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Internal links are essential to your website’s navigation architecture. While viewing your website, visitors will look for them to discover new content. Including internal links in your website’s main navigation menus, as well as the content of its pages, will make your site easier to navigate. When creating internal links, though, you might be wondering whether or not to use the nofollow attribute.

The Nofollow Attribute Explained

The nofollow attribute is a Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) tag that’s designed to discount the search ranking influence of a link. By default, links can affect where pages rank in the search results. A study conducted by FirstPageSage found that links are the third-most powerful ranking signal for Google’s search results, surpassed only by title tags and content. If a link features the nofollow attribute, it will have little or no influence over the page’s search rankings.

Links featuring this attribute are known as nofollow links. Nofollow links can be outbound, inbound or internal. Outbound are those that point from your website to another website. Inbound links are backlinks. They point to your website from another website. Internal links, as you may know, are those that connect two pages on your website.

Why Websites Use Nofollow Internal Links

You can find nofollow internal links on thousands of websites. Most websites don’t use the nofollow attribute for all of their internal links. Rather, they only use them for links pointing to specific types of pages.

Some websites use nofollow internal links for duplicate content pages. If the same content is published on two or more pages, they may use nofollow internal links for all but the original page, believing it will prevent search engines from ranking the duplicate content pages.

Other websites use nofollow internal links for their privacy policy page and their terms and conditions page. Privacy policy pages and terms and conditions pages typically don’t generate much search traffic. Users who want to access your website’s privacy policy page or terms and conditions page probably won’t search for it on Google. Instead, they’ll visit your website to find it. Because these pages don’t generate much search traffic, some websites use nofollow internal links for them.

You can also find nofollow internal links used for account login pages. Websites that grant visitors the right to make an account may use nofollow internal links for their login page. Like privacy policy pages and terms and conditions pages, account login pages don’t generate much search traffic. As a result, some websites may try to keep their account login page out of the search results by using nofollow internal links.

Reasons to Avoid Nofollow Internal Links

While there are arguments for using nofollow internal links, there are counterarguments against their use as well. Pages to which nofollow internal links points may still be indexed. In the past, search engines treated nofollow links in the literal sense by not following them. And because they didn’t follow nofollow links, search engines wouldn’t index or rank their destination pages.

In recent years, Google has updated its algorithm to change how it processes nofollow links. it no longer treats them in the literal sense. Google now treats nofollow links as cues or hints. In other words, Google may follow nofollow internal links, and Google may still index and rank their destination pages.

You can’t rely on the nofollow attribute to prevent search engines from ranking duplicate content pages. Since Google now treats nofollow links as cues or hints, it may not work. Google may rank some or all of your website’s duplicate content pages, depending on how it interprets the nofollow internal links.

According to Matt Cutts, using nofollow internal links is, in most cases, a waste of time at best. He explained that nofollow internal links disrupt the flow of ranking equity. When you use nofollow internal links, less ranking equity will flow through your website. Cutts previously led Google’s organic search quality team, so he knows a thing or two about search engine optimization (SEO).

Alternatives to the Nofollow Attribute

There are other ways to handle pages that you don’t want to rank besides using nofollow internal links. For pages consisting of duplicate content, using canonical tags is a better solution.

Canonical tags are HTML tags that specify the original, canonical location of a duplicate page. When you add a canonical tag to a duplicate page, you can include the address of the original page. Search engines will only rank the original page as specified in the canonical tag. Canonical tags consist of a single-lined HTML snippet that’s inserted into the head section of a duplicate page.

There’s no better solution for duplicate pages than using canonical tags. Search engines will instantly recognize a page as being duplicate if it features a canonical tag. More importantly, the canonical tag will guide search engines to the original page so that they can index and rank it, instead.

Another alternative to the nofollow attribute is the noindex directive. The noindex directive tells search engines to avoid indexing, as well as ranking, a page. It’s available in two forms: a response header and a meta tag. Using either a response header or meta tag, you can add a noindex directive to pages that you don’t want ranking in the search results.

Keep in mind that the noindex directive only works if search engines can access the page. You can prohibit a specific search engine or all search engines from accessing the page by using a robots.txt file. Prohibiting search engines from accessing the page, though, means they won’t see the noindex directive. If they discover an inbound link point to the page, they may still index it.

The nofollow attribute isn’t needed for internal links. You can use canonical tags for pages with duplicate content. For other types of pages that you don’t want to rank, you can use the noindex directive. It’s still useful for outbound links that you can’t vet, but there’s really no reason to use the nofollow attribute for internal links.

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Should I Use the NOFOLLOW Attribute for Internal Links

Last Updated in April 2022 by Lukasz Zelezny