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Are you walking into a link building minefield? And don’t even know it?

April 24th, 2011 : · 23 Comments ·

I’m going to give you something to think about.

Everyone one of you, including me, is involved with link building.

There are a lot of ways to acquire good high quality links.

We all know the difference between DoFollow links and NoFollow links.

Or do we?

Let’s look at 3 hypothetical link building scenarios and tell me which scenario you would rather own for your site.

Scenario 1)
You have acquired comments from 48 blogs, all of which  are a PR 2 and above, all of which allowed you to use anchor text in the comment and ALL are Dofollow.

Scenario 2)
You have acquired comments from 48 blogs, all of which  are a PR 2 and above, all of which allowed you to use anchor text in the comment but 18 are DoFollow and 30 are NoFollow.

Scenario 3)
You have acquired comments from 48 blogs, all of which  are a PR 2 and above, all of which allowed you to use anchor text in the comment but ALL are NoFollow.

The answer is easy isn’t?
Scenario 1 is by far the best choice..


A lot of chatter on the SEO forums is about Google penalizing sites for buying links. They are not very good at it, other than getting people to stop doing it by using the fear tactic. A paid link footprint is not easy to detect.


If all your links are DoFollow you have thrown a giant bullseye on yourself.

The DoFollow tag is one of the easiest footprints to detect. I’m not suggesting that DoFollow links are bad, but ask yourself a simple question. Is is natural for all your links to be DoFollow? Is that what would happen in the real world if you weren’t engaged in artificial link building? Of course not.

You have to keep it natural. It’s real tempting to just bypass NoFollow links, but that would be a mistake.

And not just for the reasons stated above.

Consider this.
February 8th 2011 – New Site Launched
February 9-16th 2011 – 4 PR 4 Blog Comment Links Added  -
100% NoFollow
February 26, 2011 – Site shows in Google index.
February 28, 2011 – Site ranking #1 for it’s primary keyword
April 12, 2011 – Site still ranking #1 for it’s keyword.

This is the only linking done to this site.
Curious? More to follow soon.

- Dave -

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris

    sounds great,

    what was the competition level like for the first page sites, and is your keyword in the domain (how important is that to rank quickly)?

  • David

    Without more information on the keyword, domain, etc., this post is useless. Not even a good “teaser”.

  • Mark

    Since sites like Twitter and Facebook nofollow their links, it stands to reason that a genuinely popular site would get thousands of nofollow links (MORE than links without the nofollow attribute applied)

    So perhaps Google now sees it as more natural to have more nofollow links than “dofollow”?

  • Bruce

    Do I sense a new Link Building service on the horizon?

  • Online Flight Simulator Software

    Thanks for confirming what I knew as being the truth. When I read trough your list, I chose number 2, because I believe that it is good to have a mix of do-follow and no-follow links. I also believe that it is necessary to have do-follow links, hence my choice of your scenarios.

    You did not state which you believe to be the best scenario, but I will presume that you also feel that ‘B’ is the best answer?

  • John

    Do you think a ‘bullseye’ is created for the same anchor text as well?

  • Pajama Jeans Reviews

    I am begining to think that the information being shared about dofollow and nofollow links is about as reliable as the information on dupicate content which is not very factual. I still think your best to error on the side of caution.

  • John

    Hi Dave,

    Yes it does seem unnatural to amass hundreds of do follow links. I know that one of my better performing sites has many mixed links. Do you offer linking services with a better balance like for example 60% do follow with 40% no-follow?

  • CJ

    Impressive stats for the site you mention. It would be interesting to know what niche it was in if not the actual keyword you ranked for. Looking forward to hearing more.

  • Jude

    Thanks for the informative post.
    Do you now offer link building services?
    It would be interesting to disect your case study.

  • steve

    Hi Dave

    You pose an interesting question but the result tells us nothing.

    We have no information on what your primary keyword was. We have no information on the level of competition. We have no information on the exact number of searches there are for the primary keyword.

    I built a website and all I did was get it indexed and it shows up for a secondary keyword at the number one position in Google. No backlinks so only on-site optimisation.

    Your example tells us nothing on it’s own without the missing pieces. It is though an interesting question and well worth further exploration.



  • Martijn

    “The DoFollow tag is one of the easiest footprints to detect.”

