Why Are You Using Nofollow?
I read an interesting article today on Site Sketch 101; “Nofollow vs Dofollow: The Verdict Is In“. A good piece, with some useful insights, but a verdict I disagree with. I like dofollow links. Bar some very specific circumstances, I don’t see any reason to define links as nofollow. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and it can undermine the natural interconnectedness of websites.
Nicholas Cardot’s article correctly identifies some myths about nofollow. But there is a big difference between pointing out why nofollow isn’t as harmful as people think, and demonstrating a strong argument why dofollow shouldn’t be used.
A basic intro to nofollow
Nofollow is an attribute that can be added to a hyperlink.
<a href="link" rel="nofollow">Some link</a>
It instructs seach engines that the link shouldn’t influence the link target’s ranking for that search engine. By default, if I link to a website and Google follows that link, the site I’m linking to will receive some small ranking benefit because I linked to it. Nofollow removes that endorsement.
Why does nofollow exist?
Nofollow was originally designed to address spam in blog comments. If you own a blog you’ve probably seen this; comments that are just big lists of links that are completely irrelevant to the topic (often linking to piracy sites, porn, etc). Spammers would do this because they knew that having lots of sites linking to them would increase their search index ranking.
Are there any accepted standards for nofollow?
Yes. Google lists three types of links worth adding “nofollow” to;
- Untrusted content.
- Paid links.
- Crawl prioritization (i.e. stopping search engines trying to follow links they can’t use, such as user registration pages)
Nofollow and blog comments
This is the big one. Most blogs will add nofollow to links in their comments (both the URL of the commenter themselves, and any other links they might reference in their comment text). WordPress does this by default.
That’s an excessively strict interpretation of the “Untrusted content” standard for nofollow. It assumes that no comment content can be trusted. By doing so, it devalues comment links that are relevant and add value to a blog post.
This would be a reasonable step to take if nofollow did what it was supposed to do, which was to address spam in blog comments. But it doesn’t solve that problem. WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg acknowledges such. Spam still has to be addressed through other services (e.g. Askimet).
If spam is being dealt with in another way, as it has to be, then the main justification for using nofollow is removed. Assuming that comments that do reach the blog are “de-spammed” in advance then they’re relevant and are adding value to the main content. If they’re adding value then they should be acknowledged, rather than having nofollow.
Don’t try to artificially influence search rankings
The web, at its best, develops organically. That includes interlinking. Search engines are a way to navigate that organic growth. There are various ways of maximizing search engine ranking that are perfectly legitimate. Good practices that highlight the best and most relevant content on a site. Nofollow isn’t as legitimate; used badly it’s an artificial way of trying to deliberately curate link value.
Websites are naturally interconnected. If nofollow was successful in addressing the problem it was supposed to solve; blog spam; then it would have more value. It doesn’t do that. Outside the specific conditions summarized above, there’s no strong argument for using it.
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