A few years ago, Google introduced the nofollow link attribute as a means of combatting spam. The hope was, if webmasters slapped this label on their user-generated outbound links, people would stop making comments and submissions for the purpose of gaming search engines. Any link attached to a nofollow would have no weight in the search index ranking algorithm, so webmasters would be free to walk away from the dreaded task of moderation and cleaning up public areas of their sites.
Used, Misused, and Ultimately Useless
Quite a few popular web software platforms jumped on the bandwagon right away. Obviously, Google’s Blogspot took the initiative, but it wasn’t long before WordPress, Typepad, and other common CMS bundles began inserting the nofollow attribute into every user-generated link.
Of course, this had close to zero impact on fighting spam – smart webmasters just focused their time on finding links that weren’t nofollowed, and the most annoying spammers continue to drop a link anywhere they can. Automated systems really don’t care about the marginal value of a single link: they can afford to post 100 useless ones for every valuable one they get. They don’t care, that’s the point of automating the effort!
Another popular use for nofollow was for webmasters to block off their own internal links for the purposes of sculpting pagerank: that is, in an attempt to direct the search engines toward more important pages while leaving the visible navigation in tact for human visitors. While this wouldn’t affect human surfers, it would funnel the pagrank to the important sales pages while cutting the search engines off from otherwise valuable content that didn’t produce as much revenue.
Or at least, this is what many SEO professionals believed until recently when Matt Cutts told them Pagerank Sculpting does not work like that anymore.
Instead of completely ignoring nofollowed links, Google will continue to count them toward the amount of pagerank the URL could have potentially delivered. A link with nofollow will then devalue the amount of juice passed through clean links, but their potential juice is just lost. If there are 20 links on a page, each one gets 5% of the PR juice potential, and you can’t improve that to 10% by putting nofollow on half of them.
Nofollow for Comments and Bookmarks: Useless, Insulting
Anyone who runs a blog or a Pligg site should stop and think about this for a second: You aren’t gaining anything by putting nofollow on your links. You’re not conserving pagerank or keeping it internal. All you’ve done is ensure that your visitors & contributors don’t get a share. Instead of passing along the link juice, you’ve decided to destroy it so no one can have it.
I’ll leave this topic at that for now, and I promise I’ll try to write about something other than nofollow in the future. As you may or may not know, all of my sites pass the link love along through comments, but I’m a strict moderator and I delete more than I publish. If you want links from me, just add some interesting ideas about the content you’re commenting on and link to a half decent site.