follow leader
PHOTO: Vinoth Chandar

Before Google introduced the concept of Dofollow and Nofollow links, the world of search engine optimization (SEO) was about as chaotic as the wild west (minus the shootouts). Bloggers and website administrators alike would engage in spammy backlinking practices that involved adding links to their company's website anywhere they could for the sake of backlink juice. 

Today, it's harder than ever to create and execute a successful backlinking strategy. In fact, 65% of marketers say that link building is the most challenging SEO task. But that’s a good thing, as it means that ranking on the first page of any Google search now requires a web page to be truly valuable, as we will discuss in this article. 

We've asked SEO experts to explain the difference between Dofollow and Nofollow links, why they both matter, and how you can start building them.

Dofollow vs. Nofollow Links

"The difference between a Dofollow and a Nofollow link is that a Dofollow link passes PageRank signals (some refer to this as SEO or link juice), and a Nofollow link doesn't," said Paul Ronto, CMO of RunRepeat. In other words, the distinction lies in how the Google algorithm treats each link. "On the technical side of things, the only difference between the two is that a Nofollow link has a small tag (rel=" nofollow") in the code," Ronto said. This tag lets search crawlers know that the link shouldn't affect the PageRank score. "Human users can still interact with the link, this is purely an algorithm distinction," Wulfe said.

So, the links still function in the same way, but Google sees them differently depending on the tag used, and as you may have guessed, Dofollow links have greater value than Nofollow links. 

Related Article: 7 Tips to Improve Your SEO in 2019

What Is PageRank and How Is it Affected By Dofollow Links?

A web's PageRank is essentially its value in Google's eyes. "PageRank signals are basically points that tell Google and other search engines the page that is being linked to is valuable or has valuable information on it," said Ronto. 

Pages with a greater PageRank usually appear higher up on search engine results pages (SERP). "There are a ton of other factors that help a page or a site rank well in the SERPs," continues Pronto, "but links are seen as very valuable and [a] core cue to the search engines of worthy information."

Natalia Wulfe, CMO of Effective Spend further explains, "When a highly ranked website links to a lower ranked site with a dofollow link they are passing along their 'link juice,' boosting the value of the lower ranked website's value to the search engine." The lower ranked site gets more PageRank points from the high-quality Dofollow link.

Ronto adds, "These points are the important distinction on why a DoFollow link is better than a NoFollow link when you are out there building links back to your site." While dofollow links may be essential for SEO purposes, nofollow links are crucial for websites as well.

Related Article: How to Outrank Your Competition With a Smart Image SEO Strategy

Should You Still Use Nofollow Links?

"Nofollow links do still have value," said Ronto. In fact, even if they don't count for PageRank, they're still noticed by search crawlers. "A site that has zero Nofollow links," Ronto explains, "could be a red flag to the crawlers, denoting something spammy or fishy going on." That's because most sites gain Nofollow links naturally over time. Websites can use Nofollow links to avoid association with spammy websites, while still linking to information that may be valuable to its readers.

"The other reason to utilize Nofollow links is for sponsorship purposes." Wulfe said. Many high-quality sites use Dofollow links when they're paid to link to other websites, but default to Nofollow links for non-sponsored links, so they don't give their link juice away for free.

Therefore, you want a portion of your site's backlink profile to be Nofollow links so you can get backlinks from high-quality websites and signal to search crawlers that your site is legitimate and not spamming Dofollow links.

How You Can Effectively Build Dofollow and Nofollow Links

"Every website should be looking to build high-quality Dofollow links," declared Wulfe. She said the easiest way to get Dofollow links is to search for mentions of your brand within the content on other websites that haven't linked to you. You can reach out to the author or site owner directly and ask if they'd be willing to add a Dofollow backlink to your website. If the mention in the content was positive about your brand, there's a good chance they'll be open to the request.

"A second, slightly more difficult method is to search your competition's backlinks using a tool like Ahrefs," Wulfe said. You may find that you have better content than your competitor, and could ask the website to switch their Nofollow link to your site instead. In other cases, you may be able to get your brand added to a listicle that mentions your competitors. Pitching these may not have the highest success rate, but it's another method for obtaining high-quality Dofollow backlinks.

“When it comes to link building," Ronto says, "there really are no quick and easy ways to build quality links." The best backlinking methods are constantly changing as Google updates its SEO algorithms. In Ronto's opinion, "The number one method is to create amazing content that people want to link to naturally." If your content is highly valuable for your audience, search engines will pick up on this and rank your website accordingly. 

While it makes sense to focus on quality content to garner Dofollow and Nofollow links, consistently generating valuable content is challenging for many websites. "This is really why link building is so difficult," Ronto said.