Are No-Follow links a waste of time?

If you think about it, building links to your website is all about getting as much “link juice” or whatever you want to call the credit you get from every link which points at your website. So if you factor in the well known rel=”nofollow” attribute attached to links pointing to your website, you’d be right to think that this would prevent that highly prized link juice from reaching your website.

Google wants to provide searchers with the best results

To put it into context, lets think about why Google is in the business of search and why it’s still at the top of the roost. There have been recent stories of the search giant losing some ground on their rivals, but we’re not likely to see sweeping changes anytime soon, so for the foreseeable future, Google is the de-facto search engine.

When we search for anything, I believe that Google wants to provide us with the best possible search experience by giving us the right results for what we’re looking for each and every time. To do this, Google has to find and index many billions of pages and an even greater amount of links between all of these pages. The issue I have with the follow and no-follow link issue is, there was a time when Google used the meta keyword tag as a ranking factor and looked what happened to that!? They were soon spammed and taken advantage of to the point that Google eventually took the stance of not using them as a ranking factor.

So my point being is, when webmasters are given something to help with their websites SEO strategy. It didn’t take long for people to realise how this could be manipulated in a way that would help their websites to rank better in the search results. Similarly, the no-follow issue is going to the same way in my opinion with webmasters and spammers all chasing websites which offer do-follow links to get a link from. The Google penguin and unnatural link warnings in Google webmaster tool situation should have been reason enough to give people reason to consider their stance on how they acquire new links.

Building a website shouldn’t have to be all about Google

Now for anyone with any reasonable understanding of SEO and link building will know that a do-follow link is more valuable than a no-follow link. But whether you understand this or not, you should think outside of the box and consider links from all sources, regardless of link juice.

If you were given the choice of acquiring a link which is set to no-follow but would be placed on a high traffic website within your niche, over a do-follow link which was placed on a random website which would have nothing to do with your niche. Which would you choose?

My betting is, most people would choose the link juice over anything else but this is a bad idea for two reasons as I will explain.

1) Relying on Google for all your traffic is the reason why most webmasters were up in arms with the Google updates which played havoc with websites rankings and even the indexing of some websites. For years, many webmasters and SEO’s ran rings around Google and wrongly believed that they’d always be able to do so. They thought Google would turn a blind cheek and pretend not to notice what was happening… They were wrong!

2) Now I’m not saying I know how Google works or how they think, but my betting is that they do not consider every no-follow or do-follow link as equal. I do not for one minute think that just because a high authority website points a link at a low quality website, that link juice will be passed. Likewise, I do not believe that a bunch of low quality websites with no-follow attributes set for every link, pointing to a high authority will pass no link juice. I’m quite sure that Google is still willing and able to pass some link juice across a no-follow link, as much as they are willing to tone down or prevent link juice being passed from do-follow links.

Google doesn’t trust you to be good

Not for one moment do I think that Google has handed over the keys to their who thinking on the power of link juice and who is deserving of it. To the exact same webmasters it polices with a weary eye always trying to stay on top of spammy linking strategies. To better understand a websites authority, you can choose to use the outdated metric of Google toolbar page rank, SEOmoz’s Domain Authority and page Authority or the Majestic SEO’s Trust Flow and Citation Flow to gauge the quality of a website. Now obviously, Google will have its own secret formula which they are unlikely to release. So by relying on the SEOmoz  and Magestic SEO metrics, we have the best possible chance of getting inside of Google’s algorithm.

So remember the title of this post? I’ll remind you, ‘Are No-Follow links really a waste of time?’

Think about it, webmasters and SEO’s have always talked about how a link gained from a high page rank website, a .edu (educational – University) website or even a .gov (Government) website were the ones which would give you the most link juice and guarantee the best chance of ranking well for your chosen keywords.

Lets say for instance, you are offered the choice of a .edu link which wasn’t a blog comment. It was an in-context link written about the niche your website is involved and they wanted to link to you as a valuable resource in that niche. However, to earn this link, they wanted you to help them by writing an article piece in return as they valued your input as an authoritative person who would add value to their website. Sounds good still right? But then you find that that link, was a no-follow link. All that effort, all that hardwork for what? A no-follow link?

Now lets imagine at the sametime, you were contacted about a link from a similar website within your niche, but it was a regular .com domain. Their website was full of adsense and they had a paid links section in their blogroll. The quality of their content wasn’t great and they would pretty much link to anyone who paid for advertising. But! They were willing to give you a do-follow, in context link and didn’t expect anything in return. They simply wanted you to read over their post, make sure it was ok and they’d publish it with a link to your website. Sounds too good to be true right? But it isn’t…

Now the issue is, you only have time to either write a blog post for the no-follow .edu link or proof read the .com, do-follow link. You cannot take both and one is easier for a better reward so surely that’s the way to go right?

My thinking is that the no-follow link is the way to go. As I pointed out already, it’s an authoritative website. It’s within your niche and likely to be seen by people of equal stature within your niche. It will be a trusted link by people and most likely by Google too.

First off, there are the secondary links you could pick up which may not be no-follow! People reading the article may see your website and want to reference it in their own articles. Thus they may not have no-follow set on their websites and even if they do, chances are they may also be highly respected within your niche and likely to get you yet more referral traffic which has come from Google.

Now back to Google, they take these links from websites they trust and know to be credible and think, heh, they’ve all added the no-follow attribute so in theory, that means we cannot pass on link juice to this great website. We’d love to be able to reward this valuable resource but we’re stuck, our hands are tied. But we also have these other websites in the same niche who chased easy (read as spammy) backlinks. They’re in the same niche, they have the same sort of content and they’re trying to rank for the same keywords. What to do?

Of course if you think about it logically, Google wants to provide the best search results. To do this, it needs to tread on some toes and upset a few people along the way. It isn’t going to provide the best results if it assumes webmasters know best and follow (or not) links dependent on how a webmaster has setup their meta tag to handle external links.

Just so you know, I plan to update this post… 🙂

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