Is it Worth Getting "Nofollow" Backlinks to Your Niche Site?
When learning about building a niche website, a lot of emphasis is placed on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and getting links to your site (backlinks), to improve its search engine placement, and page rank. The quality of the sites which link to your site is important in determining how influential they will be in establishing your search engine position: a link from a well-respected, long-established website with a good page rank will have a more positive impact than a link from a one-page, hastily put together, unranked spam page.
What are nofollow links? Which sites use them?
There is another layer of link strategy to consider when trying to build links to a niche website. There is a code (rel="nofollow") which can be added to a site's html, which is an instruction to search engines that outbound links should not influence the target URL's ranking in the search engine index.
Nofollow links look and act like normal links. You can click on them and be taken to the target website, as usual. However, they will not have any positive effect on the target site's Page Rank or search engine position. Website owners can add the nofollow code manually to a link, or set the site's coding so that all of its links are nofollow. They might want to do this if they do not want to give any weight to any competitors they link to.
However, there are places where nofollow links are nearly always present, even if the site owner did not deliberately put them there, and it is good to know in advance when this is probably the case.
One is in blog comments. The most popular blogging platforms make links within comments nofollow by default. This is to prevent link spam, and it means that while your link will appear, and be clickable, the fact that the link is in the comments of a high ranked blog will not have the same effect on your search engine rankings as if the link had appeared in the blog post itself.
Another is forum postings, and forum signatures. Again, to prevent spamming, most links in forums will automatically be nofollow links. Wiki sites also usually set links to nofollow, so if you post a link to an external website on, say, wikipedia, it will not help your site's Page Rank or search engine ranking.
One final example is that of paid links. Buying links that aid a site's PageRank is against google's webmaster guidelines, and google will de-list a site from its search results entirely as a result. Advertising links are not against the rules, but in order that legitimately bought links do not influence Page Rank, they must be coded nofollow.
So, does this mean they are pointless? What about the advice to comment on relevant blogs to build an audience?
At this stage, you might be thinking, "What about all that time I wasted in forums with my well-thought out signature? And all those blogs I commented on? Was it all a waste of time?". If you are, then you perhaps can't see the wood for the trees. There is so much written about the importance of SEO for niche sites that it is easy to forget that the purpose of the site is not purely to get to the top of the google results for your target keywords.
While a good search engine ranking is desirable, and would almost certainly increase traffic, it should not be the only goal for a niche website. The point of aiming to be the number one search result is so that it will drive more people to your site, and so that the site will be considered authoritative. Being at the top of search results but having no visitors is useless to you, and since the google Panda updates, webmasters are becoming more aware that search result rankings can be fickle at best. The point of SEO is to get good search results in order to get more site views, not as an arbitrary goal in itself.
If you comment on a blog or a forum and link to your site (in a natural way, don't spam!), then while it might not move you up the google rankings, it could well lead someone to click on the link to your site. They may then click on one of your affiliate links, or enjoy the content so much that they link to it from their own site. These are very valuable tools in getting traffic to your website, and should not be discounted just because of the nofollow rule.
One final point: even though a nofollow link will not improve your search result rankings, it might help your site to get indexed more quickly, if it is new with only a few existing backlinks.
Therefore, while "dofollow" backlinks are clearly important in the success of a niche website rising to the top of search results, "nofollow" links can also have a role to play in driving traffic to the site, potentially resulting in profitable affiliate purchases and adsense clicks. Link building is an essential part of a niche website's success, and when this happens naturally, some of the links will be "nofollow". Being aware of which backlink building efforts are likely to help to lift a site's Page Rank directly, and which will have a more indirect impact can help the webmaster to plan their site promotion campaign more effectively.