The Curious Power of NoFollow and What Bloggers Need to Know

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series.]

We’ve been spending the last few blog posts going deep into links, linking, and the importance of doing it right. Of course, we must engage the rel=”nofollow” attribute at the very least.

What is “nofollow” you ask? It was, at one point, quite a simple concept (and I still think it is) – it was a way for webmasters to control how search engines crawled their site and visited linked pages. Using the nofollow tag told search engines to “not follow” this link to the linked content.

It looks like this:

[cc]Google.com[/cc]

Please note that telling a search engine or robot to not follow a link is not the same thing as blocking a robot or crawler from indexing the site or blocking access to the content! This is a very important distinction and must be noted!

Historically it was actually a bit more difficult to prevent robots and crawlers to follow links on a page and so the nofollow attribute was created to make this process much easier. You can still tell a search engine robot to not follow any links on a page by creating a page-level meta tag, if you wish:

[cc][/cc]

So why do you need to know about this as a blogger? Here’s why…

Such a simple concept... right?

Remember PageRank?

If you remember the post about power of PageRank then you’ll make the connection quite easily that your linking matters to your blog as well as the blogs that you link to, right?

If you use a nofollow attribute on your links then, in general, Google and some of the other search engines won’t follow those links when they crawl your site. In other words, Google will not transfer PageRank value to the linked sites. They will also not pass anchor text across these links.

Practically speaking it won’t consider these links in it’s equation for calculating the PR value of the property. Sure, the websites, blogs, and pages may still show up in the index and be searchable under these conditions:

  • Other sites link to them without using nofollow.
  • Links are submitted to Google in a Sitemap. Don’t have one? Get a blog sitemap here!

These are just some of the factors to consider. You could see this as having a lot of “power” and responsibility when it comes to your linking, both internally and externally!

Imagine that? You, dearest blogger, have a lot of leverage with those links!

What Do Bing, Yahoo! and Google Do Specifically?

Ah, glad you asked! It’s quite simple:

  • Google – Links tagged as nofollow carry no weight or value in regards to PageRank calculation. It is understood as simply plain HTML text, just like if it didn’t have a link at all.
  • Yahoo! – Yahoo has mentioned that nofollowed links do not impact search results. But, they may be used by their bots to find new content on the web. So, they may, in fact, visit the linked page but not count it in their SERPs.
  • Bing – Bing has a very similar approach to Yahoo and has mentioned that it will not be influenced in terms of ranking but will discover these new pages via the links.
  • Ask.com – Although I don’t personally consider Ask.com to be one of the “major” players they have a unique perspective when it comes to nofollow – they treat them no differently than any other link. They say this helps them be “immune” to the inherit challenges and potential pitfalls/problems that nofollow create. To that I say: “But who really uses Ask.com, period?” Just kidding.

You could spend even more time diving into the specifics of each search engine if you wish but this overview should cover most of what you need to know.

Yup. I'm following WordPress.

How Does My Blogging Platform Handle nofollow?

Very decent of you to consider this as it’s very important! Now, I’m not too familiar with how the “other” blog platforms handle nofollow but I do know what WordPress does these two things:

  • It automatically assigns nofollow to all user-submitted links. These would include comment data, commenter URI, etc. This is good because it minimizes spam interest by spammers.
  • It does not use nofollow on links within your blog post, sending crawlers and bots (and value) to your links internally and externally.

If you’re interested in using nofollow in your links you can either edit them via the HTML tab and add rel=”nofollow” to them.

There are a few plugins that change this core behavior if you’d like and some bloggers “swear” by them. I’m generally not interested in changing anything in the core behavior of WordPress but if you want I’ve listed a few here for your investigation and curiosity:

You can also look for other WordPress Plugins that have the tag “nofollow” in them for more options here.

On a sidenote, I’ve been working with WordPress for years and have trusted their handling of SEO-related issues like nofollow and love what the general core contributors and authors of WordPress have decided to do. In fact, it’s so good that many SEO professionals suggest that you use WordPress to help get “found” fast by search engines.

I agree with this suggestion and if this is true (and I believe it to be) then why would you choose any other blogging platform? Here are some reasons I choose WordPress over the rest of those sub-par platforms!

When Should I Use nofollow on my Blog?

Another great follow-up question! Glad you asked! Here are a few examples of when it might be wise to add a nofollow tag in your links:

  • Trustworthy Links? – If you’re referencing another piece of content or website that might appear to be a bit untrustworthy or that you don’t want to completely vouch for (but you’re using it as reference material) it’s best to add a nofollow. This will discourage spammers from targeting your site so that you won’t pass PageRank to anywhere you don’t want to.
  • Links You Paid For – Google and many of the other search engines are interested in providing the best “organic” search returns for its users as possible – that means that any link that is paid for is not created organically or naturally and can influence PageRank negatively and unfairly. So, if you got paid for that link via a Sponsored Post then add that nofollow. Google says this explicitly, by the way: “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.” End of discussion! Adding nofollow keeps you above board so you don’t violate guidelines.
  • Links That Don’t Need Juice – There are some links that don’t need any PageRank, such as links to your registration system or your login page. Throw a nofollow on them so that they don’t clog up PageRank flow in unnecessary ways.

Generally you want to blog as you normally would and don’t spend too much time trying to figure out if you’re doing it “right” or “wrong” (except for those three listed above) and you’ll be fine. In fact, my guess is that you’re doing it “right” already!

Don't get caught with dirty link building strategies.

PageRank and Link Sculpting via nofollow?

Now you may have heard about the strategy known as “link sculpting” or “PageRank sculpting” as a search engine optimization strategy. What this involves specifically is explicitly deciding which links in your blog post will have nofollow and those that do not have nofollow and trying to force (or highly suggest) to search engine crawlers to overly prioritize some links over others to somehow give more value as a result (“stacking”).

It’s true that this is a legitimate method of crafting and focusing attention to areas of your blog and links on each page but some SEOers (and some employees at Google specifically) frown upon it as trying to over-manipulate link value and PageRank is going to be caught and you’ll be penalized.

It is more important to simply create a useful, well-thought out, and organized link hierarchy than trying to “sculpt” PageRank via your links in every single post.

Again, as I mentioned above, you’re probably already doing fine and this isn’t something I’d worry about.

Ok, Final Question: What is “dofollow?”

I get this question all the time and it’s a natural question to ask.

Essentially there is no rel=”dofollow” tag that explicitly tells search engines to follow the link. There is simply the act of not adding a rel=”nofollow” which is the same thing as the mythological dofollow tag.

So, to be clear, there is no dofollow tag, just the act of not using the nofollow tag. Get it? Got it? Good!

Hope all this helps bring a little more clarity to you – let me know if you have any questions!

[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series. Images via Creative Commons, kolacc, eva, danis.]