Building links is widely accepted as the most effective strategy when it comes to off site SEO but as anyone with even a passing interest in digital understands, not all links are equal when it comes to driving ranking.
Dofollow links have always been seen as the links that website managers want to achieve to help them reach their goals and that is 100% correct. However in recent times we have seen a hardening in attitude against their lesser loved cousins the nofollow links. Increasingly we are seeing some chronic cases of nofollow phobia - an irrational fear of nofollow links.
We have always believed that while nofollow links are far less effective when it comes to boosting rankings they still have their place in SEO. Not least because they can bring large amounts of traffic and because they help to build brand awareness. But there's another benefit which is often overlooked.
As an agency offering digital PR campaigns we have lost count of the number of conversations and discussions we have had on the merits of nofollow vs dofollow links. While the dofollow variety will always be more prized, nofollow links still have plenty of value.
Because we are in the business of earning these links rather than buying them, we aren’t able (for the most part at least) to dictate to media how they link to our clients. Some media outlets give dofollow links, some don’t, sometimes you might just get lucky and land a dofollow from a site with a nofollow policy, but that’s rare.
But by and large digital PR activity will deliver a mix of dofollow and nofollow backlinks and that’s a good thing because it offers up a very healthy and orqanic backlink profile to Google and the other search engines.
If every link going into a site were a dofollow link then that could raise a red flag. The obvious suspicion being that the links have been bought rather than earned. If a big batch of dofollow links suddenly appear all linking to a site which previously did not attract this level of adoration then Google could well smell a very stinky rat. If it investigates and concludes the links may have been bought then that site could be slapped with a penalty. In some cases this could mean disappearing from SERPs (search engine results pages) altogether.
This can happen without warning. Google doesn’t usually offer websites the opportunity to explain where these links came from. We have heard many stories over the years of sites who naively used third parties to build links for them and unfortunately ended up being penalised by Google for black hat SEO practices. Websites have gone under and businesses have been lost as a result.
So we can agree that suddenly gaining a large number of follow links from nowhere is obviously not a great idea. Instead it is far better to build links organically and consistently over time. Digital PR does just that.
Organically means the links should be a mix of dofollow and nofollow. What’s more there should also be a healthy number of non-linking brand mentions which demonstrate that this brand is being talked about and not always with an accompanying link.
As I have explained we have long had these discussions with clients. In recent times though the attitude to nofollow links seems to have hardened. There seems to be a drift towards a feeling that nofollow links can actually be toxic. We’re not sure what’s driving this misinformation but it’s clear that nofollow links, if they’re from a credible site with good domain authority, won’t have any harmful effects on ranking and on the contrary, will help to boost SEO for the reasons we have explained, traffic, brand awareness etc. Most importantly they act as an indicator of best practice.
A Certain Ratio
Rather than developing a phobia of nofollow links it’s important to understand they are a part of a natural backlink profile and every website has them. Generally speaking, the more authority a site has the higher the percentage split between dofollow and nofollow links will favour dofollow. Let’s look at some of the most popular sites in the UK and compare to our own website at Motive.
All of the major UK news sites have a mix of both dofollow and nofollow links going into them. In the case of the Daily Mail 89% of the links hitting the site are dofollow so a massive majority. That still means 11% are nofollow links. These nofollow links number about 10.5m - that’s right there are 10.5m nofollow links going into the Daily Mail’s website. They don’t seem to be having too much of a toxic or negative effect on the site’s ranking however. Of course the fact that the site enjoys almost 85m dofollow links certainly helps. But if the nofollow links were in anyway toxic then having more than 10m of them coming in could be a problem for any site but it is not the case.
The same can be said of Google itself. We looked at the UK site for the purposes of our research. We found that 12% of the links going to Google.co.uk were nofollow compared to 88% dofollow. There were 25m nofollow links to the site and 178m dofollow links.
These are of course very healthy ratios as you would expect for these juggernauts of the internet. Most sites will only be able to dream of a near 90 / 10 dofollow to nofollow split. The reality for most website managers reading this post will more likely be something more in line with our own website here at Motive. We found that 64% of the links coming into our site are currently dofollow links compared to 36% nofollow, so close to a two thirds / one third split.
The reality is it is impossible to prevent nofollow links and it wouldn’t be a good idea to turn them off altogether even if you could. Nofollow links are not toxic or harmful. In fact they bring value in the form of traffic and brand awareness. Most importantly they act as an indicator of good practice by telling Google that the site’s link building practices are healthy ones. They’re a positive sign that you are earning rather than buying links.
There are 25m nofollow links going to the Google UK homepage. So if you have a few thousand going to yours then you really shouldn’t sweat it too much. Instead keep on plugging away, building good content and earning a mix of dofollow and nofollow links for long term SEO success.