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February 02, 2008


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» SearchCap: The Day In Search, February 4, 2008 from Search Engine Land: News About Search Engines & Search Marketing
Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.... [Read More]


I think you're asking the wrong question... you're title says "Explain how to use it". Well, that's simple. Just put rel="nofollow" for links that you don't want to pass on link-equity to.

I think what you're really wanting to know is "How does it work" and "to what extent does it affect a page's link equity".

I'm speculating, but I think the nofollow tag attribute was concocted as a solution to comment spam and other activities like that, right? So, why is everyone trying to read more into it than that? My guess is that putting a nofollow on your "privacy policy" menu link doesn't really get you a whole lot. Spend more time on more effective optimization methods, like creating more relevant content!

So, can you clarify? Do you want Google to post a FAQ "how to use nofollow", or "how, and to what extent, does nofollow affect a page's link equity"?

Thanks for commenting Eric.

Eric - been in SEO For a while now *chuckle* I do know how to use nofollow, and what to use it for.

The thing about this post - why I wrote it, is because no where does Google officially state anything about nofollow. I know how to use it because I've been to conferences, heard Google reps speak and got to ask questions. Not everyone gets to do that.

Not everyone who launches a site reads search engine land, search engine guide or search engine roundtable. In fact, most people who put up a website have never heard of this site or those sites, so they wouldn't know about no-follow.

By Google putting a FAQ page about nofollow, it helps the common business owner just starting out and putting up a site to follow a guideline, to understand what should be "nofollowed" and what shouldn't be. Right now, all that's out there is pure speculation beyond the what's been stated.

While I am looking for Google to address this issue with an official NOFOLLOW page, it's more to help the common business owner. However, the effect of publishing that kind of page, will also stop all of this speculation about what other kinds of links should be nofollowed (beyond paid links).

Hope that clears up the reason for the post. :)

I totally agree with you Li. Google needs to make an official statement on their site and abide by it, not continue to force people to trust their judgment and take the word of unofficial sources. If it's something that they want to see, let's hear it from them officially.

The NoFollow issue has been bugging me for some time now. I am tired of finding sites that have most of their internal pages NoFollowed. All those pink links hurt my eyes!

What happens when Google decides you are being "too aggressive" with NoFollows on your own site? When they decide it is over-optimized? That will cause a lot of collateral damage…

I am not sure I want Google to have an official page.

It is hard enough competing against previous FUD regarding the release of nofollow if you want to offer an alternative viewpoint and have it appear in the SERPS, just imagine if there is a 3rd round with all the tech blogs writing about it, who follow Google like lemmings.

Justilien and Andy -
Thanks for commenting on this post. Glad this is starting to get conversation going about it.

Couldn't agree with you more Justilien!

Andy, reason I wrote this is because I don't believe that it should be a page written for SEO's, although the side benefit would be to stop all of this speculation around whether or not someone should no follow internal links to an about us page.

I really think this page is needed for the common website owner. Something that they can refer to other than summation and speculation that they might have stumbled upon on a blog somewhere. Something easy to find and reference because these type of internet users, don't venture into the realm of search marketing so how would they really know about this issue with nofollow?

We all understand it. The common folk don't. Heck my parents don't even know what "Live" is as opposed to MSN. We all take for granted about this stuff - someone has to stop and say "hey the common guy doesn't know!"

First of all, hello Justilien!!

Secondly, Justilien raises a great point about this. I know I always think the worst, but really, when will the internal nofollow become the latest crackdown from Google?

Just curious; but isn't this the very same thing as "what is search engine spam?" What I mean is, your post is asking what the nofollow tag should be used for, and is asking Google to totally clarify which links should be nofollowed and which links should not be nofollowed, right? You want Google to give you a complete roadmap about this, right? I equate this to webmasters wanting Google to also define se spam completely.

In other words; no two sites are exactly the same. One has more authority than the other one. One is older than the other one. One has gained much more trust than the other one. Many, many different things to look at from a search engine point of view. If you agree with that, then it's not much of a stretch understanding why Google would never give a concise road map on how to use nofollow, just like you will never see every example of what google deems as search engine spam.

It's all the same thing. If you were Google, would you give exact details what your algo was, or would you try to give as much as possible in your guidelines while keeping your right to make judgment calls based on many other variables?

Google has stated you should use nofollow if you do not trust the site you are linking to and if you do not want to pass pagerank to the site you are linking to. I find that clear enough in order to make good decisions.

Doug -

Thanks for commenting!

I don't think this is the same thing as spam.

Mostly because Google's hasn't officially stated anything on their website nor their blogs about nofollow and how it should be used beyond tagging paid links (and that people should report them). Yet they have "content guidelines" and spell out how to report "Spam" in the webmaster guidelines.

