Do No-Follow links count in Google ranking?
So I’ve read a lot of SEO articles recently, so I thought I’d make my first SEO post about the no-follow flag for links.
The rel tag has a number of possibilities for the value. In truth you could put whatever you wanted in there. It’s used to describe the relationship of the link to the current page. This is why WordPress has options like friends and coworkers as options. However, does that really affect anything? Not really. The only SEO rel tag that makes a difference is the no-follow. Even then, there is lots of debate around its actual affect in the Google ranking algorithm.
The official explanation of the no-follow tag states that no PR gets passed from the site to the linked page. But does this mean that it effectively removed all benefit from having that link? PR is the value in Google’s eyes of the page. Usually when you link to someone, you’re saying that you believe that the site you’re linking to is worthy of your endorsement, and therefore Google gives some of your authority, or PR, to that page you link to. It would make sense then that if you’re not getting any PR juice from the site, you’re not getting any benefit.
There are two camps of thought around the value of no-follow links. There are die hards that say no-follow links are worthless and shouldn’t be gotten and that any effort put into a no-follow link is wasted. There are also people that see the value in no-follow links even if the official explanation is completely true and there really is no ranking value. Sure, you could spend hours creating backlinks that Google will never pass you PR for, but do they count them in other ways? Who knows. I for one believe that they couldn’t be ignored completely. Take the following example.
If you build 2 identical sites that have completely irrelevant domain names and you put the same content on each of them. if the only thing you do as far as SEO for both sites is submit a sitemap to Google to make Google aware of the sites, then they should rank at the same spot in the search results for something on your page. Now consider if you got a handful of no-follow backlinks to link to one of the sites. Do you really think that the site with no-follow backlinks will still have the same power as the barren site? I can’t believe that Google wouldn’t give them some benefit from this. SEO Social did a great experiment to this affect. The results can be seen at the link. They conclusively found that no-follow links boosted the Google ranking for both of their experimental sites.
Now I concede that if you build up a site with an automated tool, which could be bad anyways, that only gets no-follow links, and another site gets just a few do follow links, that the site with do follow will outrank the no-follow site, but that makes sense if Google is following the official explanation. The site with valid links will get more benefit out of those few links. It falls under the umbrella of what Google values the most. There’s a little value for each no-follow link, but a single do follow link will equate to the same value as say 100 no-follow links.
Now PR passing aside, isn’t there a second benefit to any link regardless of the follow status? Of course there is. A link on a comment that’s relevant and well thought out could lead to straight traffic from the user, and traffic is the end goal anyways! If you get one visitor a week from a forum comment, that’s worth more to me than the PR that could have been passed. That one visitor could buy something, or they could share an article you’ve written that create a do follow link, or gets another five visitors from their links. SEO is not a fast process, it takes time, and any little bit helps. Organic growth from the visitors is really what you want, but it’s not going to happen right away. That’s going to be an added benefit over time if you provide worthwhile content.
What are your thoughts on the no-follow debate? Post your comments below!