Can I link to websites that contain similar contents to my own and not be penalised by search engines if I use the rel=nofollow on the anchor tag?

  1. Linking out, unless linking to a "bad neighbourhood" (spam, malware etc), will NOT get you penalized.
  2. Only add rel=nofollow to links that you can't vouch for, or that are paid links.

Other than that, there is nothing to worry about.

EDIT - for people who can't accept #1

And finally, in Matt Cutt's own statement on the matter, he specifically states that the decay is ONLY applied to OUTGOING links - not the page that is being linked FROM.

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    Anyone who disagrees with this answer does not understand how PageRank works. – John Conde Apr 17 '11 at 23:40

Every link you include on a page takes a little bit of your pages value and assigns it to the page you linked to, whether you put rel=nofollow or not.

If you are linking to a relevant, good-quality page then you get some of that value back, as long as that link is not using rel=nofollow.

So indiscriminate use of the nofollow attribute can hit you a little bit, but not by much. It should definitely be on paid links, and anything that is user-generated without you approving it you first.

NB - not providing any links does not mean the page will be more optimised, as a search engine will then see it as a 'silo' page which has very little value.

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    It's NOT true that your pages will lose value by linking to other pages. The PageRank algorithm is about incoming links only, and you can not "spend" PageRank by linking out or "save" PageRank by declining to link out. The only way this approaches the truth is that if you are ranking in SERPs for a keyword and link to another site with the same keyword, you will be telling Google that your site is less relevant than the recipient of your link for that keyword. – gesher Apr 16 '11 at 14:28
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    There are semantics of the exact process, but here's a quote from an SEO expert: "If you use it now (rel=nofollow), the only thing that will happen is that the links that you've nofollowed will make the PageRank that would otherwise go to other pages, simply evaporate." HighRankings.com, SearchEngineLand – Dan Blows Apr 16 '11 at 22:14
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    And in terms of not saving page rank if you don't provide outbound links... "If a page has inbound links but no outbound links, then whenever PageRank is calculated the page is kept out of the process until the last iteration." seo-theory.com – Dan Blows Apr 16 '11 at 22:31
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    @Gesher: lets talk about links and nofollow. The only way to pass pagerank from pageA to pageB is through links (internal or external). So if pageA has "10 points" of pagerank and 5 links, its pagerank will be divided into 5 minus a "drop factor" and then passed to linked pages. If you use nofollow in one of those links then you are going to lose its proportional part, only 80% of total pagerank its going to flow to the others links, you are gonna lose 20% of pageA pagerank because of nofollow, so it will hurt. If you increase the number of nofollow links you can imagine what's gonna happen. – Binarysurf Apr 16 '11 at 23:14

If you use nofollow you are not going to get penalized by robots, but you will lose pagerank, because nofollow'd links are dropped from pagerank distribution calculation. So always try to keep the amount of nofollow'd links as low as possible compared to dofollow'd links inside a page.

  • You can't "loose" PageRank by linking out - you can only impact the amount of PageRank distributed to each link from the page by applying a no-follow to some of them. – Mike Hudson Apr 17 '11 at 7:12
  • Mike is using outdated guidance. Say you own example.com, and from page example.com/page1 you link to example.com/page2. Some of the value from /page1 will be applied to /page2 - you've just improved your PageRank on /page2. However, if you then link to examplesite2.com, the value applied to your example.com/page2 URL will now be halved - the SEO of your site as a whole has gone down slightly. Putting rel=nofollow means Google will not give any value to examplesite2.com, but it will not improve the value given to example.com/page2. In Matt Cutts's words - "the PageRank just evaporates". – Dan Blows Apr 17 '11 at 7:51
  • @Mike Hudson: In theory you pass some of your pagerank through linking, so if PageA have 10 links, 1 of them is external and 9 internal, then 90% of its pagerank is going to flow to your 9 internal links, 10% is going to get passed to external site. If you link out using rel="nofollow" that 10% of pagerank is gonna get lost because of rel=nofollow, as Blowski referenced Matt Cutts's words "the PageRank just evaporates". That 10% is not going to external neither to internal links, it just gets lost. – Binarysurf Apr 17 '11 at 16:56
  • @Blowski - you're both missing the point - we're talking here about the PR of the linking-out page, not the links from that linking-out page. I've edited my answer above to address this. – Mike Hudson Apr 17 '11 at 22:17
  • @MikeHudson @Binarysurf - I think we're all correct in what we're saying, just that we're expressing it in different ways. I am focusing more on the overall SEO of the site, and I think @Binarysurf is doing the same. Mike is considering purely the PageRank of the URL in question. What I was saying was that not including rel="nofollow" on links that you know are safe can be better for SEO than just including rel="nofollow" on every external link whether you know it to be safe or not. Kind of an opportunity cost of SEO. – Dan Blows Apr 18 '11 at 11:03

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