Nofollow Link Attribute – So How Does Google Treat It (& Do We Need to Care?)

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A few days ago I came across a post at Search Engine Roundtable that features the Google’s thought on link building through comment spamming, the post ended up with the final words of Matt Cutts on how Google treat nofollow attribute:

Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Links that use the rel=nofollow microformat do not pass PageRank and are not used in our ranking algorithms.

This does not mean that the target URL will never be crawled. By adding a rel=nofollow to a link, you’re essentially removing a sign pointing to the restroom. Just because that sign is gone does not mean that Googlebot will never find the restroom. Using rel=nofollow is not a way to block crawling altogether – if you need to do that, then use the robots.txt file.

Matt Cutts is one of the smartest people I know in the search industry but, sir, I have some concerns about using nofollow now. Instant and obvious questions that come to my mind are:

  1. Does Google really ignore "no-followed" link as a ranking signal?
  2. Is there any use in getting nofollow links from the high priority sites like Wikipedia?
  3. Will a nofollow link from a mediocre blog and a nofollow link from a high-authority website like Wikipedia be treated equally when it comes to ranking in SERPs? 

While I was researching the question above, I found Matt’s video where he talks about nofollow links and how Google treats them, and in that video he clearly says that Google does not pass any page rank juice if the link has nofollow attribute and even if you have a nofollow link from a high-authority site like Wikipedia, this is not going to affect your search engine rankings.

Ok, while reading Jennita’s post on SEOmoz about ‘The Social Media Marketers SEO checklist’, I noticed 2 things that got my attention:

  1. Social Media Links are "nofollowed" (if not always, then most of the time)
  2. Social Media have influence on search rankings.

Does Google Treat Social Media Links differently?

Well, according to Matt Cutts video on Youtube’s ‘Google Webmaster Help’ channel, they do use social media as ranking signals.

While writing this post I though it will be a great idea to add the perspective of those who are in the search industry for years and have strong eye on day-to-day changes in search industry.

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Samuel Crocker

“My answer to this question is admittedly a bit of a cop-out. I have not run enough tests on this particular issue to try to overrule what Matt has said. Although I would suggest that whilst going after "no-follow" links is not always the most valuable use of time or resource in linkbuilding efforts, I do not believe the fact that Matt claims that these links are not used as a ranking signal renders these links entirely useless for other purposes.

As has been covered by the folks at SEOmoz (and plenty elsewhere) there is every opportunity that if you share a link that is extraordinarily helpful in the comment sections (one place where lots of no-follow links turn up) sometimes it is enough for authors to go back and edit the story to include that link and allow it to be followed. There are a number of other reasons to include these links – potential traffic/business if you provide valuable insights and people want to know more about you, potential for these links to be picked up and stripped of no-follows by scraper sites (could be a pro or a con), etc.

In addition to blog comments Wikipedia is another example of places where no-follow links may be of value. Again, even if we accept Mr. Cutts indications that all no-follow links are not treated as a ranking signal, it doesn’t mean that they cannot be beneficial to a business. Setting trust metrics and SEO to one side, there is definitely commercial value in getting a link or a mention from a high authority/well respected site. Given the choice over a no-follow link from the BBC or no link at all, I would take the no-follow link any day of the week. The obvious preference would be to get a followed link but some sites cannot or will not link out to commercial sites with followed links and in many cases the mere mention can be worth a substantial amount to your business.

At the end of the day I think one interesting distinction that I have not heard Matt Cutts make is that "Google does not crawl these links". Sure it may not help you rank any higher (if you accept Mr. Cutts explanation at face value) but he hasn’t said anything about whether it can help your pages discovered/indexed more quickly. And as Google points out in their support section they say "in general" they do not follow these links. They go out of their way to say that even though this is a directive and may be used for crawl allowance and so forth it does not mean that they won’t lead to the page/site landing in the index – ergo they may well have been crawled anyway.

My final piece of advice would be that we should always question these statements a little bit and try to test them on their own. I am currently running a little test on this myself on one of my sites… I wish that I had a conclusive rebuttal for you at this point, but I don’t. At the end of the day, I try not to dwell too much on any one thing that the G team says about what is or is not a ranking factor and try to keep testing new ideas. It isn’t always easy to be so skeptical but I know the Google guys are smart and I think they choose their words very carefully knowing how closely we are listening.”