    DoFollow tags don’t exist.

  • Social Media Marketing - Laurent Lama

    Wish you had gone a bit further in your development.

    I assume that by “The DoFollow tag…” you actually mean a ‘dofollow’ link pattern right?

    Please continue this post soon.

    Laurent Lama

  • Kane

    Great article. Yes, it is not natural when your backlinks are all DoFollow, and we need to add some NoFollow links.

    Can you provide more details?

  • Rob Jones Internet Marketing

    I agree that a paid link footprint is hard to detect.

    However, I disagree on your “giant bullseye” comment regarding “Do Follow” links.

    The majority of links on the internet are Do Follow. Also, as was mentioned above, there’s no such thing as a “Do Follow” tag…only a “No Follow” tag. A do follow link is essentially every single link on the internet, minus a very small percent of links that are tagged as: rel=”nofollow”

    I think you are trying to draw precise conclusions from very imprecise data…conclusions that are not based on experience or testing. As far as I can tell, this is all complete conjecture.

    There are plenty of other factors that come into play here. You are leading people to believe that your site is ranking as a result of your “no follow” links. Hardly a scientific test in my opinion and a bit irresponsible.

    It could be due to any number of factors, including the keyword you are ranking #1 for, your page content, URL, SEO competition for the keyword, LSI, and plenty more.

    On a low competition, specific long-tail keyword, you could easily rank #1, simply by being the most relevant site, regardless of your backlinks. I have ranked #1 for keywords with zero backlinks. That doesn’t mean I would draw the conclusion that backlinks are irrelevant to rankings.

  • admin

    @Rob, when you state the majority of links are Dofollow, are you referring to internal links? because we do have the data, in fact we have data on over 250 million URL’s, and when looking at external links, the percentage of NOFOLLOWS dwarfs DOFOLLOW links.

    What I am getting at with this post, is the myth that people have bought into that NOFOLLOW links don’t help with rankings. They do.. They are not passing page rank.. but they certainly pass link juice. This is not based on just a couple of long tail terms.

    Of course there are many factors as we all know that go into where we fall on the SERPS, but this is about myth busting.

  • Rob Jones Internet Marketing

    I’m talking about links on the internet in general. Matt Cutts stated recently that the amount of NoFollow links is a small single digit percentage of the overall links online.

    So in the spirit of mythbusting, I’d say that having links that are not NoFollow is hardly a giant bullseye.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say they are not passing page rank, but they are passing link juice. Can you please explain your definitions and how the two are different as you see it? I don’t think there’s any difference.

    The “old” way of building links was to create high quality content, or linkbait, that was actually worth linking to. Imagine that.

    That means the owner of the site would choose to link to you, as opposed to you posting your content on other sites with links back to your site. You know…before Web 2.0 allowed us to fake the popularity and relevancy of our sites.

    In these situations, where someone actually likes your content and therefore chooses to link to it, I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of these links, if not all of them, are DoFollow. You know why? Because you’re not going to spam your own site. So there’s no purpose in making those links NoFollow.

    Which links on your blog are NoFollow besides the comments? None of them. Every link that you post as a website owner is DoFollow.

    The majority of the NoFollow links are on comments and areas of user generated content where site owners are trying to avoid massive amounts of spam. That’s because that’s the only purpose of NoFollow…to prevent a bunch of spam content. Would you disagree?

    Tweets are NoFollow. That’s because Twitter wants people to post on their site for spreading content, not for SEO.

    Posts on Facebook are NoFollow. Again, that’s because they don’t want users to cover their site with spammy links that don’t provide value.

    Wikipedia outbound links are NoFollow. Again, that is because the focus is the content, and they don’t want anyone posting anything on their site for the purpose of SEO, because it would dilute the quality of the content.

    However, the vast majority of “real” links on the internet, not user generated spammy links, are DoFollow. Real, non-spammy links, are almost always DoFollow.

    So pretty much the only links that are going to show up as NoFollow are links in areas that are prone to spam, like comments. If I write a popular article, and 100 news sites link back to me, they’re all going to be DoFollow.

    There was a phase where webmasters tried to use NoFollow on various portions of their internal linking structure to page sculpt their pagerank, but that has pretty much become pointless. Really the only benefit to setting up any user generated links on your site as NoFollow is to keep spammers out.

