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What Are Nofollow, Dofollow, UGC, Or Sponsored Links? Why Do Backlinks Matter for Search Rankings?

Every day my inbox is inundated with spamming SEO companies who are begging to place links in my content. It’s an endless stream of requests and it really irritates me. Here’s how the email usually goes…

Dear Martech Zone,

I noticed that you wrote this amazing article on [keyword]. We wrote a detailed article on this as well. I think it would make a great addition to your article. Please let me know if you’re able to reference our article with a link.

Susan James

First, they always write the article as if they’re trying to assist me and improve my content when I know exactly what they’re trying to do… place a backlink. While search engines properly index your pages based on the content, those pages will rank by the number of relevant, high-quality sites that link to them.

What is a Nofollow Link? Do follow Link?

A Nofollow link is used within the anchor tag HTML to tells the search engine to ignore the link when it comes to passing any authority through it. This is what it looks like in the raw HTML:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Google</a>

Now, as the search engine crawler crawls my page, indexes my content, and determines the backlinks to provide authority back to sources… it ignores the nofollow links. However, if I had linked to the destination page within the content I’d written, those anchor tags do not have the nofollow attribute. Those are called Dofollow links. By default, every link passes ranking authority unless the rel attribute is added, and the quality of the link is determined.

Interestingly enough, nofollow links are often still displayed in Google Search Console. Here’s why:

So Dofollow Links Anywhere Help My Ranking?

When the ability to manipulate ranking through backlinking was discovered, a billion-dollar industry started overnight to aid clients move their way up the ranks. SEO companies automated and built out link farms and stepped on the gas to manipulate the search engines. Of course, Google noticed… and it all came crashing down.

Google improved its algorithms to monitor the rank of sites that accumulated backlinks with relevant, authoritative domains. So, no… adding links just anywhere won’t help you. Garnering backlinks on highly relevant and authoritative sites will help you. Quite the opposite, link spamming will likely hurt your ability to rank since the Google’s intelligence can also distinguish manipulation and penalize you for it.

Does The Link Text Matter?

When people submit articles to me, I often see them use overly obvious keywords within their anchor text. I truly don’t believe Google’s algorithms are so ridiculously simple that the text within your link are the only keywords that matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google analyzed the contextual content around the link. I don’t think you need to be so obvious with your links. Whenever in doubt, I recommend my clients to do what’s best for the reader. It’s why I use buttons when I really want people to see and click an outbound link.

And don’t forget that the anchor tag offers both text as well as a title for your link. Titles are an accessibility attribute to help screenreaders describe the link to their users. However, most browsers display them as well. SEO gurus disagree as to whether putting title text can help your ranking for the keywords used. Either way, I think it’s a great practice and adds a little pizazz when someone mouses over your link and a tip is presented.

<a href="" title="Tailored SEO Classes For Companies">Douglas Karr</a>

What About Sponsored Links?

Here’s another email I receive on a daily basis. I actually do answer these… asking the person if they’re really asking me to put my reputation at risk, get fined by the government, and get delisted from the search engines. It’s a ridiculous request. So, sometimes I just respond and tell them I’d be glad to to it… it will just cost them $18,942,324.13 per backlink. I’m still waiting on someone to wire the money.

Dear Martech Zone,

I noticed that you wrote this amazing article on [keyword]. We would like to pay you to place a link in your article to point to our article [here]. How much would it cost to pay for the dofollow link?

Susan James

This is really annoying because it’s literally requesting me to do a few things:

  1. Violating Google’s Terms of Service – they are asking me to disguise my paid link to Google’s crawlers:

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Google Link Schemes
  1. Violating Federal Regulations – they are asking me to violate FTC guidelines on endorsements.

If there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. 

FTC Endorsement Guide
  1. Violating My Readers’ Trust – they are asking me to lie to my own audience! An audience that I worked for 15 years to build a following with and gain trust with. It’s unconscionable. It’s also exactly why you’ll see me disclose every relationship on every article – whether it’s an affiliate link or a friend in the business.

