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Should you nofollow all external links from your site?

Should you nofollow all external links from your site for SEO purposes? When it comes to link building, website owners are often concerned about the impact of external links on their search engine rankings. One common strategy that has emerged is the use of nofollow links, which are links that have an HTML attribute indicating that search engines should not follow the link or pass any authority or ranking signals to the linked page. 

While nofollow links can be useful in certain situations, such as for paid links or low-quality websites, the question remains: should you nofollow all external links from your site and does it really impact SEO?

In this blog post, we will explore the pros and cons of using nofollow links and provide guidance on when and how to use them effectively to maximize the SEO benefits of your external linking strategy.

What does it mean to nofollow a link?

Nofollow is an HTML attribute that can be added to a link, which tells search engines not to follow the link or pass any "link juice" or search engine ranking signals to the linked page. 

When a link is marked with a nofollow attribute, search engines will not count it as a vote of confidence for the linked page, and the linked page won't benefit from any authority or relevance passed by the linking page.

Why people think they should nofollow all external links for SEO purposes

Google's PageRank (PR) algorithm, named after co-founder Larry Page, was the search giant's first ranking system for websites.

The algorithm's basic premise is that the most valuable web pages are those with the most links pointing to them, as these links indicate a page's popularity and quality.

Each page receives a "score" based on the number of links pointing to it, which can then be passed on to other pages that it links to.

Thus, the number of links to a webpage provided more link equity, and gave it a better chance of ranking. 

But along came link spam.

The introduction of PageRank led to the problem of link spam because the algorithm's emphasis on link popularity made links a crucial factor in determining a website's ranking. This created an incentive for webmasters to artificially inflate the number of links pointing to their site, often through manipulative tactics like link farms, comment spam, and paid link schemes.

Webmasters quickly realized that acquiring a large number of links, regardless of their quality or relevance, could significantly boost their PageRank and improve their search engine rankings. As a result, some resorted to unethical tactics to obtain as many links as possible, without necessarily adding value to the user experience or the quality of the content on their site.

Combating link spam

Google and other search engines have since developed algorithms and policies to combat link spam and penalize sites that engage in manipulative link-building practices. 

In 2005, Google introduced the rel=”nofollow” tag for links. This tag instructed search engines to not follow (and therefore not pass the PageRank) for any link that was labeled this way. But once again, spammers found a way to monopolize this change. By not sharing any PageRank with the external website, it maximized the amount of PageRank that would remain on their own site, which gave spam websites a better chance of ranking within the results page of the search engine.

In 2009, the way Google treated nofollow links was changed. In an effort to stop webmasters from PageRank sculpting (essentially having a very direct control of where the equity will flow), there was a small change made with a large ramification. Rather than simply not passing equity to the links which have the rel=”nofollow” attribute, PageRank now evaporates for the non-followed links. In other words, adding a nofollow attribute to links on your page did not “boost” or give any ranking inheritance to links that were left alone. 

As a result, the common SEO practice of nofollowing internal links on your own site to boost rankings is not an effective SEO tactic anymore.

Best practices for nofollowing external links from your site

You might be wondering why the nofollow attribute is still a relevant SEO strategy. Today’s search engines have become much more sophisticated in their algorithms, and the quantity and quality of links are both important factors for search engine rankings. In fact, having a diverse mix of high-quality links from relevant websites is a key factor in SEO success. Therefore, nofollowing all external links may not be an effective SEO strategy, as it can prevent your site from receiving the full benefit of high-quality and relevant external links.

So when should you nofollow external links?

  • When you want to point to a third-party link, but don’t fully “endorse” them, use the rel="nofollow" attribute
  • When using paid or affiliate-based links, you should use the rel="sponsored" attribute
  • Blog post comments (or any other user-generated content) should be marked with the rel="ugc" attribute

“Google does understand that buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web for advertising and sponsorship purposes. It's not a violation of our policies to have such links as long as they are qualified with a rel="nofollow" or rel="sponsored" attribute value to the <a> tag.“


So, what we’re trying to say is…

Overall, it's important to use common sense and good judgment when it comes to external linking. The decision to use nofollow links on your website should be based on your specific situation and goals. It's important to use nofollow links selectively and strategically to protect your website's credibility and comply with search engine guidelines, while also leveraging the SEO benefits of high-quality and relevant external links. 

A balanced approach to external linking, with a mix of follow and nofollow links, can help ensure the best possible SEO results for your website, and ensure that your site remains trustworthy and compliant with search engine guidelines.


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Alex Talbot
Post by Alex Talbot
March 6, 2023