Links, links and more links right? Everyone is so concerned with getting links to their website it never used to be of concern where these links were coming from, as long as you had them. To me an old-school way of thinking was get a million links to your site and you will get a prominent ranking in Google’s search engine results pages.
Google has completely shifted its way of thinking and operating in terms of links in the last six months and, as we are all more than aware, has been penalising and devaluing sites for overoptimisation, spammy-looking links, large amounts of links from the same domain, and irrelevant links. So last year this shifted our way of thinking of what links are pointing to your website and from where they are coming.
More so than ever, we know a natural, diverse and relevant link profile needs to evolve over time, so gone are the days where you can just get any link.
Taking these factors into consideration of being natural, diverse and relevant, surely no-one would even consider having a nofollow link – the restraining order of the link building legal system.
A nofollow link is apparently a link that will not get followed or crawled by search engines and will not pass value, e.g. PageRank (PR) to the linked-to page. You may also want to nofollow a link if you can’t vouch for the content to which it is linking, or if the link is for a ‘sign in’ or ‘register’, in which case there is no need for it to be indexed – it just makes life easier).
So in this respect, a nofollow link has a benefit when it is on your own site and for your own purposes.
It’s all about context
However, when looking at it from the other perspective, does having a link on a third-party site that you want to be attributed to your diverse link profile have absolutely no benefit to you?
Well, it’s a personal opinion, but in the right context it can probably actually drive specific traffic to your site.
Let’s take one of my clients, for instance, who sells personalised gift cakes for any occasion. A typical person who may buy one of these cakes could be a stay-at-home mum who maybe (just about) has a bit of time on her hands. The “mummy” blogging sphere is huge, and people spend time on these sites reading and interacting with what other mums have to say.
So an in-context link about these personalised gift cakes would fit in perfectly with one of these sites and if the content was written correctly would more than likely drive specific targeted traffic to the said site with a higher conversion rate.
This will also take into consideration that this piece of content will get shared socially and then the link will also benefit from the social signals which are being created. Google-bound Distilled deserter Tom Critchlow was quoted in 2011 as saying that he has seen ‘Wikipedia drive significant amounts of traffic even for niche terms without a huge search volume’.
So in the right context, as mentioned, it can be perfect.
Even when not indexing a link, Google is not silly enough to completely ignore it – it seems that it will pay attention to it and notice where a site has been cited.
So, if it’s on a low quality, irrelevant domain, then Google will take note through association, but on the other hand it will also take note if it’s on an authoritative site which is relevant. It’s that word again which keeps cropping up – the relevance of a link is so important.
Social Networks and nofollow links
So pretty much all links on social networking sites are nofollow (Pinterest had follows to start with, possibly to encourage online marketing). So what? Given the right context and audience you will all have seen the traffic which can be driven to your site through links placed on social networking site.
Ask yourself how many times you have clicked through to a website via a link on networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest? Well, I’ve already done it this morning on my Facebook page.
Twitter has started to index information, which is a story for another day, but I’m sure you will have previously clicked on a link from Twitter which takes you through to another website without going through a search engine.
Going back to the example of the mummy bloggers, if you are on a very relevant platform (blog, forum, social network) and you leave a link with a product that you have seen and liked, more relevant people will click on it and increase the chances of a conversion.
So yes a nofollow link is definitely worth it if it’s relevant, diverse and in the right context, like all links though it should be just one part of a larger link building and content marketing strategy. How effective the payoff is always depends upon the return on investment for time and money.