One of the most important factors of negotiating any link deal is to ensure that the link is both indexed and dofollow – thereby ensuring it actually passes "link juice" or link power. Time and time again, clients inquire about how best to link out/or get a link from their partners, associations or government agencies.

It's not rare that a super enthusiastic client will come to me and say "Paul!!! Check out this great link I've negotiated with our ABC partner/ sponsor/government agency!" And then I have to burst their bubble and tell them that the link is actually nofollow, or it's a 302 redirection, or not even indexed – and so forth. As a result, I decided to unleash the definitive guide to identify nofollow and "juiceless links" to avoid this situation going forward.

Nofollow link

For you advanced SEO'ers, you are probably well aware of nofollow vs dofollow links/index vs noindex, and I know the real question is: "How much link juice does an individual link pass on?" Well that's a whole other post and discussion for another day, but let's start off with the basics, in case you don't know what a nofollow link is, check out one of our old posts which describes the definition of a nofollow link.

Down below I've identified the 10 different ways webmasters can ensure that a link is nofollow or noindex in the search engines – ensuring that no link juice is passed on to your website. Once you know these different methods, you'll have all the ammo you need to ensure that all future links you negotiate are in fact dofollow, indexed and pass lots of link juice = Let the Link Juice Flow!

Say No to Nofollow Links!

1.) Basic Nofollow Tag:

This is by far the easiest way to identify a juiceless link. If you see the nofollow tag within the HTML coding, then the link is therefore nofollow and does not pass any juice. Down below is an example of a nofollow link:

<a href="http://www.yourjuicelesslink.com" rel="nofollow">Anchor text</a>

A great way to quickly see nofollow/dofollow links would be to install the SEO for Firefox plugin; once activated nofollow links will be highlighted in red.

2.) Nofollow Page Level:

This tag is set within the <head> of a specific page. By adding this tag, webmasters are telling the search engine robots to nofollow the content and any links from this page. So the page will be indexed within the search engine results, but your link will be nofollow and hence completely juiceless. Easiest way to identify the nofollow tag at the page level is to look at the page source of a specific page and look for the following code within the header:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

If you see this tag, then you know that the page's content (links included) is nofollow and it's not worth your time and effort to have your link there.

3.) Robots.txt File:

The robots.txt is a file that is uploaded to the root level of a website, and it's main purpose is to usually tell the robots specifically to both nofollow and noindex to not retrieve or crawl the content on a specific page or directory level; thereby making it non-accessible to the search engines and not passing any link juice. Down below is an example of a robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /contact.php
Disallow: /directory-link-exchange.php*?

The Disallow: /contact.php tells the search engines to not retrieve or crawl a specific pagenofollow/noindex at the specific page level; in this case the Contact page, while the Disallow: /directory-link-exchange.php*? tells the search engines to nofollow/noindex at the not retrieve or crawl a specific directory. For example, if you happened to negotiate a link placement on the …direcory-link-exchange.php/business page this page and all other pages under the /directory-link-exchange.php sub-directory would also be nofollow/no index not be retrieved or crawled.

Search Engine marketing

It's also possible that the robots.txt file can be dynamically written and hidden from public view; it's essential that you check to see whether or not the page has been cached (enter cache:http://www.yourwebsite.com into Google).

Webmasters who are unable to upload a robots.txt file may use some of the different meta robots tags as another option, these include:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow"> as outlined in #2 nofollow page level. As stated before, this tag will disallow any link juice from being passed on, although the page will get indexed.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex"> which tells the search engines just to noindex the page, but the links are actually followed and can pass link juice.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow"> which tells the search engines to both nofollow and  noindex the page; thereby blocking the search engines completely and ensuring zero juice is being passed on.

4.) 302 Redirection:

If you've followed everything that I've already spoken about to this point you should be very familiar with 301 vs 302 redirections. In a
nutshell
301 redirects
pass link juice
302's don't
In a nutshell, 301 redirections pass link juice while 302 redirections do not. Most of the time I see 302 redirections from major corporate business directories and webguides that use a counter; counting the visits your listing receives from their directory. In this scenario, they use a 302 redirection to redirect the user to your specific listing page; thereby not passing on any link power from their strong sub-pages.

