When to use nofollow links? Not as often as you think

Blogging circles are abuzz with freakout because someone, somewhere in the blogosphere said something that bloggers interpreted thusly:

Every external link should be a nofollow link.

When should you use nofollow with your links?

No, dear – they should not.

There’s a bunch of other myths, hyperbole and dumbassery we ought to straighten out about nofollow links, while we’re at it.

What the heck is a nofollow link anyway?

A “nofollow” link is a link that has an added attribute (OK technically an attribute value) telling search engines not to consider it a vote in favor of the content at the other end of the link.

It’s a neutral – not a downvote.

It’s also important to note that it absolutely does not mean Google won’t follow the link, or that the link is completely worthless.

Brian Dean has a super meaty post that explains nofollow links in excruciating detail, if you’re interested.

Did I no-follow my link to Brian Dean? Nope. Read on to learn why.

Does nofollow help your “link juice”?


Adding nofollow to certain links was at one time a workable hack. Hasn’t been the case since oh, we dunno…before 2009. As far as SEO goes, that’s ancient history.

Like many other SEO tricks, the nofollow “link sculpting” (it even sounds sleazy, right?) hack was done in by abuse.

Nofollowing (that’s a verb, right?) a link now just makes that “link juice” (a.k.a., page rank) evaporate into the ether.

It’s fine if you don’t want to pass it on, but no – you don’t get to keep it for yourself.

So, Google changed this – maybe they’ll change it back?

Not likely.

While we can’t ever say that things will never change in our algorithms, we do not expect this to change again.

Matt Cutts – Page Rank Sculpting

When should I use nofollow?

Without a nofollow attribute, links send signals to Google and other search engines that are something like a vote in favor of the content.

You wouldn’t want to vote for anything potentially spammy or scammy, or low quality. That’s why most comment links are no-followed by default.

It might also be seen as paying for clicks if you didn’t no-follow a link for which you were compensated.

Jenny Halasz wrote a helpful post on no-follow for Search Engine Journal. She says you ought to always nofollow:

  • Links in user-generated content like comments or forums
  • Links in ads or sponsored content
  • Links for which you received any kind of compensation

A sponsor asked for a “dofollow” link – is that ethical?

Nope. See the answer to the previous question.

Your content gets their offering in front of prospective customers, some of whom will click through to their site. That is what the sponsor is paying for. A nofollow link in no way diminishes that.

The fact that a sponsor compensates you for content that includes a link makes it totally not kosher to also get potential SEO bonuses from links.

So if it’s unethical, why would they ask? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

If you’re a marketer trying to maximize an advertising budget, wouldn’t you be excited at the prospect of oodles of backlinks helping boost domain authority and page rank?

The sponsor may be completely unaware of any ethical implications – especially if other bloggers they work with aren’t, either, and no one’s ever questioned a request for a dofollow link.

Clearly, Google has a pretty good idea of what an affiliate link looks like. Equally clearly, you do not want to incur their ire. Here’s what Matt Cutts (of Google, at the time) said about nofollow and affiliate links:

How do I add nofollow to links that need it?

Just add rel=”nofollow” to the HTML like so:

<a href="https://example.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">This is a nofollow link!</a>

The target=”_blank” part is optional. It opens the link in a new window or tab – good practice for any external link.

How do I make a nofollow link using WordPress’s Gutenberg editor?

You’ll have to switch to the HTML editor so you can get where you need to be, but other than that it’s the same process described above.

I told you earlier I wasn’t linking to Brian with a nofollow link. Obviously I did, as an example.

If you check the source code you’ll see I removed the nofollow 🙂

WordPress adds “noopener” to links – is that the same?

Nope. It’s a security thing – nothing to do with search engines, page rank, domain authority.

What does Google say about nofollow links?

(this is super long but should skip right to the relevant part)

In general, whenever you’re linking around within your site, don’t use nofollow. Just go ahead and link to whatever stuff.

Matt Cutts – Google I/O 2009 – Site Review by the Experts

Did I miss anything?

Got questions or input on nofollow links? Let’s hear ’em. Leave a comment below.

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