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“Rel Nofollow” Tag Disrupts SEO Potential

Stored in Marketing and tagged
Search engine optimization

Rel nofollow in the HTML coding of website pages is both a curse and blessing for search engine optimization.

It has made it much harder for spammers to get higher but bogus search engine rankings. At the same time, it has made it much harder for legitimate websites to get higher and legitimate search engine rankings.

Even more, this disruptive tag has created problems for websites that pursue what has been a traditional and popular tactic in search engine optimization. That tactic is link building, which is the practice of obtaining backlinks from other websites.

What is Rel Nofollow?

Rel nofollow is a tag that goes into the code of a link on a webpage. It prevents search engines from “following” the link from the linking page to the landing page. Because the search engine doesn’t follow the link, it doesn’t give any value to that landing page.

So the link is useful to human clicks — if the link attracts any — but has no usefulness in search indexes.

For example, a website has a great article about a health issue. Another website links to that article but uses the nofollow tag. Before the existence of nofollow, the linking page would send “link juice” or “link authority” to the site with the article. It would increase the possibility that the page with the health article would get higher rankings in search results.

Remember, a normal link without nofollow is essentially a vote in favor of the landing page. It denotes quality, worth and authority. That’s why search engines will rank the landing page higher in search results.

But the nofollow tag doesn’t distribute any link juice or authority to the landing page. The page doesn’t benefit from the link.

A more technical explaination of nofollow comes from

“RelNoFollow is an elemental microformat, one of several microformat open standards. By adding rel=’nofollow’ to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink should not be afforded any additional weight or ranking by user agents which perform link analysis upon web pages (e.g. search engines),” according to the community wiki.

What is a microformat?

“Microformats are small patterns of HTML to represent commonly published things like people, events, blog posts, reviews and tags in web pages,” the organization says.

An example of a nofollow tag looks like this: <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>link words</a>

The letters “rel” refer to the relationship between the linking page and the landing page. That landing page may appear on the same site or, more likely, another site elsewhere.

How Does Nofollow Help or Hurt SEO?

SEOSearch engines look on “dofollow” links, meaning links that aren’t nofollow, as votes in favor of the landing page. So if a site gets a link without a nofollow tag, the landing page may get a boost in search engine results. A nofollow link guarantees no boost.

But a site can improve its search engine profile even if it doesn’t get dofollow backlinks. Nofollow links will at least get clicks from visitors if the links are prominent enough. Just to confuse the issue, some SEO experts think that nofollows provide modest SEO benefits. It’s just not nearly as much as dofollow links.

Publishers of sites that link may want to consider rules about dofollow versus nofollow. Again, a page with a dofollow link is giving up some authority by sending some of it to the other site.

So if a site links out to other sites, the publisher may want to make sure those links  are nofollow. If they are dofollow, the linking page loses the value that the landing page obtains.

Site publishers will find that nofollow links are common among major sites. They can feel thankful if they are lucky enough to get dofollow links, which are much harder to obtain in the current online environment.

Publishers have much greater control over linking out to other sites. They should use dofollow links sparingly and make nofollow links a priority to avoid weakening their own pages.

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