Backlink Monitoring – Part 1: Why it’s important to find and check links switched to nofollow

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Everyone knows by now that link building is an indispensable part of a successful Off-page SEO strategy. But what to do once the backlinks are there? Should the inlinks be rather dofollow or nofollow? What does a balanced link profile look like? And how do I even know what my own link profile looks like? The answer to all these questions is: continous backlink monitoring! Do not only build links but also track and evaluate them. Sounds about right? Then let’s go…

What’s the difference between dofollow and nofollow?

In general, “dofollow” links are crawled by search engines like Google and can thus impact ranking positions and page authority, while “nofollow” links have no direct impact on SEO rankings. That’s because they don’t pass PageRank. However, they can indirectly influence reach and branding of a company’s content just like, for example, social signals. Some even believe that nofollow links might inherit trust both in a positive and in a negative way (spam signal).

Why would a link be switched to nofollow?

Basically, the nofollow attribute is added to any link that the linking person doesn’t want bots to follow. This can be paid links, comments, UGC, embeds, competitor pages, or any other kind of potentially harmful links that you don’t want to be considered by search engines. Crawl prioritization can be another reason for providing a link with the nofollow attribute. Nofollow isn’t necessarily the best choice for internal links, however. Matt Cutts himself has recommended to let PageRank flow freely on your website or blog. Solely links to a newsfeed or shopping cart that are displayed differently to each user should be set to nofollow as “they aren’t that helpful to show up in search engines”. Most nofollow links are marked as such right from the beginning. In line with algorithm updates and link clean-ups, however, there might be modifications made to a link at a later stage as well.

How can I find links switched to nofollow?

Through continuous backlink monitoring you can find links set to nofollow and evaluate them according to their status and origin. Of course, you can check backlinks manually by right-clicking them and “inspecting the element”. If you can then find the attribute rel=”nofollow” integrated in the HTML tag, this specific link is not crawled by search engines. However, even links that don’t show such attribute in the HTML code may still be site-wide links automatically set to nofollow. So the easier and less time-consuming manner to identify nofollow links would be a backlink monitoring feature like linkbird’s that automatically checks your inbound links and sends you the results in a regular PDF report directly to your inbox.
Backlink Monitoring - Filter for nofollow links

linkbird allows you to easily filter for nofollow links and the exact date they were set to nofollow.


Is nofollow just as important for a balanced link profile as dofollow?

Dofollow and nofollow links are both crucial parts of a balanced link profile, because the link diversity is what makes your link profile appear natural. Google might even suspect unethical SEO tactics being used, if there’s only dofollow links pointing to your site, thus the dofollow-nofollow-ratio is important. Furthermore you can reap many benefits from nofollow as well, such as reach, awareness, traffic, engagement, leads, and even conversions in the end.

Backlink Monitoring for a Balanced Link Profile

The automatic link analysis in the linkbird tool clearly shows your page’s dofollow-nofollow-ratio.


Can nofollow links be penalized by Google?

SEO expert Christoph C. Cemper has made an interesting observation in this regard and shared his insights in the latest issue of Website Boosting. From 4,649 example spam links Google sent out in response to reconsideration requests during 16th August 2013 and 2nd July 2014, 3% were nofollow links from article directories and press portals that had already been existing for years. One of these links was furthermore an original dofollow link that had been set to nofollow about ten months earlier – in July 2013, when link spamming via press portals had been declared an unethical practice. Still, the link was used as a spamming example in an answer to a reconsideration request on the 16th of April 2014. This finding clearly demonstrates that not only the current but also former link statuses can influence the penalization by Google.

In case of a penalty you should, however, still focus on bought and other unnatural links. Google itself has once indicated that disavowed links automatically evolve into nofollow, which in return would mean that nofollow links can’t be disavowed anymore. Yet, we have to expect Google’s communication to the outside to be strongly simplified and sometimes inconsistent as well. In any case, it can’t do harm to keep an eye on your nofollow links too and whenever you find them to be potentially dangerous try and get rid of them as fast as you can by deleting the post or contacting the respective website operator with a removal request.


Does setting a link to nofollow have the same effect as disavowing it?

John Müller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, recently repeated that “disavowed links are generally treated similarly to nofollow links”. So, yes: both have kind of the same effect and it is thus not necessary to submit nofollow links as disavow. You can either leave or remove those links.


Should I set all outbound links on my website to nofollow? Just in case?

If you are linking to a reputable and reknown website with great metrics and high-quality topic-related content, there is no reason to nofollow this link. Quite the contrary, Google encourages you to set these links to dofollow. This way you can position yourself in a link neighborhood related to your content niche and you give valuable backlinks to people you might want to receive a backlink from yourself. Don’t forget that as always give and take is the name of the game.


My potential link partner is only keen to give a nofollow link. Isn’t my content good enough?

That your counterpart is only willing to give a nofollow link can be for several reasons. Could be that the webmaster is afraid to harm his reputation by linking to your content (which would indicate a quality issue, yes). If you have stuck to the website’s quality guidelines, however, and the content offers added value to your contact’s audience, it is not likely that your request of a dofollow link has been turned down because of that. You should rather look at your outreach mail and check, if your message is appealing, customized and personal enough to raise interest and trust in the reader.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – How to find and deal with changed anchor texts!

Backlink Checker / Link Manager

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Fenja Villeumier

Fenja Villeumier

Fenja Villeumier is inbound marketing manager at the linkbird company in Berlin. She is involved in content management at all stages from topic finding, conception and production to seeding. Her favorite leisure-time activities are reading, travelling, and photography.

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