    I really think all of the over-analysis of footprints is a waste of time. If your backlinking strategy consists of a bunch of spammy stuff, then yeah, you’re probably going to get tagged eventually, but that’s because you’re a spammer. However, will you be tagged as a spammer because your backlinking is too clean? I’m highly doubtful of that.

    Of course this really isn’t an issue if you are actually creating value with your backlinking strategy…article marketing for example.

  • admin

    @Rob , even if we accept what Matt Cutts says as fact, though I would not consider him a reliable source as everything he says is said with an agenda in mind, but let’s take what he says as fact.. and, the vast majority of links are dofollow, the vast majority of those dofollows will have zero interest to SEO’s or marketers..

    We have a MASSIVE database of sites SEO’s and marketers would consider useful for link building.. many different formats.. platforms etc.. in fact hundreds of millions of URL’s and I can tell you with 100% accuracy that for every DF we find that is usable, we find 99 nofollows.

    The numbers for the internet as a whole are meaningless to the overall SEO or marketer.. those are not numbers that have anything to do with the real world environment we work in..

    it’s no different than a SE telling us that have 800,000 serps for a search phrase when we know the real usable # is 1000.

    And there is a BIG difference between passing link juice and passing page rank.

    All of this can be tested..

    Let’s use an example..

    if you had 10 links from big time authority sites .. the link juice from those authority sites is going to pass to your site whether it’s a DF or NF link.. what is NOT going to pass is the PR juice.. so what happens is your site can still rank high for that term in that niche, but may show a very low PR, because they are not getting the benefit of the PR from the authority site, but they are getting the benefit of that site’s link authority. There is no direct correlation between page rank and ranking.. a NF tag is simply not passing on Page Rank juice, the link value is being passed.

    You can test this.. take a newer site, go build 100 decent links from sites that are NF.. see what happens. your SERPS will climb but your PR will not.. (I know PR is hard to measure because they never update it it, but when they do, watch the little green bar not budge much)

    NF was created to deter spam.. and it has worked.. that doesn’t mean that what most people believe is accurate. Do you think a NF link from WIKI would help your site?

    - Dave -

  • Rob Jones Internet Marketing

    Dave, I understand and agree with you that what Matt Cutts says needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and I sometimes wonder what hidden demons lie behind his seemingly innocuous, benign, pudgy baby face. ;)

    I also see what you are saying about a good portion of the user-generated links, i.e. those within easy and automated reach of most SEOs and internet marketers, being NF.

    Still, I have my doubts about whether a NF link passes link juice, and I definitely have my doubts as to whether not having NF links is a red flag to Google. I have plenty of websites that rank well for competitive keywords that don’t have a single NF link. None of them have been sandboxed yet.

    It’s one of these academic debates that could go on forever without a definitive conclusion. Sure, it’s possibly a good idea to vary your links to present as natural a “footprint” as possible. Throw in a few NF links. Throw in some links with the URL as the anchor text, etc, etc. It can’t hurt right? Is it necessary? It’s impossible to say for sure.

    I can say this. I have sites that get upwards of 20,000 visitors a month from Google search traffic due entirely to DoFollow links with no variance in the anchor text. One of those sites is currently getting 2-300 email optins every day. Again, not a single NF link.

    Will a Wikipedia link help? It could certainly send you 20-30 visitors per day if it’s a high traffic topic. Will it help your rankings? My opinion is no. Will it get you indexed? My opinion is yes. I’m just guessing based on what I’ve read and my experience.

    When you’re talking about footprints, it’s all conjecture. The possibilities are endless as to what could constitute a spammy footprint in the eyes of Google, and we’re just guessing here.

    My gut instinct(not necessarily reliable) tells me that the reason a site ranks after creating 100 NF links is not because they pass link juice, but because they allow the site to be indexed, and the On Page SEO is more responsible for the site’s rankings. Most likely this will work best on a low competition, long tail keyword.

    For example, if I want to rank for “internet marketing,” it’s going to be extremely difficult. If I want to rank for “SEO,” I don’t have a shot without a big budget and some time. If I want to rank for “conversion expert,” I’m probably going to need to do some backlinking.

