nofollow is a value that can be assigned to the rel attribute of an HTML a element to instruct some search engines that the hyperlink should not influence the ranking of the link's target in the search engine's index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of internet advertising because their search algorithm depends heavily on the number of links to a website when determining which websites should be listed in what order in their search results for any given term. However, new information suggests that search engines will depend less on links in the future and more on other aspects.

Concept and specification

The nofollow value was originally suggested to stop comment spam in blogs. Believing that comment spam affected the entire blogging community, in early 2005 Google's Matt Cutts and Blogger's Jason Shellen proposed the value to address the problem.[1][2]

The specification for nofollow is copyrighted 2005–07 by the authors and subject to a royalty-free patent policy, e.g. per the W3C Patent Policy 20040205,[3] and IETF RFC 3667 & RFC 3668.[2]


<a href="" rel="nofollow">Link text</a>

Introduction and support

Google announced in early 2005 that hyperlinks with rel="nofollow"[4] would not influence the link target's PageRank.[5] In addition, the Yahoo and Bing search engines also respect this attribute value.[6]

On June 15, 2009, Google software engineer Matt Cutts announced on his blog that GoogleBot changed the way it treats nofollowed links, in order to prevent webmasters from using nofollow for PageRank sculpting. Prior to this, webmasters would place nofollow tags on some of their links in order to maximize the PageRank of the other pages. As a result of this change, the usage of nofollow leads to evaporation of pagerank of outgoing normal links as they started counting total links while calculating page rank. The new system divides page rank by total number of out going links irrespective of nofollow or follow links, but passes the page rank only through follow or normal links. Cutts explained that if a page has 5 normal links and 5 nofollow out going links, the page rank will be divided by 10 links and one share is passed by 5 normal links.[7] In order to avoid the above, alternative techniques were developed that replace nofollowed tags with obfuscated JavaScript code and thus permit PageRank sculpting. Additionally several techniques have been suggested that include the usage of iframes, Flash and JavaScript.

Interpretation by the individual search engines

While all engines that use the nofollow value exclude links that use it from their ranking calculation, the details about the exact interpretation of it vary from search engine to search engine.[8][9]

rel="nofollow" Action Google Yahoo! Bing Baidu
Uses the link for ranking No No No ? No
Follows the link Yes Yes ? No ?
Indexes the "linked to" page No Yes No No ?
Shows the existence of the link Only for a previously indexed page Yes Yes Yes ?
In results pages for anchor text Only for a previously indexed page Yes Only for a previously indexed page Yes ?

Use by weblog software

Many weblog software packages mark reader-submitted links this way[15] by default (often with no option to disable it, except for modification of the software's code).

More sophisticated server software could spare the nofollow for links submitted by trusted users like those registered for a long time, on a whitelist, or with an acceptable karma level. Some server software adds rel="nofollow" to pages that have been recently edited but omits it from stable pages, under the theory that stable pages will have had offending links removed by human editors.

The widely used blogging platform WordPress versions 1.5 and above automatically assign the nofollow attribute to all user-submitted links (comment data, commenter URI, etc.).[16] However, there are several free plugins available that automatically remove the nofollow attribute value.[17]

Use on other websites

MediaWiki software, which powers Wikipedia, was equipped with nofollow support soon after the initial announcement in 2005. The option was enabled on most Wikipedias. One of the prominent exceptions was the English Wikipedia. Initially, after a discussion, it was decided not to use rel="nofollow" in articles and to use a URL blacklist instead. In this way, the English Wikipedia contributed to the scores of the pages it linked to, and expected editors to link to relevant pages.

In May 2006, a patch to MediaWiki software allowed enabling nofollow selectively in namespaces. This functionality was used on pages that are not considered to be part of the actual encyclopedia, such as discussion pages, user pages and resources for editors.[18] Following increasing spam problems and a within-Foundation request from co-founder Jimmy Wales, rel="nofollow" was added to article-space links in January 2007.[19][20] However, the various interwiki templates and shortcuts that link to other Wikimedia Foundation projects and many external wikis such as Wikia are not affected by this policy.

Other websites like Slashdot, with high user participation, add rel="nofollow" only for potentially misbehaving users. Potential spammers posing as users can be determined through various heuristics like age of registered account and other factors. Slashdot also uses the poster's karma as a determinant in attaching a nofollow tag to user submitted links.

Social bookmarking and photo sharing websites that use the rel="nofollow" tag for their outgoing links include YouTube and[21] (for most links); websites that don't use the rel="nofollow" tag include (no longer an active website), Yahoo! My Web 2.0 and Technorati Favs.[22]


Paid links

Search engines have attempted to repurpose the nofollow attribute for something different. Google began suggesting the use of nofollow also as a machine-readable disclosure for paid links, so that these links do not get credit in search engines' results.

The growth of the link buying economy, where companies' entire business models are based on paid links that affect search engine rankings,[23] caused the debate about the use of nofollow on paid links to move into the center of attention of the search engines, who started to take active steps against link buyers and sellers. This triggered a very strong response from web masters.[24]

Control internal PageRank flow

Search engine optimization professionals started using the nofollow attribute to control the flow of PageRank within a website, but Google has since corrected this error, and any link with a nofollow attribute decreases the PageRank that the page can pass on. This practice is known as "PageRank sculpting". This is an entirely different use than originally intended. nofollow was designed to control the flow of PageRank from one website to another. However, some SEOs have suggested that a nofollow used for an internal link should work just like nofollow used for external links.

