Should You Use Nofollow Internal Links On Your Website?

Internal linking connects pages and posts of a website, and it’s an important part of SEO. It helps users and search engines find the content on your website, which can improve the user experience (UX) as well as search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

An internal nofollow link is an internal link with a rel=“nofollow” tag. That tag tells search engines to ignore those links when crawling a website.

But since we know how integral internal links are, why would you purposely have search engines ignore them?

Let’s get into it.

What Is the Nofollow Tag?

In 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute. The purpose was to block comment spam on blogs. An example of comment spam is something like, “Visit my discount book store,” with a link that goes back to that person’s website. Whenever a blog commenter added a link to a website, it automatically got the nofollow tag.

According to Google, “From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.”

In 2019, Google decided it was time for the nofollow attribute to “evolve.” Along with adding two new link attributes for signaling sponsored and user-generated content (UGC), the purpose of the nofollow tag changed. Google now says, “Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

Also, instead of simply ignoring links with the nofollow attribute, Google uses the tag “as a way to better understand how to analyze and use links within our systems appropriately.” Here’s what else Google says about nofollow links:

Google comment about nofollow links, which helps inform your nofollow internal links strategy.

When Do Websites Use Internal Nofollow Links?

While we don’t recommend using internal nofollow links, there are a few specific cases when some website owners opt to use them.

Linking to a Page With Similar Content

If a website has two or more pages that have similar content, a nofollow tag may be used. The visitor can find their way to the other pages thanks to the internal links, but a search engine won’t see them. In this case, the website owner may feel that there’s no value in a search engine crawling those links from that page and potentially ranking those linked-to pages higher.

Linking to Low-Quality Pages

Another time when a website owner may opt to use an internal nofollow link is when linking to a low-quality page, meaning one that doesn’t have SEO or rich content. For example, a contact or privacy policy page may be considered low-value.

The idea here is that a visitor who wants to find a contact page or your privacy policy will seek it out. For example, they’ll go to your website and look for a Contact Us page. Since a majority of people aren’t going to be searching for “Brand X privacy policy,” there’s not a pressing need for that type of page to show up in search results.

Linking to an Account Login Page

Similar to the above example, a website owner may use a nofollow tag on an internal link that points to an account login page. Again, most website visitors who have login credentials aren’t going to be searching for the page on Google. And some website owners may not want their account login pages to show up in search results for privacy reasons.

Should You Use Internal Nofollow Links?

To err on the side of caution, don’t use nofollow tags on your internal links. At best, you’ll be wasting your time on micromanaging your site structure instead of creating new content with the ability to rank. At worst, you could harm your search engine ranking.

The ability to remove repetitive or low-value content from SERPs is less important than ensuring what you want ranked has a chance to rank highly. Additionally, since Google only sees nofollow tags as hints instead of directives, those pages may still be ranked, so it’s not an assurance against that happening.

Nofollow Links and PageRank Sculpting

PageRank is Google’s algorithm for analyzing links and factoring them into search ranking. Also referred to as link sculpting at times, PageRank sculpting is when you try to influence your page rank by controlling link juice, like by using nofollow links. Here’s an example:

You have a page on your website with 3 outgoing links. However, you only want juice for 1 of those links. To control this, you add the nofollow attribute to the other 2 links.

It sounds reasonable. If Google is told to ignore 2 of 3 links, then all of its attention will go to that 1 remaining link. Once upon a time, this may have worked, too.

Today, though, using a nofollow tag on those 2 links won’t send more juice to the remaining link; that link will get the same amount of juice as if you didn’t use the nofollow links.

You’ll potentially lose the juice that the other 2 links may have gotten, but you won’t add that juice to the remaining link.

Also, Google no longer automatically ignores pages with nofollow links. They use it as a cue to maybe not follow that page, but the crawler still might factor it into ranking.

Are There Alternatives to Nofollow Links?

If you have similar content and you want search engines to rank one page above another, use canonical links instead of nofollow tags.

Basically, a canonical link tells search engine crawlers that another page should be ranked instead of the open page. This is commonly used if there’s similar copy on two or more pages of a website or multiple websites.

For example, let’s say you publish a blog post on your website and then publish the same article on Medium the following week. You would add a canonical link to the Medium post that goes to the website blog post. This tells search engines to rank the website blog post over the Medium post in search results.

In the case of a self-referential canonical link, it lets search engines know that the current page is also the page that should be ranked above others with similar content.

We discuss canonical links more in our article about removing redirects.

How Do You See if a Link Has a Nofollow Tag?

A link with a nofollow tag will look something like this:

Nofollow internal links example.

There are a couple of ways to find nofollow links on a website.

How To Inspect a Link for a Nofollow Tag

If you want to inspect a particular link to see if it has a nofollow tag, do the following:

  1. Navigate to the website page and find the link.
  2. Right-click the link.
  3. Select Inspect.
  4. Check for the rel=“nofollow” tag.

Here’s an example from this Wikipedia page:

If you right-click on a link about the NASA Mars Helicopter Flight Log and select Inspect from the pop-up menu, a sidebar will appear. This shows you details about the link, including the nofollow link:

Inspect option in Google Chrome.

 

Nofollow link tag.

How To Inspect a Web Page for Nofollow Tags

If you want to inspect an entire web page to see if it has any nofollow tags, do the following:

  1. Navigate to the web page.
  2. Right-click anywhere on the page.
  3. Select Inspect.
  4. Search for rel = “nofollow” using Command + F on Mac or Control + F on Windows.
  5. Look through the results, if there are any.

Final Thoughts About Nofollow Internal Links

Internal links are one of the ways that search engines know to rank your content. Without them, users may never find your web pages when they search on Google.

While there are use cases for using nofollow tags for external links, they can do more harm than good when applied to your internal links.

For help with your SEO strategy, consider installing the Link Whisper WordPress plugin , which makes easy-to-apply suggestions and takes the guesswork out of internal linking.

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