No Follow Tags: Double-Edged Sword?


The nofollow debate is not new. The "rel=nofollow" attribute for anchor tags was created as a counter to the spurge of comment spamming that had become the bane of blogs (and forums) all over the Net. This attribute can also be implemented at a meta tag level to affect multiple links.

While the syntax might suggest the attribute tells crawlers to ignore the link and not follow it, some empirical evidence suggests that these crawlers follow nofollow links regardless - I'm still not convinced either way. Either the spiders are following it and just ignoring the PR transfer, or they're getting there via another link that omits the tag. I suppose the lesson here is that it's safer to use the robots noindex tag to keep the bots out of where you don't want them.

Anyway, what we know for sure is that the search engine spiders disregard the links' SEO value as a backlink for the target page.

The tag's use has evolved, and we find people using it for any link where they don't want to cast an SEO vote for the site they're linking to. There are plenty of times this would be perfectly legit. For example, if I was linking to a site to illustrate to my users a bad example of a particular practice or when showing them a site that I thought was spammy. By doing this I don't need to worry about the "linking to bad neighbourhoods" factor.

What we've begun to see though, is what looks like an abuse of the nofollow tag. Webmasters making links nofollow as a default.

We've also had instances where people involved in link buying schemes were paying for nofollow links.

So if they're prepared to pay for a link, and are making it clear that they're only interested in the traffic generated from that link, and not the PageRank value for SEO, then should that link not be considered as more relevant and legitimate than a bought link that doesn't use the tag? So if the link's more relevant, then maybe it should be counted?

Here's another issue to consider: if a website is using the nofollow tag for all of its links, then doesn't that say to a spider that the website contains content that the webmaster doesn't trust or won't vouch for? If the webmaster doesn't trust a site's content; should the Search Engines?

Of course, unless you actually scanned through the source code to check, it wouldn't be obvious that a link was a nofollow unless they're set to display differently via the CSS.

Another way to make nofollow links visible is with the SearchStatus SEO tool with its "highlight nofollow links" function. Playing around with it, you'll be surprised at how often the tag gets used.

I think nofollow gets used way too often. There seems to be an enduring SEO myth that linking out somehow dilutes a page's PR. So you get webmasters implementing nofollow all over the place to hoard their PageRank. Besides the fact that I think the PR leak paranoia is completely unjustified, I can't help feel that this stinginess with the "linklove" is contrary to the spirit of sharing and cooperation that the Internet is supposed to be all about. Then again maybe I am just being naïve...

Oh, and nofollow doesn't really seem to have deterred the link spammers anyway.

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