Building links is an important step in search engine optimization (SEO).
For decades, search engines have used links to assess the authority and popularity of websites in their ranking algorithm. A website with 1,200 links from relevant, credible sources will likely outrank a competing website with only a few dozen low-quality links from generic, untrustworthy sources.
When building links for your website, however, it's important to understand the difference between dofollow and nofollow. While both types of links look and function the same for visitors, they are treated differently by search engines.
What Are Dofollow Links?
Dofollow links are standard links intended to pass link juice to the linked page. They are called "dofollow" because search engines visit and follow them. When Google stumbles upon a dofollow link while crawling a website, for example, the search engine will literally follow it to the linked page.
During this process, Google's algorithm will treat the dofollow link as a badge of trust, which may result in higher search rankings for the linked page.
There isn't a specific attribute used to define dofollow links. Rather, all links are dofollow by default.
Here's an example of a dofollow link in HTML:
<a href="dofollow-links-example.html">Dofollow Link Example</a>
When to Use Dofollow Links
Because they are intended to pass link juice, dofollow backlinks, or links from other domains that point to your site, can directly increase your website's search rankings. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com and DuckDuckGo all use dofollow links in their ranking algorithm.
By building high-quality dofollow backlinks to your website, you'll show these search engines that your website is popular and credible enough to merit a top search ranking. You can still build nofollow backlinks, but dofollow backlinks will have a stronger impact on your website's search rankings.
When building outbound links on your website, or links to a page on a different domain, only use dofollow if the linked page is relevant, trustworthy and contains high-quality content. If the target page of an outbound link doesn't meet this criteria, use nofollow instead.
Creating dofollow outbound links to pages of questionable legitimacy trigger a filter in Google's or Bing's ranking algorithm. They'll associate your website with the low-quality linked page, which could drive down your site's search rankings.
What Are Nofollow Links?
Nofollow links are links containing the nofollow HTML attribute, which tells search engines not to follow or include them in their ranking algorithm. The nofollow attribute was developed by Google in 2005 to combat the influx of comment spam on blogs. Google saw nefarious webmasters were spamming blogs by dropping their links in the comments section.
Prior to the nofollow attribute's inception, links in blog comments heavily influenced Google's algorithm. For higher search rankings, webmasters could simply spam comment-enabled blogs with their links.
Google cracked down on blog comment spam in 2005 by developing the nofollow attribute. Originally, the nofollow attribute didn't pass any link juice to the linked page.
But in 2009, Google announced an update to its ranking algorithm in which it accounted for nofollow links as part of total PageRank distribution. If a web page has eight links posted, half of which are nofollow, it would pass some of its link juice in the form of PageRank to all eight linked pages under this system.
Google has remained quiet regarding how it handles nofollow links in recent years.
On the company's Search Console support portal, though, Google says it generally doesn't follow them, nor does it transfer PageRank through them. Bing takes a similar approach by ignoring nofollow links and discounting their potential SEO value.
Here's an example of a nofollow link in HTML:
When to Use Nofollow Links
Since they are generally ignored by most search engines, nofollow backlinks won't directly increase your website's search rankings.
With that said, they may indirectly help with SEO by increasing your website's exposure, attracting more direct traffic and encouraging other webmasters to create backlinks to your website.
Wikipedia citation links, for instance, are automatically given the nofollow attribute. If you're able to score a link on the web-based encyclopedia, other webmasters will view your website as being credible, so they link to it from their site.
When given the option between building a dofollow or nofollow backlink to your website, choose the former. Only dofollow backlinks are able to pass link juice, so they offer greater SEO value than their nofollow counterparts.
For outbound links, use the nofollow attribute in the following cases:
- Visitor comments
- Forum posts
- Guest blog posts or articles
- Ads or sponsored content
- Links to untrustworthy websites
How to Tell If a Link is Dofollow or Nofollow
As you explore potential sources of backlinks for your website, you might be wondering how to tell if a link is a dofollow or nofollow. There are a few ways to check, one of which is to inspect the link's HTML in the page's source code.
In Chrome and Firefox, right-click an empty area of the page and choose "View page source." Next, use the keyboard shortcut command Ctr + F to find the specific link in the page's code. If the link contains the nofollow attribute, it's a nofollow link. If it doesn't, it's a dofollow link.
An easier way to tell whether a link is dofollow or nofollow is to use a web browser add-on like the Moz Bar. For Chrome, you can download and install an extension like NoFollow or NoFollow Simple, both of which are designed to outline all nofollow links.
For Firefox, there are extensions like NoFollow and SEO Nofollow Links Highlighter that also outline or highlight nofollow links.
To most internet users, nofollow links are the same as dofollow links. They look and function the same, with the only difference being that nofollow links have the nofollow attribute added to their HTML code.
But the presence of the nofollow attribute changes the way in which search engines handle links. When Google or Bing find a nofollow link, they'll ignore it.
Therefore, you should focus on building dofollow backlinks to improve your website's performance in the search results.