Use of nofollow in internal and external links

Merche Martínez

Written by Merche Martínez

What is the nofollow link attribute?

The nofollow link attribute prevents the flow of popularity juice from the link source page to the link destination page. This means that the page receiving the link does not benefit in any way from the popularity or credibility of the page from which the link originates. It appeared in 2005 due to the increase of negative link spam in blog comments. Allows you to tell search engines not to follow the link. You can read more about this in the definition of the nofollow attribute in our online marketing dictionary.

Syntax: <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor text</a>

Internal links

Internal links are the ones we have in our website pointing to different internal pages. For example, from the home page we can navigate through the main menu and access different sections, categories, products, etc.

Use of internal links for a correct SEO architecture

One of the important factors for the positioning of a web site is the definition of the information architecture, where the way to navigate through the contents is defined in order to offer the user a satisfactory experience. In this post you can learn more about the application of SEO strategies in the information architecture of online stores.

Recommendations on the use of nofollow in internal links

I’ll keep this quote from 2010 by Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s anti-spam department.

I wouldn’t use nofollow, because I think that does more harm that good

I would not use nofollow because I think it does more harm than good.

Matt Cutts

I leave you the video explaining the use of nofollow in internal links.

In summary:

  • Work on good SEO information architecture so that internal linking benefits the most relevant pages.
  • Use the resources to generate relevant content for the user.
  • Avoid using nofollow in links included in the header and footer.
  • We can use nofollow on links to private management pages of our website, such as the login to access the administrator area. Google’s robot will not be able to access or register them, so they are not candidate pages to be part of Google’s index.
  • In the case of ecommerce we can use nofollow in the links that lead to the cart.

Misuse of nofollow in internal links: link sculpting

Link sculpting is a technique that consists in using nofollow links to distribute in a controlled way the popularity juice on the internal links of the website.

Prior to 2009 there was a belief that PageRank was distributed equally among internal links, so the use of the nofollow link attribute helped to improve the visibility of the other linked pages. This was never confirmed by Google. In fact due to the misuse that was made, in June 2009 Matt Cutts explained that PageRank on nofollow links does not compute, it does not benefit the rest of the links.

PageRank calculationCurrently the nofollow link attribute on internal links can be used to prevent search engines from accessing irrelevant pages/sections. In this way it is intended that these pages/sections are not indexed, as long as they do not receive links from other domains. If the objective is to prevent certain pages/sections from being indexed we must use the meta robots.

The nofollow link attribute does not prevent the page from being indexed.

What can happen, if this technique is abused, is that the site architecture that Google saves is different from the real architecture of the website, so this use of the nofollow link attribute is against Google’s quality guidelines.

Outbound or external links from our website

Sometimes it is necessary to include links to other websites. Misuse of these links can result in a Google penalty. These are the cases in which it is advisable to include the nofollow link element in our external links:

  • Link exchange: before Penguin, all links were valid, so it was common to use reciprocal links between websites. This practice is not recommended, but in case these links are used for visibility, they should contain the nofollow link attribute.
  • Paid links: one way to monetize the website is to include advertising. These links are not natural, so they must contain the nofollow attribute.
  • Links to low quality sites such as directories: we must assess whether these links provide value to the user. If not, they should not be included.
  • Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across multiple sites.

The outgoing links from our web site that are considered correct are those that are of interest to the user. Links that present additional information to the user. For example, on a page about how to get to an event, it would be consistent to include a link to the RENFE, subway or airport page. Another example, if we are talking about a tool, it would be interesting to include the link to your website.

Inbound or external links to our website

External links are those that link to our website from other domains. External links define the popularity profile, which is one of the three pillars of SEO.

Google Penguin

To establish control over external links, in April 2012 Google launched an algorithm update called Google Penguin that is focused on neutralizing attempts to manipulate a website’s popularity. Since then, this algorithm has undergone constant updates.

The objective is to legitimize the inbound links of a website, penalizing the positioning of the site in case of artificially increasing its links and encouraging the use of optimized anchor texts to improve positioning.

Recommendations on the use of nofollow in external links

Suspected unnatural links are those for which it is advisable to include the nofollow link attribute:

  • Links whose text includes keywords: links clearly optimized to improve positioning.
  • Included in link farms or directories: these are those coming from websites with a high number of outbound links.
  • Sitewide links: are found in common areas that are repeated on all or many of the pages, such as in the header, footer or sidebar.
  • Included in unrelated websites: these may be link listings, comments in forums, poor quality sites or pages whose content is not relevant to our website. In these cases it is clearly seen that they are not natural.
  • Link brokers: purchased links of low quality, may come from blog networks.
  • Hidden links in the code: links that are not visible to the user but are visible to search engines.
  • Use of automatic programs or services to create links to your site.

If we detect that there are such links pointing to our website, we must assess whether it can provide visibility or attract target audiences. In this case the recommendation is to include the nofollow link attribute. If not, the option of eliminating these links directly could be considered.

It is not always possible to contact the webmasters of the websites containing these links to have them changed. In this case, Google offers us the Google Disavow Tool for the disavowal of this type of links.

Best practices for inbound external links

It is advisable to build a profile of natural popularity, for this I leave you some good practices on the use of external inbound links.

  • Context coherent with our website: the link must be included in a page whose subject matter is related to the page that is being linked.
  • Varied link text: if a large number of links include the keywords it could be suspicious.
  • Domains with authority: receiving links from sites with authority is positive. Especially if they are .edu, .org, .gov domains.
  • Sustained and gradual creation rhythm: inbound links must have a progressive evolution. If many links to our site appear in a few days it would be a suspicious practice.
  • Variety of domains providing links: it is better to receive fewer links from a list of varied domains than to have many links coming from a few domains.

Now that we know how to make good use of the nofollow link attribute, I invite you to learn how to optimize internal links to improve positioning.


SEO Advanced techniques. Fernando Maciá. Ed. Anaya

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Merche Martínez
Merche Martínez
Former SEO consultant at Human Level. Graduated in Computer Engineering with several specialization courses oriented to usability, layout and database optimization. Specialist in national and international SEO. She is also certified in Google AdWords.

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