When we first started out in search engine optimization (SEO), we’ll admit – we didn’t give nofollow links much thought. Our focus was solely on obtaining high-quality backlinks to directly influence search rankings, the coveted “dofollow” links we all obsess over in this industry. However, as time passed and our knowledge expanded, we realized those pesky nofollow links can still provide significant value in the right contexts. So we had to change our closed-minded early opinions! Let’s take a deeper, nuanced look at what nofollow links entail and analyze scenarios where dedicating time to earn nofollow link placements could make strategic sense.
What Are Nofollow Links?
Before we dive into whether nofollow links deserve a place in your time allocation and link building strategy, let’s revisit the fundamentals for those newer to SEO. Nofollow links indicate to search engine crawlers that the links should not influence the search rankings of the site being referenced. Webmasters implement these directives by adding the rel="nofollow" attribute, instructing Google and Bing to essentially ignore the link from an equity transfer standpoint.
In contrast, regular links pass along equity that search algorithms factor into ranking calculations. So site owners focus heavily on obtaining dofollow backlinks from reputable domains within their space to maximize search visibility. Makes total sense, right? Dofollow links provide direct SEO juice potential while nofollow links seemingly just take up space.
Well here’s the thing - the web isn’t always black and white! Just because nofollow links don’t pass direct equity does not make them completely useless. And once we realized some of the secondary benefits nofollow links offer, we changed our closed-minded stance to incorporate them into link building strategies when warranted.
The Potential Value of Nofollow Backlinks
So why would anyone bother using nofollow backlinks if they supposedly hold websites back from that coveted first page search real estate? What’s the point?
Well, publishers implement nofollow links primarily to:
Stop comment spam tactics with people leaving irrelevant links
Prevent manipulative paid links and selling unethical links schemes
Attribute sources without “voting” for other sites in search algorithms
And webmasters often add the nofollow tag to links within user-generated content like blog comment sections. However, nofollow links aren’t useless despite not passing direct equity. Here are some of key benefits they provide when implemented strategically:
Relevance Signals to Strengthen Search Associations
While Google excludes nofollow links from their ranking influence, the engine still indexes and analyzes them. So nofollow links actually serve as relevance signals about a website’s subject matter expertise. If you secure contextual nofollow links, Google sees other respected sites recommending your content as an authority resource. And all of those credibility endorsements indirectly strengthen your site’s theme associations in search engines’ eyes.
For example, if an eco-tourism site lands unpublished niche links highlighting their sustainability best practices content, Google takes note of the ringing endorsements from industry authorities. This leads to stronger connections around eco-tourism search themes over time. So while they don’t pass equity, nofollow links provide search visibility benefits regarding relevance.
Referral Traffic Potential from Niche Sites
Here’s another fact that took us a while to fully grasp around nofollow links. While Google neutralizes their search rankings power, site visitors still see and interact with all links. In other words, web users don’t know links are nofollowed with special coding! So compelling niche nofollow links can still drive engaged referral traffic, especially from contextual industry sites related to the linked content.
For example, if an avid hiker’s blog links to a hiking gear manufacturer’s new equipment releases announcement through nofollow links, search engines ignore the credibility transfer. However, blog readers still find and click great recommendations to visit merchants’ websites and make purchases. And referral sales from enough niche partnerships can really add up from previously overlooked nofollow links!
Brand Awareness Benefits Among Influencers
Let’s also consider effective link building as a digital PR and branding play short of just chasing search visibility. Outside of driving direct traffic and lifting organic rankings, getting your company name mentioned on well-read sites strengthens brand familiarity and recognition.
Most publishers feel more comfortable linking out to other helpful resources through nofollow links. Major news outlets nofollow all external site links by default to avoid accusations around influencing search results. And nofollow links help bloggers, journalists and influencers reference products they personally use without concerns over indirectly promoting a competitor site they may also cover at times.
Analyzing if Nofollow Link Building Deserves Your Time
Now that we've covered the secondary benefits nofollow links driving when implemented mindfully, are chasing these discounted placements actually worth your precious time investment? Can they provide positive ROI if pursued strategically?
We admit, when we first learned about nofollow links early on, we completely dismissed their value and focused solely on traditional white hat link building tactics fueling organic rankings. But over time and through continued education around holistic SEO strategies, we changed our stance. We now believe nofollow link outreach deserves careful consideration as part of balanced digital marketing campaigns when incorporated strategically into overall plans.
Weighing Tradeoffs Around Link Building Opportunities
In our opinion with experience, pure nofollow link building likely provides limited ROI for most sites compared to time invested pursuing other marketing initiatives. Securing editorially given contextual dofollow links, creating link worthy assets driving organic clicks despite nofollow attributes, and direct revenue driving activities tend to win out in terms of resource allocation.
However, incorporating some nofollow link outreach into overall strategies makes sense depending on scale and capacity factors. Relevant niche partnerships, guest posting on brand appropriate blogs, and providing reciprocal value to quality industry analysts open up nofollow link placement potential requiring just occasional upkeep.
For example, an SEO agency secures nofollow links highlighting their consulting guide from web design blogs by contributing advice around optimizing site architecture for search visibility. So they build relationships leading to contextual branding mentions in return for useful tips in their wheelhouse.
Learn: How Social Signals Help SEO
Considering Tradeoffs and Evaluating Time Investments
Here are our core strategic recommendations around nofollow links:
Seek only niche placements aligning with overall SEO and branding goals
Only pursue nofollow links with strong anticipated referral traffic potential
Take into account opportunity costs around other marketing initiatives
Incorporate both dofollow and occasional nofollow outreach together
We suggest evaluating scenarios holistically through cost benefit analysis both short and long-term. Relevant nofollow links as part of larger integrated strategies often provide positive ROI. But hours spent manually emailing every niche blog begging for links highlighting your latest eBook provides questionable benefits compared to other options.
As we learned firsthand through previous stubborn reluctance, you can actually incorporate nofollow links rather painlessly into overall mix. But blindly chasing all nofollow link opportunities without weighing strategic value against spend is suboptimal allocation. Master selectively leveraging the power of nofollow links through targeted relationship building over years compounding awareness and traffic.