit relates to both – your backlinks as well as outbound links on your website. Look for these specifically: 

  1. Backlinks that feature exact match anchor texts: Multiple backlinks using the same anchor text look highly suspicious. 

You may have this if you outsourced link building in the past, or have inherited a link profile from a previous SEO. Having a lot of links which are using an exact match anchor text, especially when its a commercial anchor/page, may be a cause for concern. There could be a variety of reasons for it, and it could even occur naturally. For example, you may have a lot of sites linking to you via a widget, where the attribution will be replicated across all those sites. Or you may have some sites linking to you from a sitewide link, across multiple pages. In those cases, you could either ask to have the anchor changed, or get it nofollowed. 

If there has been a paid link campaign, all using exact match anchor texts, you should either ask for removal from a portion of them, or get them nofollowed. The tricky thing here is that outreach to these blogs will require some further investigation to find out the editor/decision maker, reaching out via email and then negotiating to get it removed. So you could even just disavow the links. 

  1. Backlinks in sponsored posts

If you have been building links on posts marked with a sponsored pattern on the post, that is also something you should get changed. 

While there are ways of doing paid link building, and having a dofollow link – if the post is blatantly has a pattern on it indicating that its an advertising/sponsorship arrangement, that can quite easily get picked up by Google, and may devalue the link or cause your link profile to look more unnatural. 

Here’s an example of a post marked as sponsored, but having an outbound dofollow link back to a site. 

  1. Outbound links with anchor texts that comprise of unnatural keywords or irrelevant text

This is more if you have been accepting outside guest post contributors on your own site, or allow a lot of user generated content – and have a lot of unnatural looking, or questionable commercial outbound links. 

Forbes in fact had this same issue back in 2017, and a few of the big publications at that time had to resort to nofollowing ALL of their outbound links, due to the controversy surrounding the ‘pay to play’ that was happening with their contributor content. 

  1. Outbound followed links on sponsored posts, on your own site

Similar to point 2, but if you allowed sponsored posts on your target site at any point and clearly marked them as such –  you should nofollow links on such posts. 

Other Values for the Rel Attribute

In 2019, 14 years after bringing out nofollow, Google sent waves through the SEO world with this post: 

It announced two new values for the rel attribute – sponsored and ugc. Let’s take a look at what these mean:

Rel=“sponsored”

This is the value you are supposed to use in the case of paid links and advertisements. Previously the nofollow value was used for this purpose. Even now, the nofollow value may be used, but sponsored is the better option. 

Bear in mind that it is an open secret, that many are not using the sponsored tag for paid links. The reality is that it isn’t really possible for Google, not any search engine, to police this. Any link that has been gained via direct payment, indirect payment, product exchange, or through other kind of bartering, should fall under this banner, but is still being inserted as a dofollow link. 

This goes into what many in the industry would consider as “grey hat” SEO, but this is just the reality of link building. 

Rel=“ugc”


This value is to be used in the case of user comments, forum posts, and such types of user-generated content (ugc). This is helpful for site owners to combat comment spam more effectively. The site owners also have the option of rewarding sincere contributors to their comment section or forums by removing this attribute for them. 

You can use multiple values for the rel attribute, just remember to separate them with a comma or space. These values tell Google about your relationship with the linked page or website. 

NoFollow vs. NoIndex: What Is the Difference?

Every page on a website has strategically planned content with the target audience in mind and is used to bring leads while also building authority. 

These pages are then permitted to be indexed by search engines so they can crawl their content to store it for display on SERPs. However, some pages don’t need to be displayed on SERPs. 

For example, let’s take a website’s “Thank You” page. This page usually appears only after a lead is generated, i.e., a user has submitted a form with their details to the specific website. In this case, the content of the “Thank You” isn’t needed for SERPs.

  <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

That’s when the meta tag NoIndex is added to the web page’s header code in HTML so that search engines can crawl the page but can’t index it to appear in SERPs. More examples include Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Page Not Found, Login, Author, And Archived pages.

You can also noindex a page using the HTTP response header via X-Robots-Tag. 

HTTP/1.1 200 OK

(…)

X-Robots-Tag: noindex

(…)

This comes in useful especially if you’re dealing with non-HTML resources like videos, images and PDFs.

<a rel=”nofollow” href=”https://thelinksguy.com/”>The Links Guy</a>

Here’s an example of a link we secured which was nofollowed. 

The NoFollow meta tag indicates search engine crawlers should not follow the links on that specific page. In short, NoIndex is used for the overall webpage, while NoFollow is for the links within a specific web page. 

Final Words

If you’re looking to boost your website’s reputation and SERP rankings, you have to understand the power of NoFollow and DoFollow links and when to use them. To summarize, we’ve explained the role of these links in improving your website authority and SEO efforts.

So, let The Links Guy help you get familiar with the whats, whens, and hows of these link types to improve your online presence.