Google used to ask that sponsored links use the nofollow attribute. However, they’ve now modified that and have a new sponsored attribute for paid links:

Mark links that are advertisements or paid placements (commonly called paid links) with the sponsored value.

Google, Qualify Outbound Links

Those links are structured as follows:

<a href="" rel="sponsored">I pay for links</a>

Why Don’t Backlinkers Just Write Comments?

When PageRank was first discussed and blogs moved onto the scene, commenting was pretty common. Not only was it the central place to have a discussion (before Facebook and Twitter), it also passed rank when you filled out your author details and included a link in your comments. Comment spam was born (and is still a problem nowadays). It didn’t take long before content management systems and comment systems instituted Nofollow links on comment author profiles and comments.

Google has actually started supporting a different attribute for this, ugc. UGC is an acronym for User-Generated Content.

<a href="" rel="ugc">Comment Person</a>

You can also use combinations of the attributes. In WordPress, for example, a comment looks like this:

<a href="" rel="external nofollow ugc">Comment Person</a>

External is another attribute that let’s crawlers know that the link is going to an external site.

Should You Do Backlink Outreach To Get More Dofollow Links?

This is honestly a huge point of contention with me. The spammy emails that I provided above are truly irritating and I can’t stand them. I’m a firm believer that you need to earn links, not ask for them. My good friend Tom Brodbeck aptly named this linkearning. I link to thousands of sites and articles from my site… because they earned the link.

That said, I don’t have any problem with a business reaching out to me and asking if they can write an article of value to my audience. And, it’s not uncommon that there’s a dofollow link within that article. I reject many articles because the people submitting provide a horrible article with an obvious backlink in it. But I publish many more that are fantastic articles and the link the author used would be of value to my readers.

I don’t do outreach… and I have almost 110,000 links that are linking back to Martech Zone. I think that’s a testament to the quality of the articles that I allow on this site. Spend your time publishing remarkable content… and backlinks will follow.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.


  1. Thanks for pointing out the Dofollow plugin Doug. I was aware that WordPress added rel=”nofollow” to links in comments, and I definitely agree with your logic that as long as comments are being moderated, any relevant links left in the comments deserve their due credit.

  2. Is there a way to choose which link I want to let be followed (wow, curious language construct I made)? The reason is when I reference some crappy site with crappy information on it, I?d rather not promote it too much. Not as a censorship (if I reference to, say, political opinion that is much different than my own, but if it is well founded and well put, I have no problem promoting it), but as a way to fight entropy and dig down crappy content.

    I have no problem manually editing links. I usually edit comments to add Google Analytics outgoing links, link titles and fix visitors typography, but it?d be nice to automate it to some extent.

  3. Ya, that might be easier than to try to delete them. I keep all the oft-used elements like that in my Opera?s Notes (quite handy to have bits, pieces, and code snippets right inside your browser at all times), so it really is just copy-paste for me.

  4. I agree Doug. If you are going to the trouble of reading and moderating each comment anyway (which you should be) then it makes sense to reward genuine comments with a proper link.

    You will get more “Great post” comments as a result, but those go straight into the recycle bin anyway.

    The obvious spammers have names like “SEO expert” or “Web design Atlanta” or something keyword loaded. The genuine ones usually have real names like “Lisa” or “Robert”.

  5. I run a Drupal-powered website, so it installs without rel=nofollow, and you have to install a plugin to add this. I though about doing this for a while, but realized that the only reason for doing so is a puerile sense that the comments I am leaving on other people’s sites aren’t giving me page rank, where as I am giving them page rank. I decided to leave it as it is.

    Most people moderate their comments so why penalize those who take the time to leave a useful comment on the site?

    I’ve added a commenting policy to my site so that I don’t have to feel bad about deleting the comments that are in the grey area.

    For example, if someone leaves a comment that says “nice site”, I propose to delete the comment, unless they leave the URL field blank. Without such a policy, I felt compelled to check the link and decide based on the site.