The easiest way to detect 301 vs 302 redirections is to use a redirection analysis tool.

Another option which is a bit more complicated is too use the Live HTTP Headers plugin for firefox. This tools allows you to view the HTTP headers of a page and while browsing. Here's an example of how to use the plugin:

You think your expensive listing on Goldbook is SEO friendly? Think again! They employ the 302 redirections from their sub-pages as well.

Check this out… I did a quick search for beer suppliers in Ajax, (best hockey playoffs in years + warm weather finally = how could I resist?) and here's an example of a specific listings page (for Dial-a-Bottle) that utilizes 302 redirections; ensuring that the listing is actually not SEO friendly at all.

Here is the link which you can go to once you've activated the plugin.

http://www.goldbook.ca/goldbook/ajax/Beer-Ale/dialabottle.html

After you enter this url, scroll down and click on "Visit Website" and you will be redirected to the Dial-A-Bottle website, then navigate to Tools>Live HTTP headers and wait for the information to propagate. Down below is a snippet from the Live HTTP header which clearly shows it has detected a 302 redirection.  Just scroll down to the 2nd paragraph and you will see:

HTTP/1.x 302 Found
Date: Wed, 20 May 2009 18:10:40 GMT
Server: Apache/2.0.59 (CentOS)
Expires: Thu, 19 Nov 1981 08:52:00 GMT
Cache-Control: no-store, no-cache, must-revalidate, post-check=0, pre-check=0
Pragma: no-cache
Location: http://www.thebeerstoredelivery.ca/

So before renewing one of your companies' listings on major business directories make sure you are well aware that they are definitely not SEO friendly if they employ 302 redirections.

meta refresh

5.) Meta Refresh Redirection aka Poor Man's Redirect:

This is a very basic and outdated type of redirection, used mainly because webmasters don't have access to PHP or javascript coding within the website. This method of redirection is becoming less popular these days and has been replaced by the 301/302 redirections. The tag basically tells the search engines to refresh the content every X amount of seconds, and this tag redirects the user to your specific URL within a matter of seconds. Here's an example of the meta refresh redirection within the <head> tag:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="5;url=http://example.com/" />

The key here is how long the redirection takes place. If it's less than 4-5 seconds than it's a 301 redirection; if it exceeds 5+ seconds it is considered a 302 redirection. But again, I must stress that this technique is pretty outdated and has been replaced with the other types of redirections mentioned in this post.

Another way of detecting whether or not a meta refresh redirection is being utilized is to check the source code of the page. You can also run the link through the link analysis tool, and if it returns a 200 server quote then you know they've used either a meta refresh or a javascript redirection, so you need to check the source code of the page to find out which one has been used.

6.) Javascript Redirection:

This type of redirection is similar to the meta refresh redirection, whereby it's outdated and webmasters use them in the case of static websites: in which case their site doesn't support any server-side language. They insert the following script on any page within their website in order to activate the redirection:

<SCRIPT language="JavaScript">
<!–
window.location="http://www.yourwebsite.com";
//–>
</SCRIPT>

To detect this type of redirection, it's easiest to just go through the link analysis tool, and if returns a 200 server quote then you know they've used either a meta refresh or a javascript redirection; so once again you need to check the source code of the page to find out which one has been used.

7.) Flash Links:

This is pretty basic; any clickable links built within flash will not pass on any link juice. The proof here lies in both flash images for games and widgets, when you download a flash-based widget or game that links back to a site, no power will be passed on**. Flash links can be very manipulative and as a result are not counted by search engines.

** For widgets, links can be placed within HTML in order to pass link juice.

8.) Javascript Links:

This is also a basic redirection and similar to the Flash redirection whereby any links built within javascript will not pass any link juice. A good example here is Google Adsense links, they are built within javascript and simply redirect you to the destined URL without passing on any link juice.

