When to use the rel attribute?

Earlier this week a student approached me and asked me when is it appropriate to use the rel attribute. In this article will walked through what this attribute isn’t how could we leverage it to improve our sites visibility with search engines.

Before we dive into when to use the rel attribute in HTML links let’s understand what are they. The rel attribute was a product of SEO industry needs and is really helpful for search engines to understand the type of links that are in your site. The idea is to explain to the search engines what type of link is within the page.

Why do search engines care about the type of links?

One of the most heavily influenced parameters that define if a page or a site should be high up on search engines is how popular that page is and how popular the domain is.

SEO experts are always trying to “fool” the search engine into thinking a page is more popular then it actually is. The more successful SEO strategists fool the search engine to think something is popular and by that they make it popular. Search engines don’t really like that as its makes it harder for the search engine to determine if the content will be valuable to users or not.

Search engines, such as google score sites, domains and any thing else they can publicly access to determine the value of a website as a whole. Google calls claims to have over 100 scored factors that help determine the value of a site/page.

In earlier interactions of the web, SEO experts would blog,comment and try to get there links into high quality sites to bump up the link credits they get. Search engines had to have a way to solve this issue as it made it harder for there factors(100’s of them – but between us its really just a few critical ones manly popularity).

The solution was enabling website owners (or ones that have access to raw HTML editing) to define within the link it’s type using the rel attribute.

The nofollow attribute:

One of the biggest mistakes website owners do is not define all external sites that are not owned by you as nofollow. Every single link on your site is you declaring that you “approve” that link. That approval can affect negatively your site score (and could even effect your site credibility to search engines).

Try to default always set external links as nofollow and only enable do follow when it’s link of sites you want to be associated with. It’s easily to implement it:

<a href=”http://02geek.com/” rel=”nofollow”></a>


Beyond external sites the nofollow attribute is very helpful in reducing internal link sharing. When google indexes your site based on how many times a link is mentioned it thinks that link is more important. What if you don’t want it to be important yet want to have it on every page for example your terms and conditions page or other pages that don’t have SEO value but you need them to be linked. A good default solution would be to mark them as nofollow links.

What other values can the rel attribute have?

Let’s review the rel attribute values:

Media Query
nofollowused with external sites mainly to define them as non follow pages. Can be used for internal pages as well (such as footer links you don’t want to highlight).
authorThis link is useful when you want to link out of your site to the site of the author of the page (usually you would find this in a  blog post or article).
alternateA link to alternative copies of some digital item such as a PDF or video.
bookmarkA permanent link.
helpA link to help document.
licenseCopyright information
prevUsed for links that have a linear relationship between them. such as a book or videos of a course. Defines the content that is before the current page.
nextUsed for links that have a linear relationship between them. such as a book or videos of a course. Defines the content that is next to the current page.
noreferrerThis tells the browser not to send the link the current site the user has came from in the header information.
searchsearch related pages.
alternateA link to alternative copies of some digital item such as a PDF or video.
other keywordsyou can place other keywords that are not official ones to define the type of page such as advert, external or other ones that might become standard in the future.


My recommendation:

Try to place a rel nofollow on all external pages. Internal navigation links place inside of a NAV tag and other link s if they have a relevant tag mark them if not don’t. Links that are on your footer you might want to mark them as nofollow as well if you don’t want them to come up high on general searches of your site (as they will be the most common links on your site).

p.s some say you should tag a link with external if it is external – it can’t hurt but it’s not mandatory – what is more important is to set it to have a rel nofollow.

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