rel nofollow

Anyone involved in SEO sooner or later stumbles upon the nofollow link attribute. You can find out exactly what this is all about and how and, above all, when you use nofollow correctly in my blog post today.

nofollow – not following since 2005

As the name of the link attribute suggests, nofollow is about instructing the Google crawler not to follow certain links .

This can refer to internal and external links. The attribute, introduced by Google in 2005, was intended to give webmasters the ability to tell the search engine which links can be trusted and which cannot.

More precisely, according to Google , the nofollow attribute should be used to

  • Combat comment spam
  • To mark advertising links,
  • to mark paid links.

Or to put it the other way around: nofollow should be used to mark links that are not of editorial origin .

Why is there nofollow?

Links and backlinks are still among the most important ranking factors alongside content, technology and user behavior (and a few others) .

In addition, links help Google and other search engines to better understand and evaluate connections and relationships on the Internet .

That was already the case in 2005 – countless spam comments with links have always been posted in forums, blogs or almost anywhere with a comment field:

The purpose of the nofollow attribute was to classify these same spam comments and to indicate that these links should not be trusted or followed.

In addition, Google writes in its own blog that links with the nofollow attribute are not used when evaluating websites.

Setting a nofollow link is therefore not a bad thing – neither for the linking nor for the target page – but it is a way to ensure that spammers cannot gain any advantage by building such links.

The whole thing can also be automated in some CMS; more on that later.

How do I find out if a particular link is nofollow or dofollow?

It is relatively easy to see whether a link is a nofollow or a dofollow link. First of all, however, it should be said that, strictly speaking, there is no dofollow instruction .

If the nofollow attribute (or other link attributes) is omitted, it is automatically a dofollow or follow link.

An internal nofollow link and an internal dofollow link can be found in the following sentence :

In order to finally determine whether and which link attributes were used, you have to look at the HTML code. It works slightly differently depending on which browser you are using:

  • Google Chrome / Microsoft Edge: Right click on the link and “Investigate”
  • Firefox: Right click on “Examine element”

A window opens showing the code of the page. The goals with the element that you are currently investigating (i.e. controlled by right-clicking) are marketed. You should be able to see:

The rel = “nofollow” is simply inserted within the <a> tag of the link. Incidentally, several link attributes can also be combined with one another. More on that later.

The first link to the SEO posts is the nofollow link . The other link to SEA has no such attribute and can be referred to as dofollow or follow.

nofollow links: internal & external

As already mentioned, the nofollow attribute can be used for internal and external links . To better understand when it makes sense to use it, you should first re-examine the purpose of links in general:

While various sub-pages of a website are linked to one another through internal links, external links can be seen as a kind of recommendation to readers and search engine crawlers.

Internal nofollow links

The aim of the internal linking should be to meaningfully link all existing pages with one another.

It is often advisable to link the most important pages most frequently – for example by means of page-wide links (i.e. links that are available on every subpage) – for example from the navigation menu.

However, internal links should also be set wherever appropriate.

In my opinion, there is no use case in which it makes sense to provide internal links with the nofollow attribute . This question was also discussed in this somewhat aged, but content-wise up-to-date video by Google Webmasters from 2011:

Even if all internal inbound links are nofollow, that doesn’t mean that a page can’t appear in the Google index .

This can be because it is contained in the XML sitemap or is linked externally (without nofollow, i.e. dofollow). For example, if you want to make your shopping cart page inaccessible to Google, it doesn’t make sense to nofollow every link there.

It is better to store a disallow or noindex instruction in the robots.txt.

Do you see it differently? Tell me about it in the comments!

External nofollow links

The situation is different with outgoing or external links: As already mentioned, these can be viewed as a kind of recommendation for further, good content .

This means that source references or detailed, further information can easily do without the nofollow attribute – or in other words: such links should specifically not have a nofollow attribute, as they offer users real added value.

This means that they are also virtually entitled to be recorded and crawled by search engines.

It becomes problematic when links without the nofollow attribute are not in an editorial context and are bought , advertised or created by users (spam ?!) . Google advises that these types of links should be marked as nofollow. Otherwise it amounts to a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines , which in turn can lead to a penalty.

In the following video, Google’s John Müller explains how the search engine deals with nofollow backlinks:

Google does take note of nofollow links, but does not rate them directly .

Signals such as PageRank are not transmitted via nofollow links. It is similar when you exclude links using the disavow tool: The link is still available on the linked page, Google sees it, but does not rate it (anymore).

Nonetheless, none of this is visible to normal users and the links appear optically like all others. As a result, it is quite possible that traffic is generated via nofollow links or links that have been marked as invalid in the Search Console.

How do I set a nofollow link? functionality

Ultimately, there are several ways you can add the nofollow attribute to links. Depending on the application, it is advisable to use different approaches. These are explained below.

Link-specific nofollow tag

Assuming you just want to mark a link on your website as nofollow, the simplest variant is to place the rel = “nofollow” within the <a> tag of the link. Finished.

Page-specific nofollow tag

If you want to set all links on a URL to nofollow, you can in principle also use the aforementioned variant. However, it is less time-consuming if you define in the meta tag of the area that all links on the page are nofollow – very similar to the procedure if you want to set a URL to noindex.

In the Yoast SEO plugin, for example, there is a function for this – all you have to do is to tick “No” when asked whether search engines should follow the links on the page.


The automated setting of nofollow links can be particularly useful in comment fields or forums .

This means that, for example, all links in the post that you have published on your website have exactly the link attribute that you gave them and at the same time all comments can only ever contain nofollow links.

Depending on which CMS you are using, this setting option is available by default or you have to install a plugin for it.

With WordPress, the plugin called Ultimate Nofollow may help you – by the way, also with marking individual links as nofollow.

Is rel = “nofollow“ the only link attribute?

rel = “nofollow” is the first link attribute that Google introduced almost 15 years ago.

In the meantime, however, the Internet has developed enormously, which is why Google introduced two more link attributes towards the end of 2019: rel = “ugc” and rel = “sponsored” .

The names actually already express the purpose:

  • rel = “ugc“ : UGC stands for User Generated Content . The attribute is intended to identify links that have been set by the users of a website.
  • rel = “sponsored” : Links that are paid advertising in any way should be marked as sponsored . Until now, the nofollow attribute was recommended for this type of link. Google states that this procedure is still permitted , but with the recommendation that it is better to use the rel = “sponsored” attribute.

The various link attributes can be combined with one another – either separated by commas or spaces. For example, it is possible to show a link as nofollow and ugc at the same time:

< rel = “nofollow ugc“> blog posts on the topic of SEO />

Of course, that wouldn’t make much sense in this example, but for links in blog comments, for example. The two new link attributes can therefore be understood as replacements and as additions to nofollow.

What is the best solution here has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

What else will change as a result of these new link attributes, my colleagues Nora, Felix and Julian have already discussed in a video on the update for link attributes .

nofollow – not that complicated at all

In summary, it can be said that the nofollow attribute helps Google to better understand and interpret the relationships on the Internet and, based on this, to enable websites to be rated.

With the two new attributes ugc and sponsored, this procedure has been expanded and optimized. Therefore it makes sense for webmasters to jump on the bandwagon and use the new attributes as well.

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