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Link Building 101: An Introduction to Dofollow and Nofollow Links
Link building can be a complicated process for most with all the confusing SEO terms. But, this absolutely does not mean webmasters or marketers should avoid learning the basics of link building.
There are two reasons you should have some familiarity with link building terms and techniques.
1. It helps you keep your SEO or marketing team accountable.
Even if you aren’t doing the work yourself, you want to know that your team is doing it right. Bridging the communication barrier is critical.
2. Knowing about link building can help you spot opportunities and take advantage of them.
This can really benefit your site’s rankings.
Types Of Links
I’ve decided to start this discussion by introducing two types of links: dofollow and nofollow. There is no difference in appearance or functionality from the user’s perspective. In fact, you have to go to the code to see any difference.
The purpose of dofollow and nofollow classification is to communicate with search engines like Google and Bing. Dofollow tells the search engine to pass link juice (ranking potential) over to a site, and index it as well. Nofollow tells the search engine to follow the link, but not pass ranking potential or index the site.
These classifications were originally developed to prevent spam, especially on blog comments. Many ages ago, SEOs thought they could build backlinks by commenting on blog posts and inserting a link to their article or product. This worked for a while – until the rel=”nofollow” attribute came out. Nofollow links are also used in everyday situations like outbound Wikipedia or YouTube links.
Inspecting Dofollow and Nofollow Links
How can you check to see if a link is dofollow or nofollow? If you right-click a link, then click the “Inspect Element” option, a small window at the bottom of your browser will display the page’s HTML. You’ll see the link code highlighted in blue, and it should go something like this:
<a href=”http://www.fannit.com/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text Here</a>
The code for the second link looks like this: <a href=”http://www.fannit.com/” target=”_blank”>Anchor Text Here</a>
You see how there is no difference from your view?
While this small snippet of code may seem confusing, it’s actually quite simple. As stated before, HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. The code consists of tags, attributes, and elements. In this example, the <a> and </a> is the tag, simply known as the “<a>” tag. It signifies a hyperlink destination through the href attribute, which is always present in the <a> tag. The target attribute tells the browser where to open the link, which in this case is “_blank”, meaning the browser should open this link in a blank tab or window. The value, “http://www.fannit.com/” along with the <a> tag compose the element.
Finally, we have the rel attribute, which is somewhat unique in that it doesn’t affect the browser in any way. The rel attribute signifies a relationship between the current page and the linking page, not for the browser, but for search engines. Some other rel inputs are alternate, author, canonical, etc. These are used to specify an alternate version of a page, a page’s author, or the preferred version of the page. By default, links are dofollow. These past trust and authority, and are the holy grail for link builders (especially if the link is on a high ranking site).
What does this mean for SEO?
How does this affect your page’s rankings? First off, it should be noted that the term “nofollow” is a poor wording choice. One might think that the nofollow value tells a crawler not to follow the link to the destination page, but this is not the case. The crawler follows the link, but it does not pass trust (i.e. increase PageRank) or index the nofollowed page. This may lead one to believe that nofollow links have no value for a site, but this is not the full story.
First off, Google’s Matt Cutts released a YouTube video in September stating that nofollow links would not hurt a site’s rankings in most cases. However, Matt Cutts inadvertently makes the point that, from an algorithmic standpoint, nofollow links won’t affect rankings. This would imply that they don’t boost rankings in a good or bad way.
There is a bigger question at stake here, though, because even if nofollow links don’t boost rankings, they could still add value. Here are just a few ways they can do this:
Drive referral traffic: guest posting provides especially large payoffs in this area.
Create brand awareness for new consumers: if a potential customer is doing research and they see your name, it creates brand awareness.
Build trust with the community: if a large industry site links to your page, for example, it will increase your credibility at large.
Cultivate business relationships: when one company site links to another in a guest post, it is an opportunity to build a long term business relationship.
Provide link diversity: this is an important indicator for Google, who likes to see a ratio of dofollow and nofollow links.
But, all of these advantages exist for dofollow links as well, you say. Yes, this is true, and that’s why dofollow links are almost universally accepted as more valuable for SEO. However, this does not negate the value of nofollow links. If a nofollow link is all you can get, or if you are posting to a site with a nofollow policy, you can still benefit.