When Should You Mark External Links as Nofollow?

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Last updated: October 1, 2019

Learn what Nofollow links are and when you should (and should not) mark outbound links as Nofollow.

Links, either internal or outbound, can be marked as Dofollow or Nofollow. A Dofollow link is the default. It’s just a normal link. No attribute is required to make a link follow.

A Nofollow link is the alternative. By making a link Nofollow, you’re basically telling Google that this particular link should not be be given any credit in regards to rankings in search results.

So when should you make an outbound link Nofollow? Let’s find out.

What Are Nofollow Links?

The Nofollow attribute was first introduced by Google in 2005. The idea behind the Nofollow attribute was to downgrade spam links such as blog comments.

This is how you can mark a link as Nofollow:

<a href="https://blogpioneer.com" rel="nofollow">Nofollow link</a>

But over the years, the Nofollow attribute has become a victim of its own success and has been heavily misused. Or perhaps I should say, overused.

Backlinks Have Become a Commodity

When Nofollow was introduced, a normal link was always follow. Nofollow was the exception. But because backlinks have become a bit of a commodity, many bloggers and webmasters are reluctant to include (dofollow) links in their content.

It’s like giving away expensive things. So they mark their outbound links as Nofollow. As a result, the Nofollow attribute is not the exception anymore. For them, Nofollow has become the standard.

And then there are bloggers who actually believe Nofollow is the default. They have somehow learnt that links should always be made Nofollow for no particular reason.

September 2019: Introduction of the Sponsored and UGC Attributes

Google has announced two new link attributes to identify outbound links that are sponsored (paid) or user-generated.

These attributes are “sponsored” and “ugc” respectively:

  • Sponsored:
    Recommended for links that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
  • UGC:
    Recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

This also means that the Nofollow attribute will not be treated as a directive anymore. Instead, the Nofollow attribute will now be treated as a hint.

Sounds incredibly vague, but what this essentially means is that Google can now, in some cases, decide to use a Nofollow link for ranking purposes.

My advice?

  • Keep using the Nofollow attribute where applicable (see below).
  • No need to change any existing Nofollow links to Sponsored or UGC (unless you really want to).
  • Use the Sponsored and UGC attributes for newly created links, where applicable.

When to make outbound links Nofollow

When Should You Make Links Nofollow?

A link should, by default, always be follow. And it effectively is, because if you don’t add the Nofollow attribute, that outbound link is a dofollow link.

We really shouldn’t be adding the Nofollow attribute to an outbound link unless we have a valid reason to do so.

Here is a list of situations where I would typically use the Nofollow attribute for an outbound link.

1. Affiliate Links

Affiliate links deserve no credit. They are there for only one reason, and that is to make sales. Also, Google doesn’t like it much when your site is overloaded with affiliate links.

So affiliate links, such as links to Amazon, should always be made Nofollow.

Update: you can now use the Sponsored attribute for affiliate links.

2. Paid Links

Similar to affiliate links, paid links should also be marked as Nofollow, otherwise you may risk a penalty from Google.

It is actually against Google T&C’s to add paid backlinks to content, so it’s best to mark them as Nofollow if you want to keep your rankings in place.

Paid links can be links in sponsored posts, but also backlinks that others ask you to include in your content as if they were natural links.

Update: you can now use the Sponsored attribute for paid links.

3. Multiple Links from One Article to the Same Domain

Whenever I link out to a website more than once from one and the same article, I typically only keep one of them as Dofollow.

I’m certainly not saying that this is standard or best practice, but it’s what I prefer to do.

4. Too Many Links Pointing to the Same Site

I apply a similar principle site-wide. If I find that I’m linking to certain sites often, I usually go through my whole site and mark some of these links as Nofollow.

It’s all about balance.

5. Links to Untrustworthy or Spammy Sites

Why would you link to a dodgy site in the first place? Good point, hardly ever happens, but if it does, I will always use the Nofollow attribute.

6. Links to Sites That Are Totally Unrelated to Your Site

If I absolutely must link to a website that has nothing to do with mine from a content perspective, I will consider marking that link as a Nofollow outbound link.

7. Links in Blog Comments

Outbound links don’t belong in comments in the first place, but if you do happen to approve a comment with a link in it, make sure the Nofollow attribute is added.

Update: you can now use the UGC attribute for blog comment links.

8. Sites That Already Have Gazillions of Links

Sites like Wikipedia typically have a huge amount of backlinks. They really don’t need any more backlinks to maintain or increase their authority.

I personally find linking to a huge site like Wikipedia a bit unoriginal. It often feels like a default thing to do. I prefer to look a bit further and find a better, alternative resource.

If I do end up linking to one of these huge sites, I don’t necessarily add the Nofollow attribute. But I do think twice about it.

If I find that I am linking out to these sites too often then I either try and replace some of these links or I add the Nofollow attribute to some of them. Again, this is a balance thing, not necessarily a best practice thing.

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Final Thoughts on Using Nofollow Links

Be a good Internet citizen and add dofollow outbound links to your site. Links are not scary and should also not be treated as a commodity.

Add links to sources that complement your own content. It provides a better user experience and Google appreciates it too.


Nofollow links

Categories SEO
AJ Mens

I am a corporate IT nerd turned digital marketing enthusiast, specializing in SEO and content strategy. I have been blogging since 2015, and my aim with Blog Pioneer is to help you achieve success online. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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