Look who follows NoFollow links!

Earlier this year, I speculated on how the search engines treat NoFollow links.  For those who might be a little green, NoFollow links are not totally ignored by the search engines.  For those who really, really green, NoFollow links are believed to be totally ignored by the search engines (because they have the rel=”nofollow” attribute in the link code).

So we ran a little experiment. 

A client of ours had a fully developed website that has never been used.  Not a single link points to this website, so in the eyes of the search engines, it should not exist. 

It was not indexed at Yahoo. It should go without saying that Yahoo displayed no backlinks.

The site was indexed at Google.  (How, why and whether Google should index orphan sites that have not been released to the public is a topic for another post.) Google showed no backlinks, but the site did rank #8 at Google for one very important search, based primarily on the name of the domain. It did not show up in the top 100 for a few other key searches. All searches are for local terms specific to a certain city, so they are moderately low competition.

For three weeks, we posted comments on NoFollow blogs (yes, intelligent comments reflecting the specific content of the blog posts) to create a steady stream of NoFollow links, without creating any DoFollow or “normal” hyperlinks.

Were the NoFollow links followed?

At the end of week 4, we found Yahoo had indexed the website and showed 51 backlinks.  All of these are NoFollow links. The more important searches were all showing in the top 20, one as high as position #6. Remember that these are moderately low-competition, local searches, but this is all on the strength of a few weeks of exclusively NoFollow links.

Google showed no backlinks after 4 weeks.  No surprise there; Google is very sporadic with if, when, how and which sampling of backlinks it chooses to display. The ranking at position #8 had not changed, but a couple other search terms were now ranking at Google, one of them as high as position #11. Again, this is exclusively on the strength of NoFollow blog comments.

What can we conclude about NoFollow links?

NoFollow links still obviously count at Yahoo.  Do they count as much as DoFollow links?  A more complicated experiment might help answer that question.  Anyone feel like taking up the challenge?

NoFollow links also appear to count at Google.  Or perhaps some do and others don’t, depending on other factors Google might use to rate links from specific domains. However, we can be sure that Google does follow at least some NoFollow links.

The conclusion I would draw from this is that people really should not focus on the NoFollow/DoFollow issue. Build links that are officially followable when you can, but don’t let a NoFollow attribute in a page’s links dissuade you from creating a link you would otherwise pursue.


  1. Yahoo is far less sophisticated than Google. Both probably follow the link to see where it leads but I sincerely doubt that Google will give any credit to a nofollow link. That's the reason it's there.

  2. This is an interesting experiment, David! I also see 'NoFollow' links counted "somehow" by 'Yahoo' since 'SiteExplorer' shows up many backlinks form NoFollow blogs.

  3. I hope something transfers because tons of old links have changed to no-follow on blog comments.

  4. From the day the Google and some of the blog-software-makers came up with the nofollow (at SES NY), Yahoo said they thought it was not a good solution and they proposed an other one. But they were to late.
    But they also said, from they one, they would follow those links, but tread them a little different.

  5. This is a nice experiment that proves a link is a link. It's almost like the SEs way of rewarding those who leave comments regardless of the value they're gaining in return; sure hope that’s not the case. If this holds true then it will also make it easier to diversify your link building strategies. Thanks for sharing this information.

  6. Jeez! think i might be re-thinking my posting tactics if they are taken into account by the SE's this much-has anyone come up with a strategy to test this out properly in Google?

  7. Thanks for the information about the NoFollow links. I just wanna ask how do you guys or i mean what is your ways to determine if it is DoFollow links or NoFollow?

  8. Google's business model is based on their precious algorith… In it fully understandable that noone knows how their algo exaclt functions

    What we have to do is what the author of this post did…

    Test Test Test

    Personally i do various tests on my webpages and measure the results. Then i just do more tests…

    Reading some authority blogs and forum on search engine optimization helps but testing is the best guide for everything…

  9. What ratio of Follow to NoFollow would you recommend? Would you just be sure to "throw in" some NoFollow for good measure?

  10. Wow, so if someone wants to be in the first rank in yahoo, just try no follow. and that's all right?

  11. Umm, by the way, i think that google can decide the fate of a site, something have to change in the SEO world…. umm, isnot it?

  12. Nofollow is such a fallacy – a backlink is a backlink. the nofollow attribute has been devised to ensure that there is no leakage of PR from the outbound site – but it still adds value as a link to the site . Therefore, if you dont worry about PR, go out and get nofollow links!!

  13. nofollow backlinks maybe effect your site on yahoo,but it is not effect on google,you know nofollow links has no pr,and if you want to have a good position on google,you should have a high pr.

  14. I've been testing nofollow blog commenting myself recently. The funny thing I've discovered is that google indexed my blog through nofollow link and showed it as cached. However after 2 days, they stopped showing it in the index, until some of my articles from ezinearticles started to pop up, then they started showing it again with the date when they have indexed it through nofollow. That is weird in my opinion…

  15. Ugh. Have I wasted time searching for DoFollow sites ? I wonder if anyone will really crack the Google code ? (Gurus selling the "latest, greatest" excluded of course).

  16. Thanks for confirming what I always suspected. Did you keep count of all the nofollows you commented on? What kind of ratio did you get?

  17. It makes sense. I've notices on the google webmaster tools many nofollow links I've posted months ago are displaying and counting as external links. I guess not only Yahoo has a methodology to analize websites and make the links valid but also Google.

