I can't seem to find any documentation that officially comments on this tag. Maybe a few forum posts here or there, but nothing on Webmaster Guidelines and even here on Pro Webmasters, I'm not seeing anything relating to it.

I encountered this as I was sifting through links to un-do some rather horrible SEO choices by some former SEO firms our company contracted with.

My experience tells me that

...rel="nofollow external">anchor text</a>

is just a way for the site owner to keep our links while making it seem like he's trying to help us? I contacted him about a week ago and we're about to go through our second round of emails. Since he never contacted me back, I'm likely going to try and get a hold of him again. I honestly don't remember if it had this attribute before I messaged him last time around, but I'm fairly certain it didn't.

So, in a nut shell, my question is: will this actually remove the link from Google's radar or do I need to contact this guy again?

EDIT: Just so it's clear, I understand rel="nofollow" is happy and wonderful, it's the external bit I've never seen before and I know people can make up their own meta tags to add stuff to the code that never gets used, like a KEYPHRASES meta tag.

3 Answers 3


It basically tells the user agent that link should be nofollow'd and also points to an external website. Search engines will know not to pass link juice to the linked-to URL because of the nofollow value. The external value can be used for a variety of things. Often times it is used with JavaScript to automatically provide an icon that indicates the link will take the user away from the current website.

So, as far as SEO is concerned, it had no meaning, value, or effect. That link will not help your SEO efforts (but still will deliver traffic). It does protect the other website from incurring penalties from Google for selling links, though, which is probably why they did it.

  • All right, but this is actually a bad link that we want to get rid of, so what about the other way around? Will their traffic (which can still jump to our site) still be counted against us?
    – Drew
    Aug 5, 2013 at 19:54
  • No. That link will not affect your SEO at all. But you can disavow it in Google Webmaster Tools if you really want to be rid of it.
    – John Conde
    Aug 5, 2013 at 19:56
  • That was the main reason I was asking. We're in the process of contacting people twice, then following up with a disavow, then a reconsideration request. I was trying to decide if I should contact them again or mark it as good since I've still got around 1300 other links to worry about.
    – Drew
    Aug 5, 2013 at 20:13
  • It's nofollow'd so I'd say it is good.
    – John Conde
    Aug 5, 2013 at 20:37
  • Wonderful, thank you. I think that's how I'm going to treat it.
    – Drew
    Aug 5, 2013 at 20:55

It's valid for XHTML where target="_blank" has been deprecated and something similar to the following JavaScript is being used to replace that function by observing the rel="external" entry and opening the link in a blank window.

function externalLinks() {
   if (!document.getElementsByTagName) return;
   var anchors = document.getElementsByTagName("a");
   for (var i=0; i<anchors.length; i++) {
      var anchor = anchors[i];
      if (anchor.getAttribute("href") 
        && anchor.getAttribute("rel") == "external")
        anchor.target = "_blank";
window.onload = externalLinks;
  • I used to use it for this reason as well
    – John Conde
    Aug 5, 2013 at 19:17
  • Excellent. That answers half of my question. I figured it probably was just syntax I wasn't aware of, but I wanted to be sure. The other half was whether this will cause search engines to ignore the link's worth (good or bad) from the site in question.
    – Drew
    Aug 5, 2013 at 19:56
  • You say target=_blank is deprecated, but then your javascript just goes an adds target=_blank.
    – dalore
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:02

external and nofollow are link (relation) types.

About link types

Link types can be given with the HTTP header Link or with the HTML attribute rel.

For HTML5, there are two sets of link types that can be used: those defined in the specification, and those registered in this Microformats wiki page (according to the spec).

In HTML 4.01, there is no restriction (all link types can be used). (See my answer on SO.)

The IANA hosts a list of link relation types. The relevant RFC is RFC 5988: Web Linking. See also the Wikipedia article Link relation.

About external

external was part of the HTML5 spec from 2006 to 2011, when it got removed. Reasons are discussed in the issue 'link type "external" either not useful or underspecified'.

But because it’s part of Microformat’s existing rel values , it’s still valid to use it in HTML5. This is the definition of external:

Indicates that the referenced document is not part of the same site as the current document.

On the Microformats wiki page for external, it says:

As of around 2006, this was the fifth and sixth most used rel value (sixth strictly being "external nofollow").

Several link types

You can use several link types in one rel attribute. They need to be separated by a whitespace. The meanings don’t "merge", each link type has a meaning on its own. So a link with rel="external nofollow" still has all the semantics of nofollow and external as if they were specified separately.

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