Several SEOs have suggested that pages such as "About Us", "Terms of Service", "Contact Us", and "Privacy Policy" pages are not important enough to earn PageRank, and so should have nofollow on internal links pointing to them. Google employee Matt Cutts has provided indirect responses on the subject, but has never publicly endorsed this point of view.[25]

The practice is controversial and has been challenged by some SEO professionals, including Shari Thurow[26] and Adam Audette.[27] Site search proponents have pointed out that visitors do search for these types of pages, so using nofollow on internal links pointing to them may make it difficult or impossible for visitors to find these pages in site searches powered by major search engines.

Although proponents of use of nofollow on internal links have cited an inappropriate attribution to Matt Cutts[28] (see Matt's clarifying comment, rebutting the attributed statement)[29] as support for using the technique, Cutts himself never actually endorsed the idea. Several Google employees (including Matt Cutts) have urged Webmasters not to focus on manipulating internal PageRank. Google employee Adam Lasnik[30] has advised webmasters that there are better ways (e.g. click hierarchy) than nofollow to "sculpt a bit of PageRank", but that it is available and "we're not going to frown upon it".

No reliable data has been published on the effectiveness or potential harm that use of nofollow on internal links may provide. Unsubstantiated claims have been challenged throughout the debate and some early proponents of the idea have subsequently cautioned people not to view the use of nofollow on internal links as a silver bullet or quick-success solution.

More general consensus seems to favor the use of nofollow on internal links pointing to user-controlled pages which may be subjected to spam link practices, including user profile pages, user comments, forum signatures and posts, calendar entries, etc.

YouTube, a Google company, uses nofollow on a number of internal 'help' and 'share' links.[31]


Use of nofollow where comments or other user content is posted (such as Wikipedia) not only depreciates the links of spammers but also of users that might be constructively contributing to a discussion and preventing such legitimate links from influencing the page ranking of the websites they target.[32]

Criticism of usage by Wikipedia

Employment of the nofollow attribute by Wikipedia on all external links has been criticized by web authors for not passing the deserved rank to referenced pages which serve as the original source of each Wikipedia article's content. The decision was enacted on Wikipedia to combat spamdexing on its pages, which are an otherwise tempting target for spammers as Wikipedia is a very high-ranking site on most search engines. The drawbacks for original publishers are that they must compete with the Wikipedia article for a higher rank in search results and that their website does not receive the increase in rank that otherwise would have been contributed without nofollow.[33][34]

See also

Blocking and excluding content from search engines


  1. "The nofollow Attribute and SEO". May 22, 2009. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
  2. 1 2 rel="nofollow" Specification,, retrieved June 17, 2007
  3. W3C Patent Policy 20040205,W3.ORG
  4. W3C (December 24, 1999), HTML 4.01 Specification,, retrieved May 29, 2007
  5. Google (January 18, 2006), Preventing comment spam, Official Google Blog, retrieved on May 29, 2007
  6. Microsoft (June 3, 2008),, "Bing Community", retrieved on June 11, 2009
  7. Cutts, Matt (2009), PageRank sculpting
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  14. "Baidu FAQs". BaiduGuide. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
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  16. Codex Documentation, Nofollow, Documentation, retrieved May 29, 2007
  17. WordPress Plugins, Plugins tagged as Nofollow, WordPress Extensions, retrieved March 10, 2008
  18. Wikipedia (May 29, 2006), Wikipedia Signpost/2006-05-29/Technology report,, retrieved May 29, 2007
  19. Brion Vibber (January 20, 2007), Nofollow back on URL links on articles for now, Wikimedia List WikiEN-l, retrieved May 29, 2007
  20. Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-01-22/Nofollow
  21. John Quinn (September 2, 2009), Recent Changes to NOFOLLOW on External Links, Digg the Blog, retrieved on September 3, 2009
  22. Loren Baker (November 15, 2007), Social Bookmarking Sites Which Don’t Use NoFollow Bookmarks and Search Engines, Search Engine Journal, retrieved on December 16, 2007
  23. Philipp Lenssen (April 19, 2007), The Paid Links Economy, Google Blogoscoped, retrieved June 17, 2007
  24. Carsten Cumbrowski (May 14th, 2007), Matt Cutts on Paid Links Discussion - Q&A,, retrieved June 17, 2007
  25. October 8, 2007, Eric Enge Interviews Google's Matt Cutts, Stone Temple Consulting, retrieved on January 20, 2008.
  26. March 6, 2008, You'd be wise to "nofollow" this dubious advice, Search Engine Land.
  27. June 3, 2008 8 Arguments Against Sculpting PageRank With Nofollow, Audette Media.
  28. August 29, 2007 Matt Cutts on Nofollow, Links-Per-Page and the Value of Directories, Moz (marketing software).
  29. August 29, 2007 Moz, SEOmoz comment by Matt Cutts.
  30. February 20, 2008 Interview with Adam Lasnik of Google
  31. "Nofollow Reciprocity". 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  32. Official Google Blog: Preventing comment spam
  33. "''nofollow'' criticism at". 2007-01-25. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  34. "''nofollow'' criticism at". 2007-01-23. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
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