When to use the nofollow tag (and when to avoid it)

Some webmasters are not sure when to use the nofollow tag. Should you use it in links to your own website? Can it help you with ‘crawl prioritization’? When should you avoid the nofollow tag?

the nofollow tag

What is the nofollow tag?

The nofollow tag enables webmasters to tell search engines not to count some of their links to other pages. Search engines won’t use these links as ‘votes’ in their ranking algorithms then.

The nofollow tag has been introduced by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to fight comment spam on blogs. Links to external websites in blog comments usually have the nofollow tag.

Google recommends to use the nofollow tag if you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of pages you link to from your site (untrusted content) and for paid links.

  • Here’s a regular link:
    <a href="https://www.seoprofiler.com">SEOprofiler is a trusted site.</a>
  • Here’s a nofollow link:
    <a href="https://www.example.com">I'm not sure about this site.</a>

Should you use the nofollow tag in links to your own website?

Some people use the nofollow tag for ‘crawl prioritization’. That means that they want to guide search engine bots to the important pages of your web pages. The links to unimportant pages on the website get the nofollow tag.

Google says that this is possible:

“Search engine robots can’t sign in or register as a member on your forum, so there’s no reason to invite Googlebot to follow ‘register here’ or ‘sign in’ links. Using nofollow on these links enables Googlebot to crawl other pages you’d prefer to see in Google’s index.”

Google also says that adding the nofollow link to pages on your own website is not the best thing that you can do:

“However, a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs, and so on — is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.”

Instead of adding nofollow tags to link on your own website, better improve the overall structure of the links on your website.

Google’s John Mueller also confirmed that it is a waste of time to add nofollow links to links to your own web pages.

Don’t use the nofollow tag to exclude pages from indexing

If you don’t want Google to index your sign in pages, create account pages, or similar pages, do not use the nofollow tag to do that. Better include the meta noindex tag on these pages, or block these pages with the robots.txt file of your website.

Google’s John Mueller has confirmed that the nofollow tag is not a replacement for disallow in the robots.txt file of a website:

How to identify nofollow links on your own website

The website audit tool in SEOprofiler shows nofollow links to pages on your own website as a ‘Notice’. That means that this is not a critical error.

However, nofollow links to your own web pages are usually a sign of a website navigation structure that could be improved. As the nofollow tag is usually only used to link to untrusted content, you might create the impression that you’re not trusting your own links.

How to identify nofollow links from other websites

The Link Profiler tool in SEOprofiler makes it very easy to find nofollow links from other websites that point to your website.

Just enter the URL of your website in the Link Profiler tool and then filter the links by “nofollow”:

find nofollow links that point to your website

When to use the nofollow tag

Use the nofollow tag when linking to websites that you don’t want to endorse. Also use the nofollow tag with paid links. Avoid the nofollow tag on links to pages on your own website. There are better ways to show Google the most important pages of your site.

If you want to check the nofollow links that are related to your own website, use the tools in SEOprofiler. You can also check the nofollow links of other websites, and you get tools that help you to improve the links that point to your site:

Check your links

Johannes Selbach

Johannes Selbach is the CEO of SEOprofiler. He blogs about search engine optimization and website marketing topics at "http://blog.seoprofiler.com".