There's been "unofficial/official" statements by Matt Cutts on it, but nothing concrete from Google on what nofollow should be used for on other linking methods for your site. Matt's said things on other blogs - but not on Google, why is that? If you aren't a search person - you couldn't find that information because you wouldn't even know who Matt Cutts is.

I'm not asking Google to state their algo in any shape or form, or anything of the sort. If they give content guidelines (which basically defines their view of spam), and they've posted a page on how to report links, they can certainly give nofollow guidelines to help those business owners who are launching new blogs or websites to understand how not to fall into trouble.

I agree with you that no two sites are the same. However, Google should state how they feel nofollow should be used - since they first stated it was to be used to denote TRUST at a SES conference a few years ago. NOW they changed the game - now we get snippets, drips and drabs from Matt on his blog, or on other people's blogs that .....

-- use nofollow on paid links
-- use nofollow on internal links

The point here is that there's NOTHING on Google about this officially. How does the common webmaster who probably knows who Barack Obama is before Matt Cutts - find this information, when they don't even have it in their Webmaster Guidelines?

I checked out the link properties of this page and I found out it also has a nofollow attribute..^^..

But nevertheless, I still agree with Li..Google should officially explain what the NOFollow attribute means.

Actually Li I think there is a lot of information between the Official Google Blog, the Webmaster Central Blog, and comments Matt has made on his blog and others, as well comments made by Adam.

I do agree with you it would be a good idea to consolidate that information in the guidelines to make it easier to find.

On the other hand, Google or any other search engine for that matter makes it easy to new webmasters to find their guidelines. Personally I find that to be a bigger issue than the fact they have not made any official comments in those guidelines about the nofollow attribute.

When I was new to the web and for several years I did not even know Google had any guidelines. It was after I got involved in forums relating to SEO that I first heard about SE guidelines.

Personally I think every SE should put a link to their guidelines on the main search page. If they expect webmasters to abide by their guidelines they ought to make it easier to find and know about those guidelines.

@ Matt Cutts. Are those comments about Doug really the way you feel about ultra white hats who have defended Google against all the Google bashers? If so I wonder why a year or so ago you listed IHY as a good resource on your blog?

Doug hasn't changed. Have you?

I have to wonder if the real Matt Cutts made those comments.

Whoever made them, you completly misinterpreted Doug's comments.

Doug was simply saying that since Google has never clearly defined what SE spam is, why should we expect Google to clearly define the use of the nofollow attribute.

I would go further than what Doug said. Google does not clearly define a lot of things in the guidelines.

I don't expect Google to spell everything out in black and white. A little common sense goes a long way in interpreting the guidelines IMO. Basically that is all I think Doug was saying.

connie ..thanks for commenting. as stated before, there's nothing for the brand new person to reference on google thus the reason for the request - period. webmasters who are new don't know about these other places and if they found them it could be wrong info. i'd like to ask everyone from here on forward to not use smg as a place to go after folks in comments, please talk to one another personally if you have an issue. I'll be editing 'attacks' out of comments going forward. thanks! (written from my treo so please excuse the shortness) -Li

Li; I agree with you that something should be put in the guidelines about nofollow, but my only point is what could possibly satisfy? Considering that there are so many things involved I feel it would be another se spam type thing. You know that SEO's across the world are constantly asking for more and more detail, so it would be the same thing with nofollow. You will always have the link buyers and publishers wanting more and more and more. That's why I equated it with se spam. I didn't say it was "like spam" at all.

Besides all of that; I don't know about others, but site owners I talk to... new and old, don't even know the google guidelines exist, let alone read them or find them all by themselves. Just not sure what good it would do to try to define the nofollow tag. Something general, maybe. Then you will have SEO's wanting more detail. That's my only points. :)

I agree with Connie.

Doug's comment is definitely well balanced, helpful and in fact supportive of Google.

I also agree that Google guidelines need to be better featured, it could help with protecting inexperienced webmasters from making mistakes out of ignorance.

The nofollow issue is indeed a bit vague. I've only used it once or twice so far. IMHO, it makes sense in the following cases:
- to protect blogs and forums from spam;
- to prevent a link from passing "link juice" when one needs to refer to a resource one considers bad, or suspects of spamming;
- to mark a paid link, especially if links are sold without reviewing the resource that buys it; or, finally
- to prevent the duplicate content issue.

For what it's worth.

I'd just like to say that the person who wrote a comment and signed it "Matt Cutts" above was not me.

The real, actual Matt Cutts, who would not call someone else a "know it all" or call IHY a "rant forum"

P.S. It's uncool to pretend to be someone else and then insult people as that fake identity.

