I've recently seen a lot of chirping and discussion on the value of nofollow links for search optimization, with some people saying that there was value to having them. I asked three industry leaders in search engine optimization what their take was on nofollow links.
Specifically: "What's your take on no follow links? Is it still valuable to get them when you can, such as from social media sites or Wikipedia? Under what circumstances do you pursue links from Wikipedia? Is their huge reach and audience worth it, even without SEO value?"
Search engines these days are paying attention to social signals like tweets, Facebook shares (both nofollowed) and traffic data (from toolbar & browser usage) so if you're really trying to build your brand online you shouldn't obsess over whether a specific link is relevant for SEO - you should be thinking about whether a link is good for your brand, because you can be sure this is what Google is trying to reward. In particular, I've seen Wikipedia drive significant amounts of traffic even for niche terms without huge search volume.
I would urge businesses to look at the Wikipedia pages for their niche and consider whether they can provide a resource of such value that you can get a Wikipedia link. If you can, you can be sure it'll drive good volume of high converting traffic.
When it comes to links, I personally don't think at first if they are going to be followed or not. Even though, from a pure classic SEO perspective, any backlink should have to be a followed one in order to increment the PageRank of your linked page, I consider that actually a link is not just about PageRank anymore, but trust and brand awareness. In fact, even though search engines do not carry PR through the no followed link to your site, they record it and they take notice that your site has been cited in a site. If that site is an authoritative one or a trusted seed, somehow its aura will reflect on your own web site, which will gain trust and relevance to the eyes of the search engines, therefore better rankings.
Just for this reason it is good to be linked by Wikipedia or any authoritative social media site, and I include in this definition sites like forums, blogs and Q&A sites, which are social by nature. Obviously, they can directly send good traffic to your web site: just think at Quora and the traffic a link in a voted or most useful answer can lead to your site.
Under what circumstances can you pursue links from Wikipedia? First of all you must have great great content or very specific and unique. Wikipedia folks are very picky about what sites to cite as external sources for any voice. If you have that content, then you can suggest it for the right Wikipedia voice.
Example: during an competitive research about travel to Patagonia related web sites, I saw that the one that was ranking first in Google.it had a link from Wikipedia. I dug into that link and discovered that it was to a post about the Welsh immigration in Patagonia present in that site's blog. Is that link sending traffic to the site? Probably not at all, but it was noticed by someone in the BBC website, who finally linked to that same post citing Wikipedia. Boom, now that travel site not only as one link from Wikipedia, but it has also an important backlink from another trusted seed: the BBC.
Moral of the story: Wikipedia maybe won't send you directly great traffic, but to have a link in it gives authority to your site, therefore others will tend to cite your site and link to it.
Nofollowed links do not pass any search engine ranking value for most of the search engines, including Google and Bing. You can have a nofollowed link on Wikipedia or even Google's main blog and it won't count in terms of improving your rankings. That doesn't mean the link is not valuable.
Sites with lots of traffic with links on them, even if they are nofollowed, still can send traffic. That traffic can help with leads, conversions and even encourage other sites to link to you without a nofollow attribute on the link. When it comes to getting links and social media, it is more about creating awareness about your content or product. That awareness will lead to more link building opportunities and create even more awareness for your content.
What's your take? Have you seen value from nofollow links to your blog or website, or none at all? Let us know in the comments.