Are Nofollow links a Google ranking factor?

At first glance, the average website user cannot tell whether a link is Nofollow or Dofollow.

You can copy or click on a Nofollow link in the same way as any other link on the web.

Behind the scenes, however, there is quite a big difference.

Google regards Dofollow links as a vote of confidence in the information shared on this web page. These are ranking factors.

Nofollow links are a bit more nuanced. Whether or not Nofollow links are a ranking factor is up for debate.

Some claim that Nofollow links have no impact on rankings, and others claim that they still help, but not to the same degree as Dofollow links.

What is the truth ?

Discover more truth about Google ranking factors.

The Claim: Nofollow Links as a Google Ranking Factor

In 2005, Google joined forces with MSN Search and Yahoo to create an initiative to combat comment spam.

This new initiative was the Nofollow attribute.

Visit my site discount pharmaceuticals.

This comment would be transformed into

Visit my site discount pharmaceuticals.

The blog post stated that links with the tag would receive no “credit” when ranking search results. Anything containing the tag would not be “tracked” by Googlebot and would pass much less SEO value. It was a simple concept.

Nofollows has enabled webmasters to discourage comment link spam by rendering all such links effectively worthless in the eyes of the bad actors who place them. Using Nofollows also ensured that sponsored links did not violate Google’s quality guidelines.

Link buying and selling activity has taken a big hit.

Website owners have started covering all external links with a Nofollow attribute to protect against Google updates. SEOs were not interested in Nofollow links.

Many SEOs have jumped to the conclusion that Nofollow links are totally worthless. Anyone who runs a blog has probably argued with a contributor about Nofollow links.

And it stayed that way until 2020, when Google updated how it handles the Nofollow tag.

The proof: Nofollow links as a Google ranking factor

To determine if Nofollow links are a Google ranking factor, we need to understand what rel=”Nofollow” is and whether Nofollow links pass PageRank or any other ranking factor to Google.

Rel Nofollow defined

The rel=”Nofollow” attribute is a basic microformat or single-problem solution. The solution was created by Matt Cutts (Google) and Jason Shellen (Blogger, Google).

“By adding rel=”Nofollow” to a hyperlink, a page indicates that the destination of that hyperlink should not be given any additional weight or ranking by user agents who perform link analysis on web pages ( for example, search engines).”

The definition provides two main use cases: user comments and links that the author wants to point to but avoids approving.

Much later, to help with organization, Google added two additional attributes that perform the same function. They offer you:

  • Use rel=”sponsored” for advertisements and sponsored links.
  • Use rel=”ugc” for user-generated content that you don’t necessarily have control over, such as comments and forum posts.
  • Use rel=”Nofollow” as a catch-all. Google advises developers to use rel=”Nofollow” whenever they don’t want to endorse a site or don’t have control over the link.

Do Nofollow tags pass PageRank?

In 2009 (before the 2020 update), Matt Cutts was very clear in a blog post that Nofollow links do not pass PageRank or anchor text.

This was in response to questions about an antiquated SEO practice known as PageRank sculpting.

The last word is: “The key thing you need to know is that Nofollow links do not help sites rank higher in Google search results.”

It seemed that the topic of Nofollow links as a ranking factor was entirely resolved.

Google introduced changes to how it handles the Nofollow tag and reopened the discussion in an algorithm update on March 1, 2020.

Google Algorithm Update 2020

Google’s official announcement said, “For crawling and indexing purposes, Nofollow will become an index starting March 1, 2020.”

Previously, Google treated Nofollow links as a command. Google has not crawled or indexed links marked as Nofollow.

Now Google says it will consider the Nofollow link attribute as a hint.

Martin Splitt, the developer advocate at Google, further clarified the ramifications of the update in response to a tweet.

Undoubtedly an important nuance.

More recently, Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, took to Twitter to say the following.

It seems that the 2020 algorithm update allows crawling and indexing of Nofollow links. Yet the links are not associated with (endorsed by or given additional weight by) your site.

Our verdict: Nofollow links are not a Google ranking factor

Are Nofollow links a Google ranking factor?

Nofollow links are not a Google ranking factor. Their function is to tell search engines not to add extra weight or ranking.

Nofollow links are an inappropriate way to prevent search engines from finding a web page, as Google may decide to crawl and index Nofollow links, but that’s it.

Whether or not the anchor text of Nofollow links has any weight cannot be confirmed and is still open to debate. I have yet to read a compelling argument or case study proving anything other than the correlation one way or the other.

That’s not to say you should avoid Nofollow links; they are a natural part of a solid digital marketing strategy.

Find out the truth about all the myths and confirmed Google ranking factors.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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