9.) Cloaking:

CloakingAnd now for the not so basic redirection… cloaking! This is a very advanced, and often very shady technique which is extremely difficult to detect. Cloaking redirections work by showing the page's content with links visible to the public, but actually serve up a different version of the page to the search engines; with your links nofollow or in some cases, without any links at all.

To detect potential cloaking redirections, download the User Agent Switcher plugin for Firefox, and then set yourself as a Google bot. You can do this by going to Tools>User Agent Switcher>Options>User Agents>Add and then entering in "googlebot" into the first three fields.

It is possible, however, that the cloaking could be IP specific, so even though you've identified yourself as a Googlebot, you won't be able to identify the cloaking redirection because your computers' IP does not much the googlebots IP addresses. In this case it is important that you check the cache of the page you are analyzing, and set the parameters to 'text only' in order to see which version of the page is actually being indexed by Google.

[Ed.: it's also possible to get a potential view on some cloaking attempts by "going through" Google using Google Translate]

Non-indexed Non-cached Pages

10.) Non-Cached Pages:

Now this is where it gets tricky. Many or most non-cached pages simply aren't indexed by the search engines. They don't use specific tricks, they don't contain no-cache meta tags; they're simply not in the index.

I've identified a good majority of  the different reasons for a page to be not cached, so your first step would be to go through this list and check the source code of the page file to see if there are any tags or redirections being utilized (see #1-#9).

Other reasons could be that the site is very weak and your link is placed within many sub-pages (deep level) as is often the case with directories. Therefore the crawlers have never gone through the 3rd, 4th, 5th (and so forth) levels of the website and as a result the deep level pages have never been indexed, and therefore do not pass any link juice. That's why it's so important to always check the cache of a page before submitting or negotiating links to be placed within a specific page.

Another reason is that the page could be an "orphan page", whereby it is not being linked to from any other pages within the website. A good way to check for orphan pages is to type in the specific sub-page URL with Yahoo Site Explorer to check for inbound links. If there are zero inbound links, then you know it's an orphan page and therefore will not pass any link juice.

As a general rule of thumb, any non-cached page will not pass any link juice unless it is using the:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex"> as outlined in point #3 of this list.

Conclusion

It's very important to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that all search engines will treat non-exclusion or specific redirection tags the same; in some cases they may not listen to the robots.txt for a few months, or certain pages that have been labeled noindex can still appear within the search engines. That's why I tried to mention all the different ways to identify whether or not a link actually passes power; to be used in combination with each other and just to show you the many different ways that a link can be nofollow/noindex/302 redirected.

Truly hope you enjoyed the post. I know this topic  is sure to raise some debate so please feel free to add your comments, questions and constructive criticism. And always remember; have fun linkin'!

Paul Teitelman

I'm a SEO Manager here at SEP and am responsible for overseeing the organic ranking of clients for their major keywords. When I'm not in front of computers my main passions are drumming, hockey and hanging out up north at my cottage in Muskoka.

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35 Responses to “The Definitive Guide to Identify Nofollow & Juiceless Links”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I had no idea that there were so many factors affecting links!! I knew about the Firefox SEO Addon, but I knew nothing about the 301 and 302 redirections. I think it's great that you've written the post. Hopefully now, a lot more people will know how to check the links they're putting out there

  2. Thanks for the reminder about 302 redirects! It's one of those SEO 101 things that can easily slip your mind.

    Nice plug for SEO for Firefox as well. It's a very useful tool.

  3. Tom Demers says:

    Great post. This also functions as a list of ways to hide a link from search engines, if you're so inclined :) .

    Tom

  4. Josh S says:

    Interesting article.
    I have been looking for information specific to 301 redirects. You partially answered my question.
    My situation is that my site is hosted using IIS. Because I don't have a dedicated server I am not allowed nor will the hosting company set up 301 redirects for me. I have 12 or so .html pages that rank high (but are losing rank) because I have had meta tage redirects (1 second.) Other seo experts haven't said anything about the "less than 4 -5 seconds" theory.

    Any suggestions.

    Josh

  5. Josh S says:

    Thanks for your reply. I will give it a week to see what happens.