  18. I 100% agree with you, nofollows do count, linkjuice do passes through it but its not that much effective than the dofollow ones but still they count and they do help in improving rankings.

  19. lol it seems like google uses a random number generator to include links, but ive seen someone from google say that they hold more links than they show.

  20. Great lead, thanks for the new info. So nofollows aren't always dead ends on Yahoo. As an outsourced SEO writer, that's good to know.

  21. I have to say that, especially for low competition keywords, I have found a large group of no-follow links to be more than enough to start ranking well in both Yahoo and Google

  22. Interesting experiment. We will never know how Google treats nofollow links. But, I think its a safe bet to say they don't give as much juice to them as dofollow links.

  23. This is a great post. Finally i knew the difference betwen nofollow links and dofollow links. Dofollow rocks!

  24. I observed that no follow links are counted by google too.

  25. One of my web site ranking fine on Yahoo has no backlinks. lol

  26. Glad you guys did the experiment for me… I was thinking of doing it but it would have taken forever. Thanks guys.

  27. no follow made my website rank great for some keywords, i think search engines are counting no-follows backlinks.

  28. Great information and very useful. This was a well done experiment and provides some clear imperical data to draw conclusion from as opposed ot lots of conjecture and speculation. Thanks for making this information available. The nofollow / dofollow area is pretty muddy and this adds a sliver of clarity.

  29. I think the rel=nofollow simply avoids link juice flowing to a particular page, the page of this site may have ranked due to 1 or more of Googles other 100 ranking factors. Even though links are no followed this does not mean google cannot peak at the site or even index the page it is flowing to it simply means PageRank won't flow, this is why Google recommend using the nofollow on sponsered links. If Google allowed link juice to flow through nofollow links they would be basically endorsing selling links to boost PR which is strictly against their terms of service.

    Saying this there is a lot more than link juice that flows through a link ie, anchor text, authority and relevance and this is an area for more investigation.

  30. I'm using no follow and do follow site to get my backlinks from and I think its working great, although I'm not sure if i'm getting some link jiuce from those no follow site.

  31. What a great article, I've always wondered about nofollow links because they do appear to send a lot of traffic to my website, especially when I post at really popular sites like Mashable.

  32. Interesting experiment. Looks like Google does use nofollow for indexing purposes. However, I think the experiment has failed to prove that it helps in rankings since as you've mentioned the keywords weren't competitive and could have scored high ranking without any off site SEO.

  33. I was wondering about this. Thank you for doing the experiment. I guess no link is a wasted link.

  34. From my own research I would have to say that search engines to give a certain amount of link love to sites that have the no follow attribute. I know they arent meant to but I have seen sites with 99% no follow links and they still manage to rank

  35. Yes, I also have heard this about no-follow links.

  36. This is a great news, everyday of my work is on posting links and finding sites that are DO FOLLOW, if i found a site that says no follow on my software, i ignore it with no thinking twice. Now I can try posting in no follow sites to gain visibility on search engines.thanks for the article.

  37. Wow this is a very interesting experiment. I thought that NoFollow means NoFollow and that it doesn't count as backlink at all. I have to rethink my backlink strategy now.

    Thanks a lot for sharing

  38. Thank you so much for this article and test. I have been trying to find facts on the nofollow for a while now and it seems there are a lot of opinions out there. This confirmed my thinking and some of the results I have seen. I will definitely take the advice to not worry so much and focus more on quality.

  39. thanks for sharing i know there are some value even in no follow links. you can never tell

  40. After doing my own research kind of like what you have written about here I have come to the same conclusion. Even though a link is no follow it has been my experience as well that Yahoo and Google do follow at least some of these so the end result is try to find the do follow links but do not stray away from the no follow links.

    Thanks for posting your results, its great to see others experimenting too and not just being a follower, well no pun intended! 🙂

  41. David, thanks a lot for the time you spent for the research and for the post. The question regarding no-follow and do-follow was one of the most unclear for me in the SEO job. I've already sent the link to your post to my colleagues who insisted that no-follow links have no value! Now I have a good argument – thank you one more time.

  42. Yea, there has been a lot of talk about the value of no follow links. its great to hear that they have some value. Excellent article. Thanks for this.

  43. I tried this before too–I had a feeling Yahoo didn't care about rel=nofollow. There's this forum that I have thousands of posts in, but all signature links are nofollowed. I just changed my signature to a keyphrase that I wanted, and surprise surprise, it ranked #1 in Yahoo for that keyword. What's more surprising is it also ranks #1 in Google if you do an exact search.

  44. Hey, Thanks for this great info, Now I know the value of "no Follow Links" aside from "do follow" . I've been curious about this. Sometimes, It's the content that counts not the "no follow"/ "do follow links".

  45. That's a great experiment. I tend to believe that No-Follow will soon be a thing of the past.

  46. It really tragic that I avoided no follow links like the plague for so long. I am now starting to see the light and realize a backlink is a backlink, especially since i do allot of social bookmarking.

    You just never know if those sites will makes their links do-follow in the future also, and i do believe that google places allot of emphasis on link diversity.

  47. Thanks for the article. Like Wilson i also wouldn't care too much about the nofollow or dofollow links as long as the comments are useful

  48. Webmaster tools is better at showing links in, but still seems to miss alot out 🙂

  49. I really thought that "no follow" links is not count as backlinks.. This article got me interested!!!

  50. I think you need nofollow links to make sure that your link building is balanced. If you only use dofollow links this may be a sign to Google that you're building your links artificially.