How I Increased Search Traffic 33% By Nofollowing Hundreds of Links

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Published October 24, 2013 by Brad Knutson
How I Increased Organic Search Traffic 33%

As a marketer, you might think that I’m constantly trying out new things and running tests to increase the traffic to my own site. That’s actually not the case. I’m fairly conservative when it comes to using different methods (Black or White Hat) to increase my traffic.

Knowing that, what would you say if I told you that I increased my search traffic 33% in one week by doing something that, on the surface, goes against everything we know about SEO? Interesting, right?

Organic Traffic Increase

Let me back up.

When I first built this website, it was meant to be a personal space to blog about cool things that I thought other web developers and marketers would find interesting. I never really put a ton of effort into marketing the site itself, the traffic just came naturally.

When I first started out as a web developer, I would put a link to my site in the footer of every site I built. I didn’t really think of any SEO benefit of this at the time, I was more interested in people who liked my work being able to contact me and inquire about my services. I was careful to vary my anchor text and not link the words “web developer” or “design” too much (while I wasn’t really interested in any SEO benefit from building these links, I didn’t want to be penalized either).

Most of these sites I built are still there today, and most of these sites had completely slipped my mind. Since these sites were smaller sites in different niches, they never really showed up at the top of any link report I could generate.

So, after a few months of my organic search traffic chugging along steadily with little to no movement, I decided to look into what was happening.

Steady Organic Traffic

As you can see I saw months of consistent organic search traffic. This time frame doesn’t include Penguin 2.0, but even before then I saw very little movement up or down.

I decided to switch things up a bit, and took a deep dive into my inbound links. I found that I had nearly 1000 links coming from half a dozen or so low value domains. These domains where the sites that I built and placed links in the footer.

It occurred to me that while these links may not be directly hurting my search engine rankings, but they may be holding me back. I crossed my fingers that I still had access to the servers (I did…that’s another discussion) and I began nofollowing the site-wide links one by one.

The next step was to wait and see what happened. I was shocked 1 week later to find that my organic search traffic had increased by 33%.

Organic Traffic Increase

I was surprised at how quick the turnaround was, but it makes sense. Google is constantly crawling the web, and it’s been my experience that Google crawls new domains in a week or less – so it makes sense that Google would have re-crawled these domains within a week.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the traffic maintained it’s 33% increase and didn’t revert back to it’s former level.

In Conclusion

While this isn’t ground-breaking news, it seems as though site-wide links could be holding you back. Consider how many websites have site-wide links to sites like WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, and others. Could this be holding back those industry giants as well? It’s an interesting though, and one I wish I could test.

Have you had a similar experience? Let me know your findings!

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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5 thoughts on “How I Increased Search Traffic 33% By Nofollowing Hundreds of Links

  1. Lisa

    Brad. thank you for sharing your experiment. I found it fascinating after reading about the latest Google changes. I haven’t tried it yet as I just returned from vacation but now I’m very inspired to do so after reading about yours. Thanks for sharing with us. It makes logical sense after what I’ve read prior.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Thanks Lisa! I honestly didn’t expect the type of results that I received – it makes me wonder how a similar experiment would affect a much larger site.

  2. Dave Sorkin

    Yes, thanks for sharing Brad. One thing to consider; try adding a bit of logic to add a nofollow to all pages except for the homepage. This in turn gives you the exposure that you’re after for your company throughout the website as well as the SEO benefit of having the “follow” on at least one page of the site.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Dave – thanks for your comments. I had thought about only adding a followed link to the home pages of the sites. I think I’ll test that next, thanks for your feedback!

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