Every site owner engaged in SEO has to strive for a natural link profile. Just as you want to have natural-sounding copy on your page without keyword stuffing and other antique spam techniques, so you want to have a link profile that does not look like one powered solely by artificial SEO.
A site having only
- footer links
most probably from link exchanges does not have a healthy link profile, while a site having links of all kinds from all kinds of sources has. While it’s difficult to have a 100% natural link profile, where you don’t build links at all and get all your links from webmasters voluntarily without contacting them, you can still have a natural link profile.
Now here comes someone and asks me about nofollow and whether it is a ranking factor or signal.
Usually I don’t care about nofollow and whether my links are nofollow or not. The nofollow attribute is usually a topic only low quality manual link builders care about. I always aim for editorial links by real people; that’s why I blog and socialize so much. This way, I don’t even have to care about the nofollow attribute.
Still, there are niches where there are not as many blogs or people to socialize with. So you might still be in the position to actually care about manual link building – that is, actually visiting sites yourself and submitting your link there or asking for a link.
Before you engage in manual link building and focus on things like so-called “dofollow blogs” or “dofollow directories” you have to consider the bigger picture. You have to think about your link profile carefully. Also, you might want to start using Blekko to take a look at your actual link profile.
While I have no proof of course, I’m quite sure that Google engineers are smart enough to consider your link profile in their ranking algorithm. We know that the geographic location of your links has a visible impact on your rankings. For instance, having links from the UK is more likely to make you rank in the UK than, say, in Australia.
Likewise, other parts of your link profile will most probably have an impact. Google can determine whether a link is a comment link, a directory link or a footer link as well. I’m not saying these links do not work anymore, but they do at least count less. Furthermore, having only these links is most probably a negative ranking signal.
According to Matt Cutts and Rand Fishkin, nofollow links are just a tiny percentage of the overall number of web links. I can’t remember the exact number, but it’s allegedly something between 1 and 2% of them.
So can having more than 2% of nofollow links in your link profile have a negative impact on your rankings?
Well, it’s not that simple. Every niche, type of publication and country has probably slightly different numbers here. I assume that blogs, for example, have a far higher number of nofollow links than other sites, as bloggers socialize among themselves and link to each other. As most blogs have nofollow enabled in their comment section by default, whenever you comment on such a blog or ping such a blog you end up having a nofollowed link.
Now consider some of the tools and data Google has and offers: Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools. Using them, you can compare your data to the average of websites in your industry in GA or all websites when it comes to website speed. Google will most probably check all kinds of data in a similar manner. The algo will compare your site to the industry average. Furthermore, your link profile will get compared. So when everybody has 10% nofollow links and you have 1% or 20% this might appear strange. So nofollow might work as red flag.
Other red flags in connection with the nofollow attribute can be:
Internal links use nofollow in the so-called (obsolete) practice of PageRank sculpting. Red flag: this site is “over optimized”.
External links use nofollow as above or for other reasons. Red flag: this site either has lots of low quality (user generated) content, paid links or links out to untrustworthy websites.
Even worse is extreme usage of nofollow. Some sites use nofollow on all external links for example. Just because it works on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. So make sure your link profile is a healthy, natural one with lots of “organic” links of all kinds, nofollow links included. Otherwise red flags – such as too many or too few nofollow links – will make your site vulnerable in the Google search results.