The Hidden Value of a Nofollow Link: Two Content Marketing Case Studies

Chelsea Freeburn 0 Comments

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For a while, my least favorite HTML phrase was rel=“nofollow.” That dreaded code has sent a panic coursing through my veins on more than one occasion; any nofollow link felt like the end of my content marketing career. After all, SEO is a major goal for many of Fractl’s clients. I’ve read more than a few industry blog posts that echo my sentiments exactly, and chances are you know the feeling I’m describing all too well.

But nofollow links will still get your brand or company media exposure when leveraged properly. One nofollow link from a top-tier publisher can result in dozens – even hundreds – of followed links gained through its influence. One Fractl client saw a 271% increase in organic traffic from an initial nofollow exclusive link on BuzzFeed. Other benefits to a nofollow link? An increase in referral traffic, social shares, and potential sales leads as well as a more diverse link portfolio that Google won’t penalize.

An increasing number of top-tier publishers automatically attach nofollow links to any external site. While they may not want to share their “link juice” with you through a high DA dofollow, other websites and blogs may. In fact, they rely on these highly influential sites for their stories. These secondary sites make up a vast network of potential follow-link gains and exposure for your content.


Another bonus from these secondary sites? They typically require very little additional outreach on your end thanks to their reliance on natural syndication for content. They are constantly looking at larger sites for stories that will drive engagement and boost traffic to their own channels, and these additional placements ultimately increase both metrics for your site, as well.

With the right recipe, a nofollow link could be exactly what your content needs to reap the results you desire for your brand. The following two examples are campaigns that started as nofollow links and ended up becoming two of our highest-performing campaigns of all time. Here, I’ll walk you through how our outreach efforts were amplified through the initial top-tier nofollow link.

“Your Face as an Alcoholic” via Daily Mail


I had the privilege of promoting “Your Face as an Alcoholic” (and even having my face featured in the article), which went live with Daily Mail in October 2014. The idea for this project stemmed from a successful viral idea we previously produced for the same client; that campaign visualized how crystal methamphetamine affects a person’s appearance over the course of several years.

We decided to reboot the original idea, this time showing the physical effects of long-term alcoholism. Alcohol’s bodily devastation is widely known and discussed, but our project offered an engaging way to express the experience on an individual level. The interactive also aligned closely with one of our client’s key messages: the negative impacts of drug abuse.

We pitched the exclusive on a Friday and went live early the following Monday morning – a quick turnaround in the content marketing world! The project quickly gained a lot of attention, earning the top spot (with a nofollow link) on Daily Mail’s homepage. From there, the project spread across the Web through natural syndication networks, and the results were incredible:

  • More than 900 stories, including features on The Huffington Post and New York Daily News
  • Nearly 30 percent of the additional placements were dofollow links
  • An impressive 14,368 social shares

“Hotel Hygiene Exposed” via Yahoo


This project is another instance of rebooting an already-proven viral idea. We originally published the project “Airline Hygiene Exposed” for the same client, and once we saw how massively successful the concept was, we knew we had to give it another shot. This time, we compared the cleanliness of luxury 5-star hotels to 3- and 4-star sites.

This client was open to broad-appeal projects related to travel, and what better way to generate the next viral hit than by taking an already successful idea to the next level? The project’s goal: to dispel a commonly held belief that more money means a better travel experience.

This exclusive leveraged an existing publisher relationship, which was built through previous offerings of other top-quality travel projects with high potential for virality. Yahoo Travel published it in January 2016. It was placed shortly after we extended the offer and conducted a brief interview. What started as a nofollow link ended up earning a ton of traction through natural syndication:

The biggest takeaway from these campaigns? One nofollow link may not garner your content the attention and power you’d like, but leveraging the influence of publishers and understanding syndication networks may make that initial nofollow link worthwhile. The more shareable and emotionally driven your content, the more likely your project will earn a high level of natural syndication. Rather than pressuring a publisher for a dofollow and risking a relationship, in-house content marketers and content marketing agencies should have faith that powerful content can still make its rounds on the Internet. Happy link-hunting!

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