If you are a blogger or a website owner, you probably have heard of the words “noindex” and “nofollow.” If you are a newcomer in the world of SEO or have been involved in it for a while, then you certainly have heard about them or even have seen them in action. They are integrated in all WordPress SEO plugins and are often discussed in SEO-related forums. Although they look like simple tags or commands, these keywords can have a massive impact on your SEO efforts and page rank. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the difference between noindex and nofollow as well as the best practices in using and integrating them into your WordPress website.
In summary, noindex tells robots to not include a web page into their search results. Nofollow tells robots to not pass a “link juice” or “vote” to a single link or all links within a web page. If that doesn’t make sense to you right now, let’s delve deeper to fully understand how noindex and nofollow works.
Google search robots and other search engine robots, (such as Bing, Yahoo, etc.) a.k.a. spiders, are constantly crawling the web to find new web pages or to check if an existing one has been updated. Once a spider discovers a new web page, it will fetch it and load it into its index. Once that process is done, the newly crawled web page will begin to appear in the respective spider’s SERP (search engine results page).
But when a spider sees a noindex tag in the page, it will not add that particular page into its index and as a result, it will not show up in its SERP. But why would you want to do that? Isn’t the end goal here to let all of your pages get indexed by a web spider and have them show up in the SERP? Well, consider this question: if you have a member’s only type of content, do you want that to show up in the search results? Of course not!
The noindex tag is used for the type of content that you don’t want to appear in SERP such as member’s only content and other web pages that may contain sensitive info. However, you should take note that those are not the only places that you can and should use the noindex tag. In fact, it’s a very powerful tool that can positively or negatively affect your overall page rank. Let’s find out more.
Noindex Best Practices
You should use the noindex tag for the private areas of your website and for the pages that can be flagged as “low-quality” or a page that has “thin content.” Pages with low-quality or thin content often have few words. Basically, what Google and other search engines want to appear in their SERPs are web pages that offer helpful, thorough, and in-depth information; pages with adequate words that explain a particular topic. After all, people go to a search engine to find an answer to a particular question or to research something about a certain topic.
Some pages do not contain any “informative” information. One example of those kinds of pages is a contact page. It might be informative to your human readers but to the eye of a spider, it is a page with thin content and/or low-quality content.
When Google and other search engine spiders see pages like this, they will flag them as having low-quality or thin content. Why would they do so? Search engines love pages with lots of text. Having lots of words in an article, a blog post, or other type of webpage means that the author provided in-depth and perhaps accurate information about the topic.
If you let them index all of your “thin-content” or “low-quality” pages (such contact pages, make-an-appointment pages, file-a-ticket pages, etc.) as well as your archive pages such as categories and tag pages (which often have duplicate content and provide no value), the end result is that you will have multiple pages that offer “low-quality” or “thin content” in that particular search engine’s index. This will reciprocate to your website as a whole and Google (and other search engines) will see your website as a one that’s notorious for offering “useless content.” This will massively and negatively affect your SERP ranking (see Google Panda).
Nofollow tells a search engine to not follow a link. Search engines crawl the web by following links. When they find a web page, they will look at all the links available in it and then visit all those links so that they can be added to the index (unless those pages have the noindex tag).
Will the “nofollow” tag prevent links from getting crawled? Yes. But they may still appear in the search results if other sites link to them without using the nofollow attribute. Additionally, some search engines handle the nofollow tag a little bit differently than others. Yahoo, for example, still follows – or crawls – a link with a nofollow attribute (but still doesn’t add “link juice”). For more information about that, visit this Wikipedia entry.
There are two ways to use nofollow. One of them is by adding a meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” to the head section of a webpage and the other is by adding a simple rel=”nofollow” attribute to a single link.
The “meta nofollow”
When you use the “meta nofollow” tag, you are effectively telling search engines to not follow any links on a particular web page. To use it, you should add the following code to the head section of your webpage:
<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” />
Instead of telling robots to not follow every link in a page, using the rel=”nofollow” attribute instructs search engines to not follow a specific link. For example:
<a href=”http://somewebsite.com” rel=”nofollow”>some website</a>
Only the link to somewebsite.com will not be followed by spiders; any other link on the same webpage will be followed, unless they have the nofollow attribute too.
When you link to an external website and you don’t add the nofollow tag to the link, it will mean that you are passing link juice or a “vote” to that site. Search engines consider inbound links as a vote that allows them to determine whether a website or a web page is of high quality and trustworthy.
If you write an article about cancer, then you certainly would link to a cancer-related website to support your article’s content. That also means that you trust their content to be of high quality and accurate, as well as relevant to your content. When a search engine spider finds your link, the web page or website that you linked to gets a vote from you and you are effectively telling the search engine that you vouch for the site.
One of the most common places to use nofollow is within the comment section of WordPress. Comments are a great way of building community and readership, but spammers abuse them. They try to find websites that don’t implement nofollow links in their comment section to place random, often unrelated and spammy comments with a link to a shady website. Why do you want to care? Spam in links and content will incur penalty on your website and can affect your ranking. Using nofollow can help you prevent that from happening.
Wait, what? You probably said that when you read the heading. The code “noindex, follow” should be easier to understand by now, but let me give you an example. If you have a page where you compile a list of links, (e.g., a page where you put in references) you would use the “noindex, follow” tag in there. The “noindex” is because it mostly contains links, almost no text, and no valuable information (could be flagged as a low-quality or thin content). The “follow” is because you want the spiders to follow these links, saying that you find those link’s contents valuable and informative. You might also use this combination in your noindex pages, hereby passing link juice to other pages of your website.
The following WordPress pages should use noindex.
- Web forms – web forms are mostly used for improving user experience; they have scarce text which will be flagged by robots as “thin content”
- Categories, date archives, tag archives, author archives, and search pages – these usually have thin, duplicate content
- Paginated posts and pages – for the same reason as above
Beware, though, as using noindex on a wrong page will greatly affect your SEO efforts.