Dofollow vs Nofollow backlinks: What’s changed and what you need to know

Are you new to SEO and want to know the difference between nofollow and followed (also known as dofollow) links as well as the latest news as a result of Google’s decision to begin viewing nofollowed links as a hint for indexing and crawling?

Then look no further than our article analyzing why nofollow links are still essential to build and shouldn’t be overlooked as part of your SEO strategy.

What is the difference between do-follow and no-follow links?

Followed links are links that do not feature the nofollow attribute, they are essentially normal links. If these links are pointed towards your site with a suitable anchor, they are more likely to have a direct effect on your keyword rankings for your term of choice.

This could have a positive or negative effect on your rankings depending on if the site linking to you has relevance to your industry, has a reasonable level of domain and page authority and if it has not previously suffered Google penalties or been targeted by hackers.

Nofollow links contain the attribute rel=”nofollow” to inform search engines crawling the page not to pass authority from the referring website that is linking to your site.

As well as followed and nofollow links, website owners should also educate themselves in understanding how using user-generated content (UGC) & sponsored link rel attributes may affect who they choose to link to.

The Benefits Of Nofollow Links

Nofollow links gained a reputation for being useless back in the early days of SEO (way back in 2005), Google encouraged site owners to label links placed within their comment sections, externally contributed content and other forms of potential webspam as nofollow.

Site admins often went overboard and labelled every external link as nofollow (a trait you may still see today in overly cautious websites that accept HARO responses or guest authors).

Google has since evolved during this time and understands the need to not view all nofollowed links as spam, the latest step in this evolution came as of March 1st 2020 when Google started to treat nofollow links as a hint instead of a directive for ranking and indexing purposes which means that they may or may not be crawled (but have a higher chance of being crawled if they are linked to from other locations).

This change was brought about to help Google understand the web better and allow webmasters more freedom in how they classify links voluntarily.

Many of the pages that rank first on Google have an estimated 20 to 40% nofollowed links pointing to that page as cited by Neil Patel in his report on this subject.

You should also have a number of nofollow links as part of a healthy-looking link profile as there are going to be few and far between websites among your direct competition that have very few nofollowed links.

Noting the overall percentage of followed vs nofollow links of your competitors can serve as a reminder to yourself that you are building links in a natural way and can help you to aim for a healthy balance of nofollow and followed links.

One key reason that you shouldn’t choose not to build a link based on if it sends nofollow or followed signals is based on potential referral traffic.

If you feature your services on an external comparison site or authoritative news site that nets a lot of traffic for your target audience then this factor is overwhelmingly more important to consider than the nature of the link they are pointing to you.

From previously having seen traffic increase as a result of listings on software comparison sites, referral partners or mentions on mainstream news outlets it is important to see this as being more valuable overall, as these links even if they nofollow can still bring relevant traffic years down the line.

Social links are also no-followed but are vital to building your brand. As a direct result of posting relevant news and then conducting outreach via social media, I’ve seen followed links that can be directly attributed to the people I’ve contacted choosing to link back to my news from the site that they own. The key criteria for this relies largely on your news being worth sharing so ensure that content is created based on current events in your industry.

How can I check if a link is followed or not?

Whilst all major SEO platforms (such as Ahrefs and SEMrush) will give you a complete list of followed links for any website you are auditing you may want to know if a website is linking to you quickly without searching through an entire report.

Most marketers use the Mozbar extension as part of Moz’s free account option to tell us quickly if the site I am on is linking to me or another site via a followed or nofollow link. This means I don’t have to exit my window and can continue a task I’m in the middle of uninterrupted.

The toolbar can be additionally helpful when you need to discover links to disavow as the spam score can be used to indicate if a previously hacked site is linking to you and should be disavowed.

What if a leading press website doesn’t link to me, can I measure its value in other ways?

In the worst-case scenario that you were aiming to build an authoritative link with a press partner and they can’t link to you but still mention your brand, you still may be able to indirectly measure the impact on your brand awareness.

By comparing the estimated impressions in SEMrush’s brand mentions report and try to correlate this against your search console metrics you could reasonably attribute a dramatic increase in clicks and impressions for your brand name and closely related terms to this activity as long as you don’t have a lot of other brand-building activity going live all at the same time.

There are also authorities in SEO that cite “implied links” (which often include brand mentions and extend to include citations), which can play a part in the context of E.A.T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) to signify that your brand is trusted as a legitimate business.

We hope you enjoyed this brief guide on nofollow vs followed links, you should now be well equipped to start creating links mindful of the tips we’ve illustrated above and armed with the knowledge that even when a site doesn’t link to you directly, there still might be indirect value you can measure and share with your organisation’s stakeholders.

About the Author: Eleanor Bennett is a digital marketing specialist at SIEM as a service platform She writes on technology & marketing, with a special focus on informative pieces to help IT decision-makers consider tools and software to secure their operations and scale for business growth.