Li, if you start at our webmaster guidelines at http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769 and click the "participate in link schemes" link, it will lead you to a page about link schemes at http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66356 . Now see the link that says "Buying or selling links that pass PageRank"? Click on that link to get to an official page that mentions nofollow. The url is http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66736 . If you want more info, the interview that I did with Rand talks about how we treat nofollow (it's dropped out of our link graph).

Thanks Matt - I've since deleted the other "Matt Cutts" comment. I thought it was kind of funny and was actually going to email you today to see if it was really you - glad you came by to clarify.

Matt - the issue I'm having is more about this "normal links" issue with nofollow. There's been several instances where you've hinted at nofollowing even navigational links (in interviews on other sites) -- NONE of that is actually documented within the FAQ's on Google. That's what I'm really getting at here. What's Google's policy, and why isn't there an official page that's all about NoFollow?

Just ONE PAGE that explains the total ins and outs of NoFollow (according to Google's view) - since as I stated this little "attribute" has changed a lot since first introduced in NYC at SES about 3-4 years ago. Remember then, it was about TRUST - forum and blogs owners using it to combat spam comments that dropped links?

If you noticed I linked in this article to your top two links. Your linking schemes page, shows nothing in reference to NoFollow. What I'm trying to point out here Matt, is that when someone searches on information about nofollow in the Google FAQ (webmaster area) there's not much clarification. It would be beneficial to all webmasters if this information was housed here somewhere.

I am also just frustrated with all this speculation and deciphering of what YOU mean in these interviews - it's almost become some kind of competition. I'd also point out, if I'm frustrated, then what would a nonSEO-webmaster be stumbling on this stuff on a site that's not Google be? It would finally be something concrete, rather than Rand assuming this, Danny speculating that, and Michael saying one's wrong and someone else isn't.

What I'm saying - One Page about NoFollow, easy to access, easy to find and something the whole industry here and new webmasters and business owners can easily understand.

Doug - my apologies for letting the other comment through. As for your experiences with webmasters and business owners, apparently it's different than mine. Most of the ones I talk to say "Google's everything, so I read that About Us and For Webmasters area" ..... I'd say 90% of the people I talk to who launch new sites refer to that.

Thanks Irony - good summation, and I'm in agreement with you.

Thanks for deleting the fake comment, Li.

I appreciate the feedback, and I'll think about whether to do this. So maybe a page with
- Definition
- History and background context (timeline, submission to the W3C for HTML5, ...)
- Mechanics (how Google interprets the nofollow tag by not flowing PageRank)
- Policies (potential uses of not flowing PageRank at a link level)

Something like that?

Hi Li, No prob at all. I didn't reference that comment at all as I had a thought it was fake. I've got lots of blackhat enemies....and even some whitehats who back blackhats, so I'm use to people faking identity of others to get at me. But yeah, someone pretending to be Matt C is disturbing for the blogging world for sure.

OK yes; I see what you mean now. It's not that owners don't know about Google, but that they don't seem to know about the G guidelines section. That's what I meant. :-) I liked the idea above about a link from the Google front search page leading directly to the webmaster guidelines. That in tune with a general definition of the nofollow might be the ticket. I just don't know how it could be worded though, ...enough to satisfy the masses. :)

So, the No Follow is meant to stop the use of Paid Links. I wonder how blocking other people's paid links sits with Google's own "Pay Per Action Ads" which are Ads in form of text links? Or am I missing something? See:

"Text link: A new ad format that you can use for pay-per-action campaigns. A text link is an ad that is displayed as a regular hyperlink. This allows publishers to embed links in line with other text on their site."

I know that I am chiming in a little late, but. In a real estate specific setting where the calls to action are "Searching Property" and we try to convert and get potential leads to those pages how should we handle the following:
- Multiple links scattered between the Nav, content, images and footer of the home page with optimized anchor text all pointing to the property search page. Should any of those be nofollowed? If I nofollow one will google not follow any of them? Clarity, clarity, clarity...


I manage a holiday website in France and a while ago swapped links with another French holiday site and I then discovered that the link had disappeared. I contacted them and they agreed to add it again, however they then added it to a page with 'nofollow'.

I noticed that this site (as they're a competitor, I won't mention them by name here) has recently achieved good search engine placement, appearing in the top 5 for various searches related to holidays in France and I feel part of this may be due to their black hat technique of removing links or adding no follow to their outgoing links, that other webmasters have generated on good faith.

I feel it's important for Google to introduce a system where they monitor links that have been swapped and then disappear from one site and to penalise a site that is obviously removing large numbers of links that were once reciprocal. Obviously, this could happen occasionally for other reasons, but not with large numbers of links.

At the very least a simple formula would be that if 2 sites have links going to each other and EITHER of the sites uses nofollow, then neither of the links count as a vote of confidence for the other one. This would be a simple mechanism to stop web masters abusing the nofollow tag.

Best wishes,


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