Do we follow? A look at the notorious nofollow attribute

by Hamlet Batista | May 24, 2008 | 21 Comments

This is a post I wanted to do a while ago, but I didn’t find the time. It’s about the infamous nofollow attribute. As most of you know, I’m not particularly a fan of the nofollow tag. In this post I’m going to talk about why it is used and, I say this part sadly, why I am going to use it as well.
PageRank sculpting with nofollow
The majority of the nofollow debate centers around external and paid links. But nofollow can be used with internal links as well in a concept often called “PageRank sculpting.” The idea is to use nofollow to help shape the relative importance of pages on your site. In the eyes of search engines, certain pages on your site are clearly more important than others. Google and Yahoo determine this automatically by how many incoming links a page has, and they include internal links in this calculation. Of course what the search engine believes is important may not necessarily agree with what you think. With a commercial site, for instance, the pages that make the most money are the important ones, but users around the Internet don’t naturally link to commercial content as much as to informational pages. It makes practical sense that you want these moneymaking pages listed in the search engine index, and you can use nofollow on internal links to lessen the importance of some pages and thereby increase (internally) the importance of others.
There are people in the SEO community who don’t encourage this. You can do similar things with information architecture, JavaScript or other methods after all, and nofollow is just another way. For a large e-commerce site like Amazon, for example, it might make some sense. Amazon has a good toolbar PageRank, but there are so many pages available that they will want the most PageRank on the most important pages. But for the vast majority of sites out there, I don’t think this is a problem. The focus should really be getting PageRank in the first place. Think about it this way: what’s going to benefit your site most, incremental tweaks of shifting PageRank in between pages, or getting more PageRank juice to start with? I think, for most of us, the latter is true.
A follower no more
That is one particular use for nofollow. Search engines, of course, are encouraging sites to use nofollow for paid links. As I’ve outlined before, I don’t think this is the best solution and search engines have other alternatives they should try. But some blogs and other sites nofollow everything with the hope that they can keep all of their internal PageRank for themselves. If you read my latest post on SEOmoz about how PageRank works, you understand that this idea really doesn’t hold water. You’re still going to share some amount because of the way the PageRank algorithm is designed. If everyone starts doing the same thing, it’s going to be harder to get links and I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote this behavior.
Until today my blog was a dofollow blog. I wanted to reward my readers for reading and commenting. As SEOs, I know that one of the hardest problems we face is getting links to our sites. So why did I reverse my decision and go from a dofollow to a nofollow blog? It’s because I simply don’t have the time anymore to moderate all the comments and filter out the spammy ones. I’m finding that some first-time readers feel like they need to write a comment on every single one of my posts, even ones that are several months old. It takes a lot of time to delete these things.
To me, all this is sad. I feel that I am sending out the wrong message because I am very much against the nofollow attribute. But I don’t want my blog to become a source of spam comments either.
If you want to contribute to the conversation, you’re as welcome as ever. Above all, I still want my readers to be active with this blog and be rewarded for it. With that in mind, I’m soon going to install another plug-in called Linky Love. The idea is that after several approved comments you can get dofollow link for your comments.
Let me know your opinions on the subject of nofollow. Your comments do matter here!

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

Hamlet Batista is CEO and founder of RankSense, an agile SEO platform for online retailers and manufacturers. He holds US patents on innovative SEO technologies, started doing SEO as a successful affiliate marketer back in 2002, and believes great SEO results should not take 6 months

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