    However, if you Google “internet marketing seo and conversion expert,” voila I rank #1. I don’t have any links at all to this effect. It is entirely due to my website being highly relevant to that keyword phrase, because it is in the title in that exact order. All it takes is for Google to index it. In that case, a few NF links would be plenty to get it ranked, because all I need to do is get indexed. My site is indexed, and that is enough. I don’t get any traffic from SEO on my personal blog, so it doesn’t really matter to me in this case, since all of my traffic is from my list, but it’s just an example.

    Is this a conclusive test? Not really. I’m basically just drawing my own conclusion based on my observations.

    Of course, any testing we do in this area will hardly be 100% conclusive, considering we’re stuck making observations and coming up with our own explanations without the insight of seeing what is really happening behind Google’s algorithm.

    A more conclusive test would be if you could manage to rank for a highly competitive keyword using strictly NoFollow links. In the case of specific, long-tail keywords with little or no SEO competition, it’s going to be difficult to draw a definitive conclusion as to whether the NF links were the reason for the rankings or if they were only responsible for your site being indexed. Your rankings could have been due to some other factors entirely.

    For example, some friends of mine have using custom scripts that will search through the SERPs for your website and click on it, staying on the site to raise your time on site and lower your bounce rates. They have done this and successfully managed to rank their sites by this method alone with zero backlinks. Again, hardly a conclusive test. SEO is always going to be a moving target, and we’re always only going to have part of the puzzle to work with.

  • JoanW

    I find this discussion quite intriguing because I have a backlinking business where we supply High PR 4-9, do-follow, one-way, auto-approved, manually created backlinks. We do the work manually for people who don’t have the time. There has never been an instance where a site was penalized for our do-follow backlinks. There has never been a time a site has dropped in page rank because of our do-follow backlinks. In fact, people are finding their sites climbing quite quickly and some reaching page one with just 100 of the backlinks.

    I do know of someone else who is creating closed profile linkwheels that include do-follow and no-follow links and a percentage of those sites are being punished. It probably has nothing to do with the no-follow links used and is probably because the linkwheels are closed and that is a no-no now. But using your logic, I could try and make a case for whether the use of no-follow links is causing the drop in the serps.

    You say to take a new site and give it 100 do-follow backlinks and see it climb in the serps but not page rank. We do this every day, multiple times a day. Your statement that new sites will rise in the serps but not page rank is true. They will rise in the serps with 100 do-follow backlinks. And they won’t get page rank. That is because until there is some longevity to the site along with the addition of relevant content over time, page rank will remain at zero. It has nothing to do with do-follow or no-follow links.

    You also said the do-follow links put a bulls eye on the site. You are insinuating that sites will be punished for having strictly do-follows links. Do you have any evidence at all that any site has ever been punished because of do-follow backlinks?

    I am of the opinion that backlinking can be compared to a grading system. High PR do-follow backlinks will give your site high points. Lower PR no-follow backlinks will lower your GPA. It is just my opinion and worth what you pay for it but it is backed by what I have experienced.

    I can see how you could theorize that something that is done only one particular way all the time may somehow alert Google to something, but you have no evidence or data to back this theory up. Until there is evidence that it is necessary to have no-follow backlinks mixed in with do-follow links, my service will continue to provide only do-follow links. I do appreciate this discussion, because is did make me ponder the issue.


  • Jeremy Bryant

    It seems that most of the”facts” about PR, LJ, DF, an NF are based on conjecture and hearsay at this point. I would be very interested in seeing some of this research. @ admin: would you be so kind as to share this data? It would go a long way to make this a more informative debate.
    To say one shouldn’t believe Cutts’ comments because he has an agenda kinda casts doubt on us all considering we all have an agenda…

  • admin

    @Joan, I think you’re confusing what I said about NOFOLLOW links with DOFOLLOW, I said NOFOLLOW links will pass link juice but not page rank.

    I never said DOFOLLOW links hurt a site.. I said if 100% of your linking is from DOFOLLOW links, that is a footprint of artificial link building

    - Dave -

  • dan patterson

    Interesting debate but I doubt a conclusion. Just to throw my 2 cents in – a friend of mine had a site that was stuck at number 2 or 3 all built with do follow backlinks, what did he do? Threw a handful of no follow backlinks at it an guess what? The site jumped to No.1.

    Personally I think it is naturally to have some / a few no follow links and really doesn’t hurt your ranking provided you follow a strategy that includes high PR do follow links.

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