Nofollow tags and a smarter backlink strategy

April 25, 2022

Google uses backlinks as a way to gauge a page’s authority and value. In fact, that’s why Google’s original name was “Backrub”.

It’s true! Just imagine, you could be using:

  • Backrub Search
  • Backrub Ads
  • BMail

So backlinks are important for your search performance. Which is why a cottage industry evolved out of pasting links en masse to juice up your backlink stats (or “backlink equity,” as we call it).

But that doesn’t really work like it used to.

One big reason: Those sites which you expect to be useful for a backlink? Most of them are preventing you from generating backlink equity.

How can you know? What should you do? Let’s take a look.

🐵 Relationship (‘rel’) tags and the ‘nofollow’

We’ve all seen one of these: Screen Shot 2022-04-25 at 3.12.47 PM.png

It’s an “A tag”. It’s HTML code which tells your browser to include a given link.

An A tag has a bunch of attributes. One of them is “href”, which you can see above. The href says, basically, “Where does this link lead to?”

It’s possible for A tags to have many different attributes. Another important one is “rel” (short for “relationship”).

The rel tag is a way of saying: “Hey, web browser, here’s some information about what kind of link this is.”

Sites use them to discourage backlink hacks. (They don’t want to look like they’re carelessly giving backlink equity to anyone who wants it.)

Common rel values that prevent your link from earning any backlink credit:

  • rel=”ugc”
    This tells Google: “This is user-generated content. We didn’t put this link here ourselves. Our users did. We can’t vouch for it.”
  • rel=”sponsored”
    This tells Google: “We didn’t put this here because we think it’s great. We put it here because someone paid us to.”

And the most important one:

  • rel=”nofollow”
    This tells Google (basically): “We don’t endorse this link, and the reason is not really important. Just ignore this one, Google.”

If you’re getting a free backlink somewhere, it’s safe to assume that the link has been nofollowed.

The comment sections of Quora and YouTube, for example, add nofollows. Guest blogs on any site may be nofollowed by their host.

All of these rel attributes are fine! They don’t hurt you. But if backlinking is the name of your game, these attributes will waste your time.

🏄🏼 What you can do

Visit the sites where you’re pursuing backlinks. Inspect them for rel tags and nofollows. Here’s how…

Right-click on your link, then choose “Inspect”. This will open up the code inspector. See if there are any rel tags on your link.


And ask yourself: what’s the real value of posting on these sites? If it’s not backlinks, then it’s probably inbound traffic. (Though a site’s inbound value is also worth verifying for yourself, via traffic data.)

Sites like Quora are communities. You’ll probably generate more value by sincerely engaging with them as a community member. Recalibrate your strategies for that.

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