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


After working hard on your outreach strategy, researching and building a list of contacts, and painstakingly writing the perfect pitch, you did it! You achieved a huge placement for your team at a top-tier publisher. Then, just when you think it’s time to bring out the champagne, you realize that your link is tagged rel=“nofollow.”

Does this sound familiar? The excitement of a placement can be short-lived once you see the dreaded ‘nofollow’ attached to your link in the source code. While your initial reaction may be to feel discouraged because all of your hard work just manifested itself in a ‘useless’ link, don’t despair. Despite popular belief, there is value in a nofollow link.

First, What is a “Nofollow” Link?

There are two main types of links to be aware of when executing your link building strategy. The most valuable type that SEOs love to see is the “dofollow”. A dofollow link will pass “link juice” to help improve a sites search ranking. In general, this link type is the end goal for content marketers.

A nofollow link, on the other hand, will not pass “link juice” and will not influence the ranking of the target URL. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be incredibly impactful on your SEO in other ways.  

Nofollow Links and Brand Awareness

The fact is, a no-follow link on a top-tier publisher with millions of followers on social is nothing to be upset about. In these cases, what you don’t get in a link you benefit tenfold in brand awareness and increased brand reputation. Imagine placing on a dream publisher like the New York Times or Buzzfeed. The New York Times has a Twitter following of 41 million. Buzzfeed has a Facebook following of 11 million. Getting your brand media exposure in front of audiences that large can will only make you more recognizable and trustworthy to your target audience. The next time your customer is making a decision to purchase from you or your competitor, they’ll remember when they saw your name on Buzzfeed.

Powerful Syndication Networks

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.

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.

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.

Case Study #1: “Your Face as an Alcoholic” via Daily Mail

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Our team promoted “Your Face as an Alcoholic” in October of 2014. The exclusive placement went live at Daily Mail in October 2014. DailyMail.com, as well as several other top-tier publishers, have a site-wide policy of attaching a nofollow to all external links, including ours.

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. This time, we decided to show 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.

After placing on a Monday morning, 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 like wildfire across the Web through natural syndication networks in a matter of days. 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

Case Study #2: “Hotel Hygiene Exposed” via Yahoo

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In the past, we produced a campaign for this client about airline cleanliness. It was massively successful, so we decided to try another take on the concept of travel and germs, by comparing the cleanliness of luxury 5-star hotels to 3- and 4-star hotels.

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. Yahoo is another example of a high-tier publisher that routinely attaches the nofollow tag to all external links. Despite this, we saw incredible success. What started as a nofollow link ended up earning a ton of traction through natural syndication:

Nofollow Links and SEO

In the above two case studies, it’s clear that a single no-follow link isn’t something to dread. In the above cases, both clients saw increased traffic to their websites and improved their page ranking on Google. While the nofollow link in it of itself may not improve your SEO, leveraging the influence of publishers and understanding syndication networks can turn one nofollow link into hundreds of dofollows, effectively improving those SEO metrics you care most about.

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.

At Fractl, we believe you need content that is 10 times better than what’s currently out there to achieve a robust backlink portfolio. That’s why we create “10x content” by doing extensive, original research and utilizing expert designers and programmers to bring emotional, data-driven stories to life. Read more about our link building services here.


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