    1. Yes, not all search engines respect no-follow. It just so happens that Google, being the big boy on the block, does though. I’m not sure about Live, Ask or Yahoo! Might take some digging to figure out.

  6. Good job – I’m very much anti-nofollow.

    Any link should be counted, or you shouldn’t allow the link to exist. I know of people who purposely add nofollow to links within their posts so that they won’t have a ton of outbound links, with the theory that sites that link out more than they are linked into get a lower PR.

    It upsets me to no end.

  7. IMO rel=”nofollow” is absolutely useless, it won’t stop comment spam because spammers use software. The best solution against comment spammers are plugins like Akismet, Bad Behaviour and captchas or human questions.

  8. Hello, I’ll like to ask if WordPress, Yahoo 360, Blogger, etc. use “nofollow” in blog posts. i.e. If I write a post in my blog and I put a link in it, does the link in my post change to rel=nofollow?

  9. Thank you very much for the excellent article about the no follow attribute. Because it’s installed as a default in WordPress, I suspect an awful lot of people don’t even know that it is there.

    I think a policy of either allowing or disallowing comments on an individual basis rather than just downgrading them all is a far better approach.

  10. Thanks for this post! I know I’m a little late in finding it, but I just started blogging and am trying to figure out why the heck wordpress is putting nofollow in my links. I’m going to put in dofollow thanks to finding your blog, maybe that will encourage more comments and interaction on my newby blog.

    1. Hi DG,

      I’m not sure how much it actually assists directly with participation. I do think, however, that ‘birds of a feather fly together’ so you’re more apt to connect and participate with other blogs that don’t use nofollow. In the long run, I do think there’s benefit.

      I just like it because I believe that much of my success in blogging has been do to the participation of folks like you in the conversation. Why should I get all the benefit?!


  11. Thanks for this info Doug, I had been manually adding rel tags to my links but never even considered this approach for comments. It makes sense though, I’ll probably start doing this since I already moderate my comments to a great degree.

  12. Hi, I installed the DoFollow plugin a few days ago, and I received some thanks from some small blogs I linked to in my articles and comments.

    Great initiative too, but ONLY in combination with a strict comment/user management, otherwise blogs will become spam sources quicker than we think.

  13. doug, this nofollow thing has really been painful for both the blogger and legit commentator… i just wish someone could create a plugin that will enable/disable nofollow at the admin’s will. all nofollo plugins i’ve used rip off the nofollow tag on all comments and/or commentator. like u said, some people are picky in approving their users’ comments

  14. the funny thing doug is that majority of those who “advocate” nofollow have nofollow attribs in their sites/blogs…. isn’t it funny that people say something and do another? u got my admiration for having a dofollow here just like in my blog… i’m not just sure how this will affect my PR in google.

  15. Thank you for explaining this. I am just getting a website started, and am looking at all the blog options. Unfortunately the canned blog software that I could use with my site stinks on ice, and I have been thinking of using wordpress, so thanks for talking about the follow or no follow issue. I have 2 websites, one with no google back links, and the other day my second site showed up 10 google backlinks out of the blue, and I was really excited! I post on blogs all the time and didn’t even know you could get a link that way, (duh, newbie!) and all of a sudden I had 10 links from Dawud Miracle – who in the heck is he???? I followed the link back to his site and realized it was one of many many many blogs I had posted on, thanks Miracle, it WAS a miracle!!! Then I wondered how it had happened, and why it hadn’t happened before! So now I get it. When I get my blog software up I will definately have the follow, not the no- follow type. There’s enough success for all of us…..

  16. Impressive blog! Backlinks are indeed important for search rankings. It would have been great if you added some backlink creation tools as well.

    However, in case you update your blog with the backlink creation tools, add Postifluence as it gets users organic guest-posts websites with the built-in marketplace and dofollow links where you can send mails with maximum inboxing to build up your ranking. Adding such a tool to your blog will benefit your readers too.

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