    Also how fast will search engines change the link to the correct one if they detect a 301?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      They change fast enough; it's the time they take to recalculate or refactor in everything that goes with that page. Links, anchor text (or not…), same domain vs. ext. domain redirect, how many hops the redirect is part of, etc. etc.

  6. Fantastic and comprehensive post. When I saw this hit my email inbox I thought, "I know exactly what this post is going to say." But I read it through and it was more thorough than I could have ever imagined. I think that you covered every way that one could block a link from passing juice.

    And flattered that you liked and used our Googlebot logo. That image actually won us a contest at Googleblogoscoped and went viral in Digg, crashing our servers with traffic. :-) How about a little link back to our site for citation? We'd like search engine marketing as an alt. ;-)

    But excellent stuff!

    • Ruud Hein says:

      My bad, Miguel; should have realized the image had to come from somewhere and make sure it was properly linked back and attributed. Needless to say the link has been added and the ALT has been placed. Just followed you on Twitter; we should talk ;)

  7. My technical understanding is super limited… but, this was very interesting. I wasn't even aware of how the link-juice game was played. So, am I helping other sites by giving them a "follow" link on my page?

    Thanks for taking the time to spell all of this out!

    Looking forward,
    Michael

  8. Do you have control over the 404 page? If so, you can create a custom 404 page using ASP and have code in that page handle 301 redirects for you. And if there is no redirect, then the standard 404 can be issued.

    I've done this with many IIS-based sites and it works just fine and I believe most hosts give you the ability to specify what page loads for a 404.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      If it's ASP.NET and you have a custom error page, the 404 will actually read as a 302 to the 404 … which then will send back a 200 as the 404 is found (crazy insane stuff — I always feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone when I see that). So, in that way it might work … but in the end you still end up at the 404 (whatever status code it sends back) and you hit the same problem.

      Problem would have been easier had his pages not been static.

  9. Isnt this a little out of date as nofollow links and links without anchor now contribute to trust and authority even tho they (nfollow) dont pass juice?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      We get a lot of questions about this topic; in that way it's not out of date. But we certainly don't suggest every nofollow link is born alike. It would be as short sighted to discard every nofollow link as it would be short sighted to try to get every follow link.

  10. Very informative post.As an affiliate marketer you must cloak your affiliate links or you would be robbed out of your commissions.I use a simple .htaccess redirect and it is working well.Some people use special cloaking softwares like Mylinkguard or similar.

  11. Cool Gifts says:

    Great write up. I was previously unaware of 302 redirects and how to spot them. I plan to look into the Redirection Analysis Tool.

  12. [...] Editor's Picks: May 18-22, 2009 by Andrey Milyan submit_url = "http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com/articles/2009/05/editors-picks-may-18-22-2009.html"; Juiceless links. Although all links are equal in the eyes of the user, some are more equal than others when it comes to SEO. By now it's well understood that .edu, .gov and other authority sites are valuable sources of link juice and marketers are always concerned with the quality of those links. However, you need to evaluate such links carefully before you jump on the opportunity to acquire a few. At times these links might carry a nofollow atribute or employ a 302 redirect before leading to your site. Such links are worthless in terms of their SEO value. So how do you differentiate between a juicy link and the one that's juiceless? A great post on Search Engine People Blog offers a number of ways to identify juiceless links. [...]

  13. Hi Ruud, thanks for the link and the follow. I have been following you for a while now. And I love your interviews that you have been doing here.

    I still cannot get over that image of you as a little kid that you posted a while back. Or wait, it wasn't you but it looked like you? We had a discussion about it back then. Either way good stuff, I think there was a Commodore computer in it? Feel free to email me, I'd love to chat. See you in Twitter land!

  14. [...] all need extra juice now and then when it comes to SEO.  And Search Engine People have posted the definitive guide to identify nofollow and 'juiceless' links. Can 45 Sphinns and 24 tweets be wrong?  The post has some very helpful tips and advice on how to [...]

