There's a common saying among marketers and SEOs that not all links are created equal. Similar to how a Nobel Peace Prize is a much bigger deal and much more prestigious than, let's say, first place in an eighth grade spelling bee contest, certain links are seen as more credible by Google's search algorithm and have more SEO value or "link juice."
As you may or may not know, these inbound links come in two main forms: "DoFollow links" and "NoFollow links." This post will outline the key differences between these link types and will offer explanation on the true value of NoFollow links for SEO and other over-looked benefits such as referring website traffic, lead conversions and additional inbound links.
Wait, What's The Difference Between DoFollow and NoFollow Links?
Good question! To put it simply, DoFollow links offer true SEO value and "link juice" since they're recognized by Google as "votes" of credibility (and since they're obtained the most naturally). NoFollow links are said to offer no SEO value since the rel="nofollow" attribute value/tag assigned to these links instructs Google to not "follow" the link in their ranking algorithm.
Google introduced the rel="nofollow" tag back in 2005 to fight against spammy blog comments that were attempting to trick their ranking algorithm by building large amounts of links for specific keyword-rich link text. This in turn helped these spammers' websites rank at the top of the search results for these keyword phrases due to the artificial link volume/referring votes they had built.
Do NoFollow Links Really Offer NO SEO Value?
Well, not exactly. It's a bit complicated but let's dig into things. Google wants you to think there's no value but many leading minds in the SEO field have shared their own thoughts and insights based on their own experiments and experiences.
Matt Cutts (the lead guy at Google who controls the knobs and dials on their search algorithm) has stated that their engine takes "nofollow" literally and does not "follow" the link at all. But studies reveal that Google does follow the link, but it does not index the linked-to page, unless it was in Google's index already for other reasons (such as other, DoFollow links that point to the page). This is an important piece of the equation that should be noted.
Another thing we know in this modern era of SEO, post-Penguin update, is that link diversity is key. This means diversity in the websites that are linking to you, diversity in the link text used for these links and diversity in the types of links in your overall inbound link portfolio. Think about it, wouldn't it look a little suspicious if ALL your site's inbound links were DoFollow links? This isn't natural since the large majority of links from social media sites for example are NoFollow links and a percentage of website's who pass on links are default NoFollow links. The point is a healthy mix of NoFollow links among your treasured DoFollow links is a good thing and they shouldn't be removed unless you're confident they're low quality links that could harm your site.
It's also true that NoFollow links are likely to help you attract DoFollow links which based on the fine print in Cutts' definition of NoFollow links, could increase the value of the NoFollow links that are pointing to the same web page.
The Value of NoFollow Links Beyond SEO
Additional Website Traffic
With any link that you obtain from a referring website, NoFollow or not, these act as a gateway into your site that introduce your content to a larger audience that you wouldn't have had before. So before you discount a well-positioned NoFollow link on another site that's getting a ton of consistent traffic, think of what that link could do for your site traffic and your content reach.
It's only logical that if you're attracting additional site traffic that you're increasing your chance of converting more leads as well, right? Well, assuming you have the proper conversion opportunities in place like various forms of advanced content that require a form conversion in exchange for the download. If you know certain NoFollow links are providing consistent referral traffic you're focus should be turning these pages into high-conversion pages (similar to a landing page), by experimenting with different calls-to-action offers and placement.
Although the NoFollow link by definition is flagged to not be followed by search algorithms, as a contributing factor for PageRank, it's important to look at the indirect SEO benefits and additional value these links offer. Stop obsessing over only attracting DoFollow links and instead focus your efforts on creating quality content that will naturally attract a mix of NoFollow and well deserved DoFollow links.