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How to Use the Google NOFOLLOW Attribute in SEO
by Dr. William Sen | CEO and founder of blue media

How to Use the Google NOFOLLOW Attribute in SEO

Nofollow Attribute in 2019: Good or Bad for SEO?


In 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute. The original idea behind nofollow was to allow websites to link to external sources while giving Google the signal not to trust them. As a result, Google would not follow the link and ignore it. However, this feature has been abused so often that Google has been treating the nofollow attribute differently since 2015.

It’s always the same in SEO: If too many SEOs begin to abuse a certain tactic that seems to improve keyword rankings, Google will act on it. This is no different with the nofollow attribute, and how Google now treats it. Here are the key features of how nofollow is used and how Google will respond to your nofollow attributes in 2019.

Everything Nofollow?

Some website owners have configured their CMS in a way so almost all outbound links have the nofollow attribute assigned automatically. In this case, Google will assume the attribute has been “abused” in order to prevent passing the site’s trust to other sources. Ultimately, Google will check if these sources are in fact untrustworthy or not, and setting all links to nofollow won’t fool Google anymore.

The algorithm works according to the following criteria: It checks if other website administrators also set a nofollow to these links. If the answer is no, Google will conclude that the nofollow attributes serves only one purpose: to send Google a false signal to create an SEO advantage. SEMRush reports in their article “Are Nofollow Links Actually Good For SEO?” that the quota of nofollow attributes should never be more than 20-40% for a website.

Only A Few Links Have Dofollow

If website owners only put a dofollow on a few links and everything else has a nofollow, your website will be flagged by Google. Such patterns are found on sites that usually sell links, mostly hidden in blogs and other forms of articles. Selling backlinks is a violation of Google’s Guidelines. Google has been using sophisticated techniques to identify artificial link farms and purchased links since the Florida Update in 2003.

Nofollow Attribute

The simplest method for Google to find out whether you are running a blackhat backlink strategy is to check the historical development of backlinks. Imagine that from one day  to another, your website suddenly gets a lot of backlinks — and it all happens without reason. For example, you know you didn’t hit a home run with a viral article, but there are now thousands of links pointing to your site. Google will raise the flag. It’s very easy for Google to find out automatically that a backlink strategy has been initiated. I wrote about this already in the follow article: Building Backlinks with Google in 2019.

A manual action by Google is to be expected in such cases, which can lead up to 90% traffic loss or more. The linked site is also negatively affected: Now that Google knows that articles with links are often bought, articles with dofollow links no longer get the ranking boost they would normally receive.

How To Use Nofollow Properly

The two most important principles are relevance and trustworthiness. If the link is relevant to the article or content and the source is to be trusted, then the nofollow attribute should not be used.

Here’s an example: Above, I referred to the article written by SEMRush. If I had linked to the article using a nofollow attribute, I would have given Google the wrong signal that the link was untrustworthy. But Google would know that SEMRush is one of the most trusted sources on the web and therefore would identify my nofollow as abusive. Also, the article from SEMRush is relevant because it mentions the same topic as I do in this article. Google recognizes the relevancy between the two articles due to their Topic Detection Algorithms. A nofollow attribute would not have made sense here.

It is also true in 2019 that with each additional link, the trust is inherited from its own website to the linking source. This means that your own trust decreases with every link — Google’s PageRank Algorithm is still valid today in 2019.

So, what if you do not want to pass on the trust?

If you are stingy and do not want to give a trust to another web source, you should not insert a link at all, rather than use the nofollow attribute.

Using the example above you can see that no link has been placed when referring to the SEMRush article. This way, this article can’t be flagged by Google as far as it concerns backlinking: Google does not pay attention to the correct or incorrect use of a nofollow if you don’t use links at all. The disadvantage in this case is the user experience. If you don’t use links, you are taking away convenience.

Nofollow Conclusion

Not putting nofollow at all is just as damaging as putting nofollows all the time on links.

The days are over when Nofollow was the perfect solution to not pass on SEO trust: Google has already responded to this with updates since 2015.

The basic principle of the Internet and the breeding ground for search engines are links. It was already clear that Google would put an end to the nofollow game when the introduction of the nofollow attribute raised critical concerns. However, it took 10 years for nofollow to be abused by a critical mass of users and websites for Google to respond with an update.

In my article “Wikipedia SEO: The Invisible Power Game” I wrote that Wikipedia uses the nofollow attribute in all their articles. Back then in 2013, Wikipedia didn’t have to fear any consequences from Google for their abuse of the nofollow attribute. As a result, millions of articles on Wikipedia were ranked first on Google.

Due to the new update, Google has punished even Wikipedia for their nofollow links. Anyone wondering why Wikipedia with their topics and terms no longer occupy the higher ranks on Google will now know better: Wikipedia has still been abusing the nofollow links strategy to this day.

Due to the size of Wikipedia, this fact may be irrelevant for them. Like many portals that have grown into giants, whether they perform well with SEO no longer matters. However, if your website is not on the list of the top 100 websites on the Internet, you cannot afford to use the nofollow attribute incorrectly.

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References

CATEGORIES Search Engine Optimization
About the Author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. William Sen CEO and founder of blue media

William Sen has been an SEO since 2001 and is a Software Engineer since 1996, and has been working as an Associate Professor in Germany for the University of Dusseldorf and Cologne. He has been involved in developing custom SEO tools, large website and software projects. William has a PhD in Information Sciences and has been working for brands such as Expedia, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Bayer, Ford, T-Mobile and many more. He is the founder of blue media.

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