If you’re an SEO, you might walk right by a nofollow linking opportunity as if you were the Googlebot yourself. Hold up! Have you forgotten the fundamental value of a link? A link is more than a ranking factor; It can be good exposure, a traffic source, and something valuable even if it doesn’t pass PageRank.
Most social networking site links are nofollow, but I’d doubt you would scoff at the thought of your content being shared by an authoritative user on Twitter or Facebook. Why? Because you know that a tweet from Robert Scoble endorsing your startup will drive traffic to your site, will bring in revenue, will put you in front of your target audience, and that you may pick up some regular followed links as a result.
Paul, are you telling me that it’s ok that the exact match anchor text that I’ve included in my press releases isn’t gushing with link juice? Yes, yes I am. Did you get a link from The New York Times as a result of the exposure it gave you? Indeed! Thats the benefit of a good nofollow link, the exposure it gives you. Just be thankful you didn’t get slapped with a link penalty for violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Let’s get the typical arguments about nofollow links out of the way. Here is what Google says regarding its treatment of nofollow links:
“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Also, it’s important to note that other search engines may handle nofollow in slightly different ways.”
From the ambiguity of this statement, we can come to understand that rel=”nofollow” may still have direct benefits, even in Google’s eye. Beyond, the value they offer for traffic, visibility, and as source of latently built followed links, numerous tests have indicated that these links may still be used for discovery.
There are some lesser benefits to acquiring nofollow links too. Smaller search engines may ignore the rel=”nofollow” attribute and help visibility on those search engines (although most have adopted it).
There have been claims that nofollow links aren’t completely ignored by Google as a ranking factor, and there is some older research (see #1 from 2006 and #2 from 2010) supporting this. However, I am inclined to believe that if there is any effect on rank, it is not coming from PageRank and isn’t very significant in weight.
I’m working under the assumption here that a plethora of nofollow links can neither positively or negatively affect your search rankings directly. Google’s John Mueller has given us reason to believe that any number of nofollow links will not harm your site rankings. Matt Cutts has gone on to say the same thing, citing an extreme spam example as something they may possibly take manual action on.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we may return to the real reason that rel=”nofollow” links can be very valuable. The good nofollow links I am talking about are any that can be found on a relevant and authoritative website. They may not directly increase your search rankings, but they shouldn’t be disregarded for search marketing purposes either.
The right nofollow link can earn you a multitude of follow links. All you need is a journalist or a blogger to see it and click. Nofollow links can get before influential eyes just as easily as regular links. When that journalist is researching a topic for his next article and he comes to your site in the footnotes of Wikipedia, is that not better than a follow link on a lower-quality directory website?
Here are some places where you can consider getting nofollow links for the purpose of gaining traffic and attention for your website in order to latently build do follow links:
Reddit comment links are nofollow and can sometimes bring in a great deal of traffic, especially if it has a lot of upvotes within front page story.
Wikipedia links are indicators of good resources.
A Quora answer with many upvotes can get seen by a lot of people. Quora answers are also easily embeddable and are a great resource for content creation ideas for others. This is also true of sites like Yahoo Answers
High traffic blog comments can bring you a lot of exposure. I’m not saying to engage in comment spam, but if you leave a real comment that really connects with an article and supply a link that happens to be a good resource, it can be beneficial to everyone.
Press releases are good for getting in front of journalist eyes.
Advertorials can be very effective advertising, and it is the case with advertising that your are buying good visibility, which gets you links.
Paid Links can be thought of as advertisements, and as long as they are nofollow they can bring you a lot of traffic and won’t get you dinged by Google.
Social media links are some of the best nofollow links around. Target influencers and get your content in front of the right eyes to gain some great links.