Gianluca Fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO specialist from Spain and he has a great SEO insight. I invited him to join the conversation and share his opinion and he said:

“You rightly report what Matt Cutts recently told about no-follow. And I think it is correct (why would he need to not say the truth, let’s not start being conspiranoic).

But the fact that no-followed links are not passing PR is not denying that they are not considered as a ranking factor.

Matt Cutts – again – in a recent post, or probably in a comment he left on YCombinator – said that actually Google is not using just PR to determine if a page in above another in a SERP. That is logical, if we consider that ranking factor are also the anchor texts, the title tags, etc. etc.

But what makes me believe that Google is using no-followed links as a ranking factor (maybe a minor one, but as a factor anyway), is the importance of citation as a way to define the popularity of a website.

This is especially true in the case of the social media use of links, and we know – officially too – that Google use links in RTs and shares (more the first ones though) as a ranking factor… and we all know those links are No Follow ones.”

Ross Hudgens

I asked this question to Ross Hudgens on twitter and he shared his quick opinion, he said:

“I honestly don’t know how much credit they give to it or not, I haven’t done any research on it. I just trust they give 0 and…Act accordingly.”

Tadeusz Szewczyk

Tadeusz Szewczyk is an SEO analyst from Germany and he shares his opinion here:

“Is the nofollow attribute a ranking factor or signal? Yes, it

is, most probably, but it’s a negative one. It’s a negative ranking factor like keyword density or the meta keywords tag probably is. Too much of nofollow on your site is bad, it means you have lots of low quality content or paid links.

Likewise too many or not enough nofollow links leading to your site can mean that there is something wrong with your site. ​Also as the PageRank from nofollow links evaporates it’s bad for your site especially when you use it on internal links.​

This is a complex issue I can’t explain in a short paragraph, thus I have elaborated on that topic over at SEOptimise.”


After collecting opinions from the professionals from different parts of the world, I can conclude that there is a big ‘May Be’ here. The best practice that one should implement is to actually consider Nofollow attribute in their SEO strategies as they might or might not be the ranking signal but they are surely passing some valuable traffic to your website.

Do you really think Google uses "nofollowed" links as a ranking signal? Please share your opinions!

Moosa Hemani

Moosa Hemani

Inbound Governor at
Moosa Hemani is a strategist and a blogger at We also help our client get better online visibility using all inbound marketing channels.
Moosa Hemani
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  • payday loans online

    This is very true, I used to do research for few of my sites and other things but I had yet not did it exclusive for “Nofollow” feature. My major research on Social Media Marketing. Great job done.

    • Moosa Hemani

      Thank you… i hope you like it!!

  • payday loans online

    This is very true, I used to do research for few of my sites and other things but I had yet not did it exclusive for “Nofollow” feature. My major research on Social Media Marketing. Great job done.

  • Bruce Michael

    Main Problem is that Matt didn’t even explain it in detail or he don’t even know the proper way from which Google Robots crawl a site 😀

  • James Hind

    Why does Tadeusz suggest nofollow is an indicator of paid links? How is it?

    • Moosa Hemani

      James, i guess everyone have his own perspective.. you may not agree but i am sure he have his own research, experiments and thoughts behind this statement you should read to his detailed perspective on the given link.

    • Tad Chef

      Nofollow is meant for UGC and paid links according to Google so most legit sites use the nofollow attribute on comments, forum postings plus ads, affiliate links and the likes. Or you can use nofolow on links you don’t trust (for instance when disagreeing with the source) so in either case having lots of nofollow links shows that your content is poor.

  • Ugo

    I personally think that there is a bias towards nofollow links having some sort of equity irrespective of what Mr Cutts says. Lets face it, if he said commenting on blogs with nofo’s enabled passes value then we would have spamland instead of insightful comments.

    On that basis it is possible that Google can tell the differences between sources (Blog, News site, Social media platform) – something very plausible which would explain social media having a greater impact than comments on blogs. ( or is it volume over time that helps??)

