To nofollow or not?

As a consequence of the paid link controversy and whether you should use the nofollow attribute on paid outbound links, there is now another one about whether webmasters should use it on internal links. On one side there is the original suggestion from Matt Cutts in his interview with Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz, and followups from such as Dan Thies, while on the other side are people like Michael Martinez who find the idea of trying to manipulate PageRank by this method dubious at best and downright dangerous in most cases.

In the meantime there is also the question of using nofollow on blogs as an anti-spam measure, or not, depending on your perspective.

Nofollow on Blogs

Lets take the easier one first – blogs. This is what the nofollow tag was invented for, to stop people spamming the comments sections of blogs and forums with pointless messages containing embedded links back to their sites. Even then it was a bit controversial and many argued that there were better ways of combatting link spam. The debate has raged on and there is now a “dofollow” movement that advocates getting rid of nofollow tags from blogs (some blog software adds them automatically). Of course you then need other methods of defence against the robot blog-spammers but this can be managed – Askimet does a pretty good job in WordPress blogs and you can pre-moderate if you have low levels of comments or only allow people who have already had comments approved. I already make links within my posts carry full weight and I’m inclined to go the dofollow route on comments too – just need to decide on the best method of doing it.

Nofollow on internal links

On the thornier topic of using nofollow to manipulate PageRank within a site there are a few arguements that I find persuasive.

Firstly I don’t believe enough people actually understand PageRank enough to start trying to fiddle with it. Anyone who reads the SEO forums will know that they are full of questions which show that people believe the most nonsensical rubbish about the subject and pick up on old wives tales at the slightest opportunity. The sort of mess that these folk could make of their sites with nofollow doesn’t bear thinking about.

Secondly the kind of pages that are being suggested as candidates for downgrading – About Us and Contact Us pages for instance – are actually perfectly useful pages that often can be made to rank well for important terms. The potential gains are far outweighed by the likely losses.

Thirdly we have the problems that would be caused to the usability of sites. Many websites use Google’s own search system to provide site-search facilities, and studies show that many users will use the search boxes to navigate a site. If you close off some of your pages with nofollow then those pages won’t show up in these search results. Why would you want that to happen? Golden rule – build sites to serve your users.

Fourthly there is something very fundamental here which I think needs to be addressed. Google have always said that you should show users and search engines the same things. That’s why hidden text and cloaking is so disliked by them. If you show a user a link then you are telling them that it’s worth following it. If you use a nofollow attribute on it then you are telling the search spiders that it isn’t worth following. Isn’t that rather dishonest? Isn’t that against the very rules that Google want us to adhere to? I think it is, and for that reason as well as the other listed above, I won’t be using it.


To nofollow or not? — 1 Comment

  1. Hey Bill,
    nice article. I do remember doing some testing where by you obfuscate links in JavaScript on internal links so as to force PageRank etc onto specific pages in a website – this was about three and a half years ago. It did deliver on some tests but on others seemed a little bit off too much effort for not too much return. The little green fairy dust bar showed some movemenet but only on the strongest of sites. It was far simpler to refine the navigation on the site and ensure that everything on the site was working effectively.

    As to the ethical issue of basically cloaking links on some level I have to agree that it does all seem a dilemma that the search engines, to a man, require addressing.

    Would have placed a sphinn but their registration form aint working – someones disabled it 🙁