This is a post I wanted to write ever since mid summer this year, but never found the time to complete it. It presents another (and hopefully fresh) angle on the change in Google’s page rank algorithm, the new nofollow semantics, and their consequences for webmasters.
In the past couple of years, the term Page Rank Sculpting was all over the Internet. Every self-proclaimed “SEO guru” had something to say about it. And what was the main “weapon” of the thing? Nofollow. Well, in case you don’t know yet: Nofollow is dead!
What you might have missed for more than a year now is that Google have changed their page rank algorithm regarding the handling of nofollow. (But they only explicitly admitted it a year after.)
Tragically, while this action won’t hurt spammers or those seeking to manipulate Google, it will seriously harm many thousands of sites that have employed nofollow internally as it was long considered a best practice (and messaged as such to the SEO community by the same source as this reversal). I suspect it will be several years and many re-designs before a lot of sites are able to clean up this solution-turned-problem.
Oh really? Now that’s a statement typical for a SEO-blinded “professional”.
Let’s see what the change really means.
The New Meta/Nofollow Semantics
I’ll use the “juice” analogy to exemplify the whole: Imagine page rank as virtual juice, with pages being juice vessels and links being (one-directional) pipes between them. When page A links to page B, it establishes a pipeline through which SEO juice flows from A to B.
The original nofollow semantics was that of a “cork plug” for SEO juice. Setting nofollow on a link would effectively tamp the pipeline.
The new nofollow semantics is that of a leak in the pipeline. That means, juice flows out from A through a nofollowed pipe, but doesn’t arrive at B.
The drawback for spammers is the same as before. Pages referred to by spam links won’t get any juice if nofollowed. The change doesn’t improve the situation for spammers. They are hurt the same as before.
The point is, nofollow cannot be used any more to direct or conserve page rank juice, like many big sites have been using it.1 But such use is mostly not in accordance with the nature of hyper-linking for the purpose of information reference anyway. Links in comments set aside (for their high abuse/spam potential), it is not plausible to nofollow links that you purposefully add to your main content. When you link to another page, it (usually) is because that page provides something of value that is related to your content. Nofollowing the link says the opposite though: “Search engines, do not follow this link, it is not relevant.”
The only reason to do this is selfishness.
Google’s old nofollow policy rewarded such selfishness. The new one doesn’t.
Face it, guys! There is no page rank benefit for your own site from nofollowing links any more. Which – finally – renders the whole “page rank sculpting business” senseless and the waste of time that it always was.
The New Age
What are the consequences for webmasters? When should they use nofollow, and when not?
- The governing principle is: Interpret “nofollow” as “this link is irrelevant”.
- You want to avoid adding irrelevant links by purpose. That means that the links that you control and purposefully add to support your content (like when you refer to an external post) should be not nofollowed.
- There are two prominent exceptions:
- When you link to a “unrighteous” website (ex. scam sites) that you want to warn from, do nofollow the link. You don’t want to reward scam with link love.
- When you link to sites that routinely nofollow external links, reciprocate “the favor”. Quid pro quo.2
- Links in comments are definitely not links that you control. Hence, they should be nofollowed.3
According to my first-hand experience, systematic keyword research, and careful SEO copy-editing (read: keyword optimization) are the real deal. They give you impact orders of magnitude larger than of any nofollow game.4 Be effective, don’t waste time and money on peanuts.
- Welcome To The Machine (Or 8 Easy Steps To Nowhere)
- Obama's SEO Counterstrike
- Is SEO Mass Internet Destruction?
- SEO Page Rank Sculpting My Ass – Nofollow Meta Game Over
- One of the bigger injustices on the Internet was when sites which grew big due to user contributions in exchange for “link love”, suddenly changed the rules and nofollowed all their external links. They seized their link love payments, but did not remove the content they’ve got in exchange for it. Instead, they applied nofollow to conserve page rank and concertedly direct it to strategic pages. [↩]
- In WordPres you can use the “Nofollow Reciprocity” plugin for this. [↩]
- Links in comments are automatically nofollowed in WordPress. [↩]
- I effectively doubled my search engine visitors within less then a month by merely putting more focus on keyword research and SEO copy-editing. [↩]