  15. rictownsend says:

    I'm pretty new to this and one thing that has annoyed me the most is that some 'top' article publishing sites do not state upfront that they a will have a nofollow on your site-link/s. To add insult to injury you head off into your Google analysis tools only to find the article publisher is ranked higher for your key words than you are.

    For me writing articles for these sites has just been and "energy sucker" rather than a 'value adder". Live and learn I suppose (to use another cliche). What would you call that 'negative juice'

    Ric-orglearn.org

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Understand where you're coming from. On the other hand… as long as these sites *credit* you, they help you get your name & brand in front of sometimes huge audiences. Deliver good work, get enough of a hook going to have people want to come to your site and there's some real, marketable value there.

  16. Google encourage all bloggers and sites to use nofollow for the links that you don’t want google to crawl/index. For this reason, by default wordperss and blogspot blogs comments are nofollow.

  17. Carl says:

    Those nofollow exchanges really are annoying if you experienced them a couple of times. I know have a plug-in for my browser which automatically detects them, was a great step forward. Great guide however.

  18. Fine and well, but if a gov't agency etc. give you a link the "real" value is with the "targeted traffic" and sales they bring. I've seen nofollow links that are more resopnsible for putting money in bank acct's then any dofollow from most artcile syndicator or directory. The only value they provide is SEO. That value is constantly dimininshed by time, algo changes and the fluctuating juice the link passes. IMO, shortsighted SEOs value links by an attribute in an href element…

    • Ruud Hein says:

      I agree with you, Terry. Besides money in the bank, many solid links can also move via one nofollow to many dofollow links. I do have to say that there are business decisions there and often a company like Search Engine People gets paid for optimization a priori; not for marketing or conversions.

      In the end, it's a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

  19. Jeremy says:

    I agree that there is value in nofollow links. Some search engines have never paid attention to this tag. It makes sense that even Google has to eventually give credit to nofollow links as they gradually become more pure as more seo's primarily chase the dofollow links.

  20. [...] development efforts are links that don't pass link equity. Paul Teitelman outlines 10 ways to identify whether or not a link is passing juice. Links with nofollow tags, links on robots.txt disallowed pages, links with redirects or refreshes, [...]

  21. Free iMac says:

    Just wanted to know if Cloaking was not seen as 'common practice' at Google, because I have a few people who think it is being deceptive therefore not in the webusers intrests….

  22. [...] development efforts are links that don't pass link equity. Paul Teitelman outlines 10 ways to identify whether or not a link is passing juice. Links with nofollow tags, links on robots.txt disallowed pages, links with redirects or refreshes, [...]

  23. [...] development efforts are links that don't pass link equity. Paul Teitelman outlines 10 ways to identify whether or not a link is passing juice. Links with nofollow tags, links on robots.txt disallowed pages, links with redirects or refreshes, [...]

  24. Cole Stan says:

    Comprehensive post, very useful when you buy or exchange links with other websites. I also look at the cache date of the page where I buy the link, if the cache is older than 30 days, something is fishy, probably the page is buried too deep and a link there has little value :)
    .-= Cole Stan recently posted: Present Culinary Delights With Food Gift Baskets =-.

  25. Amanda says:

    Affiliate Link Cloaking is 100% necessary. I believe that in order to make any sort of commission from these products you have to hide your links.

  26. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the post, I am starting to teach myself some SEO techniques and you helped add to my knowledge of SEO, now lets just hope this helps. I am hoping to double my traffic so I have started to work of some of these tools.
    .-= Jonathan recently posted: How To- Freeswitch Crash Debugging with GDB and Backtrace Tutorial =-.

  27. Chris says:

    Great post. Although 301 links DO pass link juice, nothing frustrates me more than when I get links "placed" from by SEO firms that are 301 redirects. They say that they do that to protect themselves in case I ever stiff them on a bill, but I think that its unethical as one day they can just redirect the link to a new client. I am paying them to build links, no paying them to rent links! Just as a heads up to others, I don't think you should accept 301 redirects from your SEO firm (especially when they are in control of the redirect).

  28. chloe says:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought it was healthy to have a mix of links. It might seem unnatural to have a high percentage of dofollow?