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August 11, 2010

NoFollow Importance

Much has been written over the years about the subject of the use of the nofollow attribute by webmasters. What is “nofollow,” when should it be used, does it benefit the site using “nofollow,” are just some of the questions people ask.

Nofollow meta tags simply means that all outgoing links on a page are not followed by the search engines, in particular Google. These nofollowed links are literally given no link juice value by the search engines. The same thing can be had by nofollows on individual links on any given page.

Google advocate webmasters to use “nofollow” if they have paid links on their sites. If it is discovered a webmaster sells link space then Google can penalize that site because it is viewed as a form of cheating by sending the search engines, and visitors, to sites which may not otherwise deserve to get link juice. Unfortunately of course most people who pay for backlinks require that those links are followed to help their own Page Rank.

Dofollow links are viewed as a sign that the sites being linked to are trusted. In other words if you as a webmaster place a link on your site that isn’t nofollow you are giving it a ‘certain seal of approval’ and you trust that site’s content. This is one of the reasons why probably the vast majority of blog owners use nofollow on their blogs’ comments section. Spammers will be less likely to post a link to their poor-quality sites if they know that they won’t get any link juice, though of course that doesn’t prevent a visitor clicking the link and the second site getting a hit. The more certain way is for the blog owner to remove any comments which appear to be spam.

Incidentally, one of the WordPress plugins is called “Nofollow Case by Case.” Since by default WordPress blogs are nofollow on comments what this plugin does is override the default to make some, or if desired, all, comments dofollow. I do know of a few blogs where this plugin has been installed, though it must be said it does tend to get a lot of few-word “thanks for the post” kind of comments. Having said that, it is currently PR3, and ranked high up in the search engines, so Google must be reasonably happy with it.

As a form of reward, Google themselves suggest either automatically, or manually removing the nofollow attribute on links posted by members or users who a blog or forum owner believes makes consistently high-quality posts. Again though, if a forum uses dofollow for all of its comments, even though some posts may be of very poor value, that doesn’t necessarily mean Google penalizes the forum. One forum I know of is a PR3, and very popular with the search engines.

What I do find strange is when I read advice that you should make all your outgoing links on a conventional site, or blog, nofollow. If you are linking to an “authority” site which you believe is of value to your readers and worth directing them to, are you really saying that you don’t trust that site?

And finally, the nofollow attribute can be used even with internal links. If you link to a page on your site which has little importance as far as the search engines are concerned, but is one that you want your visitors to see, don’t give it any link juice by making it nofollow.

Brian is an econ major, and manages the Drunk Punishment site.