Browsing the web, you've probably come across links with confusing tags like "no follow". What do these actually mean and why should you care? Let's break down these link types to understand the differences between follow and no follow links.
What Are Follow Links?
When you normally add a hyperlink on your website, whether internally to other pages or externally to other domains, these are follow links.
By default, search engine crawlers see these as recommendations to visit and index the linked page. So follow links pass on link equity - they tell Google "hey, this page I'm linking to has value, go check it out". Any ranking power your site has flows to your linked pages through follow links.
The reason they "follow" is that crawlers follow these links to discover new content to add to their indexes. That's what you want from a <a href="https://www.website.com/outbound-links/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">typical outbound link</a>. They are the default link type webmasters use when linking out to supportive resources.
Follow links pass on equity in a few important ways:
They transfer ranking authority from page to page, spreading relevance signals across sites. So a backlink from a high authority page gives a boost to the page it links out to.
They act as votes of confidence, effectively telling Google "we recommend checking this page out because it has worthwhile info". Lots of sites linking to a page suggests it offers value.
They allow search bots to crawl the graph of links across sites, discovering new content. So they influence how pages get indexed and ranked based on the sites interconnectedness.
So in many ways, follow links pass on the trust and authority of the source page to the destination. The search algorithms use those equity flows heavily in figuring out which pages offer accuracy and relevance to feature in the SERPs.
Must Read: Resource Page Link Building
What's Unique About No Follow Links?
No follow links prevent search engines from following the link to the destination. Instead of crawling the URLs, ranking algorithms basically disregard these links entirely.
You add a rel="nofollow" attribute to HTML links or tag them in your CMS to toggle no follow status. This signals to Google "don't follow or transfer authority through this link". But visitors can still click these links as normal - no following only impacts SEO. It means crawlers don't pass ranking power or index the URLs.
You use no follow links for specific purposes like: untrusted third party content, affiliate links, paid links, or user generated content. Essentially for links where you don't necessarily want to vouch for the site or pass on equity from your domain. No follow links isolate them from influencing rankings.
While nofollow links don't pass equity between pages, they can still provide value:
For user experience, they enable contextual linking out to additional resources on a topic, even if those sites don't deserve a full endorsement.
They offer analytics value in measuring user clicks, even if bots don't process them. So you can see what types of resources resonate.
There's some suggestion they may influence relevance by showing connections between sites that shape topical authority, even if weighting is lower.
So nofollowed links aren't worthless, but their SEO influence comes more indirectly from clicks showing content relationships rather than direct equity transfers that follow links provide.
How Do Follow vs. No Follow Links Impact SEO?
The main thing to know is that no follow backlinks do not pass on ranking power between sites. Follow backlinks do impact SEO by flowing authority and page relevance signals.
But while no follow links don't directly sway SERP rankings, that doesn't make them worthless:
They allow linking out while controlling equity flow
Support user experience by enabling contextual external references
Pass on clickstream data to influence relevance metrics
Even nofollowed links have SEO value through clicks if they enhance content and lead users to useful information. But webmasters add them specifically whenever they need to link without endorsing pages in search.
Think of them like academic citations - they reference outside work without saying it's definitively accurate. No follow links acknowledge other content without vouching for it in algorithms.
When Should You Use Follow vs. No Follow Links?
Now that you know the effects of each link type, when should you mark links nofollow? Use these best practices:
Use Follow Links For:
Internal links connecting site content
Outbound links to trusted, relevant resources
Affiliate links you are happy to pass authority through
Any URLs you actively recommend through links
Use No Follow Links When:
Displaying untrusted third party content from guest contributors
Linking to unrelated or paid-for sponsors and ads
Including affiliate links where you don't want to pass on equity
Showing UGC like blog comments with external references
Gauge whether pages deserve for you to vouch for them before selecting link types. Follow links always pass on ranking power - nofollow cuts that off.
How to Technically Implement Follow vs. No Follow Links
The only difference in how you create these link types comes down to a simple HTML attribute.
To make a link nofollow, add rel="nofollow" inside the anchor tag:
<a href="https://www.website.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Anchor Text</a>
Without that attribute, it remains a standard follow link:
<a href="https://www.website.com">Anchor Text</a>
Many CMS platforms like WordPress or Squarespace also let you check nofollow settings on links in the editor UI without touching code.
Tagging nofollow only takes a minute but controls whether search engines register that link recommendation. Adjust attributes as needed per the context and purpose of your links.
Key Takeaways Between Follow and No Follow Links
Follow links pass on ranking power and signal search bots to crawl the URLs. No follow links block authority transfer and tell engines not to follow the link.
Use follow links liberally for internal navigation and outbound recommendations to showcase relevant resources. Apply nofollow selectively where you don't necessarily endorse the content but still want users to access it.
Understanding link equity flow is crucial for both internal site architecture and external SEO. Follow vs no follow impacts everything from indexation to site authority to rankings.
Leverage both link types strategically to control which pages search algorithms evaluate as meaningful endorsements. That allows you to reference other sites for users without directing crawling and ranking power outward where unnecessary.