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Are Nofollow Links Useful?

With the recent ban imposed by Google on guest posting for SEO purposes, gaining links these days is no easy feat and more often than not, even if you ask for a link all you may gain is a nofollow. Whilst backlinks are desirable, they are not the be all and end all of an SEO and digital marketing campaign and nofollow links do have some value themselves.

Of course, guest posting isn’t the only way to get backlinks to your site. Great content will inevitably attract links, especially if it contains well researched information that it’s difficult to find elsewhere. These kinds of backlinks are invaluable as they are usually inserted in order to back up information in an article and the anchor text used is generally very natural. Of course, a nofollow may also be placed on these but that won’t affect the amount of traffic that the backlink generates in any way.

Which brings us to our first point about nofollow links – they are useful for driving traffic to your site, especially if they have been presented as providing more information on a certain subject. However, they will also drive a certain amount of traffic to your site if they are contained in a bio, if the content that you’ve provided is any good.

Matt Cutts on nofollow links

There has in the past been some concern that nofollow links might actually harm your ranking, but this has been dismissed by Google’s Matt Cutts. He says that the only way that nofollow links can potentially harm your site is if you’re abusing the system by leaving comments all over the place, even with a nofollow link, which can be considered spammy. However, you would have to be doing this on a very large scale in order to be noticed and attract a manual spam action from Google, so it’s safe to say that unless you’re indulging in comment spamming, you’re pretty safe.

Do Google index nofollow links?

Google don’t index nofollow links, which is of course why they are considered to have no value when it comes to SEO. However, it does ‘follow’ the link to some extent in that it looks at where it goes without adding it to the index, unless it’s already indexed already. Of course, this is highly likely if your site is a decent one and creates regular content, depending on the page being linked to.

Another thing to bear in mind is link diversity. It’s highly unlikely that every single backlink that your site earns is going to give you a dofollow link and it would appear unnatural to Google if all of them are, so you do (in theory, at least) need some nofollow links in your link portfolio.

Traffic and leads

As well as creating more traffic, nofollow links can also increase leads if they point to well optimised pages. When gaining links from guest posts and other sources, ensure that your landing page includes a CTA such as a form for sign ups and it’s likely that you’ll gain leads from this.

The Panda patent

It seems that Google are attempting to get away from the whole business of being influenced heavily by dofollow links. According to Simon Penson, writing on the Moz Blog, “Google certainly knows these (nofollow) links are there, and this latest patent could suggest they are taking a little more notice of them than they are letting on.

The patent highlights the importance of "reference queries" and "implied links," and also that Google looks to discount links from the same "group" or brand and instead wants to concentrate on independent links from unassociated domains.”

He goes on to say that PageRank is not mentioned in the Panda patent, which does suggest that link equity is not being studied so much as other factors at the moment. This is interesting as it suggests that brand mentions will become more important (which of course could have nofollow links attached). It also could suggest that Google may be looking at other ranking factors such as the fabled Author Rank, which still hasn’t materialised years after Google Authorship and Author Stats were initiated.

The end of Google Authorship?

However, it has been reported that the Authorship project has been “shuttered” by Google anyway as not enough high profile writers are using it. According to A J Kohn, there’s nobody in charge of the project anymore but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been abandoned and Google do still pay some attention to the markup.

Whatever the case, it’s still worth having if only for the rich snippets that appear in search results and the Author Stats, which are still in Labs under Webmaster Tools, and are useful for seeing how many impressions and click-throughs your articles receive.

Despite this, there is a service that allows people on the Google Authorship program to calculate their rank, although it’s not a Google product or in fact supported in anyway by the search giants. The enterprisingly named AuthorRank is the brainchild of SEO company Virante and allows you to calculate your author score based on the following:

  • Using Google Authorship
  • The diversity of sites which an author contributes content to
  • The link value of the sites they contribute to
  • The volume of content produced by an author
  • The link value of the content

Think link

When it comes to it, we all want good quality backlinks to our sites but it’s not a good idea to dismiss nofollow links out of hand. Traffic to your site, no matter where it comes from, is always a good thing and so commenting, forum posting and guest blogging should all be a part of your link strategy even if they only offer nofollows. As mentioned earlier, a diverse link profile is a healthy one anyway and there’s always going to be other sites linking to your content if it’s good enough.

If you carry out guest posting with thought leadership in mind and approach bigger sites, then even a nofollow link will get you noticed and will drive traffic, which ultimately could end up as leads and conversions, to your site.

So yes, nofollow links are useful and whilst it might be annoying that Google has cut off backlinks from guest posts, there’s little that any of us can do about other than adjust our strategies to suit.

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