Are Nofollow Links a Google Ranking Factor?


“Nofollow†isn’t just a fun term SEO professionals use to sound more mysterious. Nofollow is an HTML attribute that has been around for 14 years.

Basically, nofollow is a hyperlink attribute that tells Google not to pass PageRank so that Google doesn’t even crawl untracked links.

You can control the nofollowing of any link on your site (whether to external sites or internal pages) with the simple addition of the nofollow attribute.

There are also untracked links that are beyond your control – when another site refers you to you, but marked it as an untracked link.


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But is there a connection between untracked links and rankings?

It turns out that there is a lot of confusion on this topic. Let’s get to the bottom of it all.

The Claim: Nofollow Links Are A Ranking Factor

Do nofollow links offer value?

Nofollow links aren’t just a glorified attribute. It was a way of showing search engines to ignore spammy or low quality links.

Think of nofollow links as an armor to protect your site from shady tactics.

It looks like this in your source code:

Anchor text

But don’t follow the links really impact rankings?


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Proof of nofollow links as a ranking factor

Google introduced nofollow link attribute in 2005 to help website owners fight spam. Google required sites to add the nofollow link attribute if you exchange links.

If you didn’t and got caught, Google could penalize you for link schemes.

This is when nofollow links were introduced. The Nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore the destination URL.

While Google may take manual action against you if you don’t use untracked links, does it help your rankings?

In September 2019, Gary Illyes of Google confirmed these directives serve as “clues”.

Google’s Danny Sullivan stepped in to support Illyes comments related to nofollow links.

These statements are supported by the Google nofollow ad, who said:

“When nofollow was first introduced, Google didn’t have any links marked this way as a signal for use in our search algorithms. This has now changed. All link attributes – sponsored, UGC, and nofollow – are treated as clues about which links to consider or exclude in the search.

We will use these tips, along with other signals, to better understand how to analyze and appropriately use the links within our systems.


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More recently, on September 10, 2019, Google introduced two new attributes to support the nofollow link: sponsored links and UGC links.

These attributes were created to help Google understand the intent behind the link.

Sponsored links (rel = “sponsored”) are used for promotional, advertising or sponsored links.

UGC links (rel = “ugc”) are used for users who generate their own content that has not been approved from an advertising perspective.

Can nofollow links harm your site?

In a Google Search Central YouTube video on September 9, 2013, Matt Cutts explained that nofollow links don’t harm your site.

Cutts said:


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“No, nofollow links usually can’t harm your site. So in advance, very quick response.

Can I use the nofollow tag to control indexing?


Just adding the nofollow tag attribute to a link doesn’t mean Google won’t index or crawl your site.

The best way to conserve your crawl budget is to use other methods such as using the noindex attribute or banning robots.txt files.

Nofollow links as a ranking signal: our assessment

While links with a nofollow tag are no longer ignored, they do not transmit ranking signals.


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While it’s interesting that nofollow links don’t have a direct impact on your rankings, it’s clear to see the little clues they serve up to Google and search engines.

If you read between the lines, these “clues†that we provide to Google mean that you can tell Google to stop following a link, but the final decision is with Google in “some†cases.

In the end, in most cases, your ranking will not be affected.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / Search Engine Journal

All screenshots taken by author, September 2021


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