    If nofo’s dont count, why the heck does WMT reference them? I’m not saying its bad that it does but why would it?

    • Moosa Hemani

      link your point! yeah why WMT reference them? Thanks for your participation.

  • Lonnie Feldman

    This was an enlightening post because, being new to internet marketing, am really trying to grasp the value of different types of backlinks. It seems that there is still value from a no-follow link though, but you need to really be aware of where you are leaving links to make efficient use of your time.

    • Moosa Hemani

      em glad you like it Lonnie.. in my opinion No-follow link do have a value but you have to be careful about using it! like you are taking a no-follow link from a high reputed website and link contain relevancy.

  • Andy Kuiper – SEO Vancouver

    “Do you really think Google uses “nofollowed” links as a ranking signal?” Absolutely without any hesitation, for sure, yes… in the case of social media/blogs anyway 🙂

  • Syed Khaled Hussaini

    As you mentioned, while it may not exactly pass the PR juice, it may help in getting the link page crawled faster. That’s a good enough reason to leave meaningful comments from time to time.

  • Toronto SEO and Marketing Corp

    No follow is important to have because it simply wouldn’t be natural to have all “do-follow” links…

  • SEO Services India

    It really does not stop to pass the juice to the pages. so i suggest not using this meta untill required very much.

  • Barry Adams

    Re: Tad’s quote: “It’s a negative ranking factor like keyword density or the meta keywords tag probably is.”

    Eh, no.

    The amount of nofollowed links on your page is irrelevant. (Imagine a blog post gathering 1000’s of comments, not unusual on popular blogs – they’d all be marked as spam sites according to that logic.)

    Neither is the meta keywords tag a negative signal – it’s simply being ignored.

    Keyword density, you might be on to something there, but it’s probably better to refer to it as keyword stuffing.

  • Derek Jansen

    Regardless of the hype, I’ve found nofollows to be effective in passing juice – just not as effective as dofollows. I think a good combination of both reflects a balanced, natural link building approach and would be most effective.

    • Moosa Hemani

      Derek this is what i want to deliver in this post… regardless of the so much talk about nofollow i guess there should be a balanced of do follow and no follow tags… cuz on a ground reality all no follow and all do follow both pattens are not natural in my eye…

      but while garbing no-follow links one should prefer the no-follow links from High priority website that fits your niche.

      • Jeff McNeill

        Absolutely Moosa, this is the point. “Natural” links, aka natural relevance, has a distribution of follow and nofollow, as well as deep links and home page links, link title diversity, geographic diversity, etc.

  • Jeff McNeill

    This is an easy one. Linkjuice doesn’t flow over nofollow, therefore PageRank is not affected by these links. HOWEVER, there are some 200 different factors (PageRank being only one) which Google uses to determine relevance. Therefore nofollow links from at least some sites do indeed affect rankings. Create two sites and from one of them build a few links from Wikipedia and see how Google treats them differently.

    • Moosa Hemani

      WOW! Jeff did you play any experiment on this? i would love if you can share here or may be somewhere…

      Thanks for your views as well…

  • Phuket Villas For Sale

    We are still being hypnotized by PageRank and LinkJuice. These are not the most important factors, folks!

    • Moosa Hemani

      Mate thanks for your comment… but i believe leaving anything in SEO actually means allowing competitor to win over you… and that is why people do experiments and researches.

  • Raja

    Nofollow links can be used to make sure google crawls the page and the page is indexed, but I think it will not impact the PR

  • David

    Most of my backlinks indicated in my Google Webmaster Tools metrics are ‘no follow’. I have to assume the presence of these links in GWT means they are factored into the Google ranking algorithm. My websites with such ‘no follow’ backlinks have page rank as well as visibility in Google search results.

  • Chris Burgess

    David’s comment above seems to suggest that Google Ranks “nofollow” without much problem. According to his Google Webmaster Tools. Ugo further up this page also seems to be suggesting something similar. Matt Cutts also has suggested something along the same line in this video: How do you rate links from sites like Twitter and Facebook?
    While the jury is still out. I can see which way the evidence is pointing.

    Chris Burgess

  • Chris Burgess

    But on the other hand this page has over 300 social media links and only has a PR 3 seems to discount that completely.