Welcome back to the second part of our long-running SEO nofollow test. To recap, we created two near-identical websites in the adult niche. To one of the sites we built 30 niche-relevant follow links, and to the other, we built an identical number of nofollow links. And after that, we left both sites alone to see what happened. Eighteen months after these sites first went live, we will check back and evaluate their performance in the search engines.
Recap of what we found in Part 1
In our first article in this series, which was published around 3 months after the sites went live, we noted the following observations:
- Both sites got crawled by Google, even though one of the sites only had nofollow links (so we know that Google does indeed crawl nofollow links, as Google says it does)
- The site with nofollow links had been indexed and was ranking for its brand name only, but no generic keywords
- The site with follow links had been indexed and was ranking for its brand name, as well as some generic, niche-specific keywords
The situation after 18 months
Let’s look at how the two sites are currently performing, 18 months after going live. The metrics we will look at are: – rankings, organic acquisition of new links, CTR, and proprietary SEO tool metrics (Majestic and LRT).
In this particular niche, I tracked a list of the top 50 positions for the most important 100 generic and competitive keywords.
Both follow and nofollow websites now rank in the top 50 for a number of these keywords. There were some interesting differences, though.
The follow website ranked for more of these keywords (59) at some stage during the 18 months that the website has been online. HOWEVER, over time this site lost some of these top 50 keywords rankings. As of today, it only scores in the top 50 for a total of 30 keywords.
The nofollow website has scored in the top 50 for fewer of these keywords (32) over the 18 months that the website has been online. But in contrast to the follow website, it managed to keep all 32 of these top 50 rankings. Once it got in the top 50, it stayed there
However, when we examine the GSC data, for the two sites, the follow site had better rankings within these sets of top 50 keywords. The nofollow site struggled to make the top 10 (first page) for any of these important keywords.
KEY TAKEAWAY: While nofollow links are excellent for getting – and staying – in the top 50, making it to the first page seems to require follow links.
Further Google Search Console data
Over the course of the past 18 months and as of today, the follow site gets more clicks, more impressions, and a higher CTR, as well as much higher positions within the top 50 keywords it ranks for.
Over the course of the past 18 months and as of today, the nofollow site gets fewer clicks, fewer impressions, and a lower CTR, as well as lower positions within the top 50 keywords it ranks for.
KEY TAKEAWAY: It is interesting to note that not only does the follow site have better positions, more impressions and therefore more clicks, but also has a higher CTR.
Organic acquisition of new links
We purposely did not add any new backlinks to either site after the initial link-building phase. We wanted to discover whether either site could pick up any backlinks on their own.
This site did not pick up any new links, and in fact, lost some of the follow links we originally created. This makes sense, as the linking sites get sold to someone else, or a new SEO clears up their link schemes, or the site closes down. So this was expected – and we also see this kind of backlink decay in the gambling niche. The follow site currently has 10 follow links left from the 30 it started with.
This site picked up several links over the last 18 months and lost fewer links than the follow site. The nofollow site currently has 19 links (all of them nofollow). I cannot explain why the nofollow site got these new links, but the follow site did not.
Other SEO Metrics
Follow: domain: 2, page: 6
Nofollow: domain: 0, page: 0
Follow: Trust: 10, citation: 22
Nofollow: Trust: 0, citation: 18
KEY TAKEAWAY: According to LRT, the follow site maintained its trust rankings, whereas the nofollow site did not improve since the last article. Many SEO’s use a high citation value over a low trust value to signify that the site has a spammy link profile. But this test shows that this might not be the case – any site with a high proportion of nofollow backlinks can trigger these ratios. So be careful when using LRT (or Majestic) when judging a site – is it really spammy, or does it just have a high ratio of nofollow links.
- You can rank by exclusively building nofollow links, and not just for your brand name – you can even score in the top 50 for highly competitive keywords, although follow links will allow you to do so faster
- However, to break into the top 10 (where most of the money is) you do need some follow links
- Follow links will give you better positions, more impressions, and a higher CTR than nofollow links
- Nofollow links tend to be removed less often than follow links, and it is easier to acquire organic nofollow links than follow links.
- For sites with a large number of nofollow links, some SEO tools will give metric values that are traditionally seen as being spammy. You need to be careful when evaluating sites that LRT and Majestic see as being spammy – they may just have a high proportion of nofollow links
MY TAKE ON NOFOLLOW LINKS AFTER 18 MONTHS OF STUDYING THE TOPIC
Nofollow links are cheap to build and are useful for the early stages of a link building program – especially for a new site.
Nofollow links make your site look natural, as Google expects you to build some nofollow links (e.g. social media links, or Wikipedia links which link back to your money site) early on.
It even seems to be more natural to pick up nofollow links rather than follow links.
If you are a grey hat SEO and you are buying follow links, try to build some nofollows links too, as this will give you a better chance of disguising your strategy from the anti-spam algorithms.
Nofollow links may even act as a kind of stabilising influence as you later add some quality follow links, and Google starts to test you on higher-ranked positions. It was interesting to see that once our nofollow site got in the top 50, it never dropped out.
I recommend you experiment on your own particular niche, but in the adult niche, nofollow links seem to be an important weapon which any SEO on any budget should use.