May 24, 2016
Nofollow is a tool that was introduced in 2005 by Google’s Matt Cutts and Blogger’s Jason Shellen. The idea was that the tag could be used for the purpose of decreasing spam on blogs by instructing search engines that a hyperlink would have no bearing or affect on the ranking of the link’s target.
In other words, nofollow was designed for use in links that the site owner did not want influencing Google’s index. Unfortunately, nofollow is nearing 10 years old, yet bloggers, webmasters and content marketers alike have misused it for nearly every one of those 10 years. Read on to learn more.
Nofollow’s Original Purpose
At its inception, nofollow looked like it would be an effective way to fight spam. It was great at keeping unhelpful links (the ones that didn’t reflect the site in a positive light or add to its importance) at bay while also allowing a site to rise through the rankings of multiple search engines on the basis of good links.
In its original inception, nofollow was introduced as a means of controlling abusive tactics from sneaky websites that sought to increase their personal search ranking through links posted onto external sites with high DA scores. This creates a problem, however, when you pause to consider that the content curation for these sites rests solely on the shoulders of the site’s editorial team.
Since editorial staff has no control over external sites that feature user-generated content and blog posts, it stands to reason that the content of those sites would be nofollowed almost immediately in an effort to regain control over content and search engine ranking.
Originally, nofollow was introduced as a way for editorial staff of high-quality websites to stop their site from being dragged down the indexes as a result of having links to poor-quality sites foisted upon them by external users. In this way, the original purpose of nofollow was to be an editor’s tool that allowed for reclamation of power back and the ability to mitigate ranking damage caused by unscrupulous sites.
It all went wrong in the nofollow world, however, when people began to express a great deal of concern over “authority sites” — what they were, how they worked and which sites earned the title.
As the importance of “authority sites” began to rise in the eyes of content publishers everywhere, editors and webmasters began thinking twice about how they linked to external pages and, in an effort to protect their site’s ranking, these same content publishers began dropping nofollows in order to protect themselves from the aforementioned “guilty by association” index dives.
Why You Don’t Have to Nofollow
There is a dangerous side to using the nofollow tag on good links. When Google sees a site with all nofollow links, it assumes that the site is comprised entirely of user-generated content or, alternately, that all of the site’s content is ad-based. Because neither of these scenarios generally produces a site that boasts good content, a site that is perceived like this by Google is likely to be ranked down.
Additionally, dropping the nofollow tag everywhere means that your site will sabotage organic links. Although it is understandable for a site to want to suppress low-quality external links, the issue of the nofollow tag gains a whole new face when it becomes such that reputable, high DA sites are being marked “poor” sites and webmasters are being advised by Google to nofollow them.
This is where the double-edged sword of the nofollow culture enters the equation: in an attempt to make their sites rank higher, those who lean heavily on the nofollow tag may actually find themselves sneaking down Google’s indexes.
In a 2013 interview, Matt Cutts cleared up some nofollow myths for the tag’s many users. By pointing out that nofollow is a helpful tool for times when it is necessary to link to outside sites, he also clarified that many users would be better off using no index more often than nofollow. For example, if a user has pages within a site that the user intends to place nofollow tags next to, it actually makes more sense to simply use the no index tool to ensure that the pages are not indexed in Google at all.
The Verdict on the Nofollow Case
Nofollow has been confusing webmasters for years but the verdict is in: you don’t have to nofollow good links in your content.
As Cutts points out, using nofollow links inherently means that PageRank won’t be able to discover a link, which also means that PageRank computation and indexing won’t apply to that site. Because of that, it’s best to forge the nofollow tag on internal links within your site.
Although nofollow was originally a helpful tool that used its powers for good rather than evil, it has become the metaphorical monster in the closet and it’s time to rein it in. Through the atmosphere of fear and doubt that has surrounded the nofollow tag for the last ten years, nofollow has taken on a distinctly “big brother” feel. By doing away with the practice of needlessly nofollowing good links in content, webmasters can begin to reclaim the Internet, one post at a time.
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.