by Nicolette V. Beard


I Got 99 Problems & A Link Ain’t One

In the beginning was AOL & Netscape.

Now, there are Google & Chrome.

Before Google became a verb, their goal was to “Do No Evil.” They wanted to change the Wild West nature of the web and introduce egalitarianism; they wanted to “democratize” the Internet.

Google tore down the cost of entry and ushered in the Age of Digital Disruption.

They did this by creating an algorithm that established “links as votes,” and the Internet and online marketers, particularly SEOs, have never been the same.

“PageRank is Google’s system of counting link votes and determining which pages are most important based on them. These scores are then used along with many other things to determine if a page will rank well in a search,” wrote Danny Sullivan, Editor, Search Engine Land, over eight years ago.

Though well-intended, PageRank became the bane of many SEOs’ existence.

Enter “page sculpting” — a wrong-headed SEO practice of using “rel=nofollow” to manage PageRank to pass value to certain web pages over others. It so screwed up the indexation of relevant pages that Google’s Matt Cutts asked the web community to stop attempting to sculpt PageRank. He explicitly states, “I wouldn’t recommend PageRank sculpting.”

Instead he recommended, “a solid information architecture — intuitive navigation, user- and search-engine-friendly URLs,” and said that this “is likely to be a far more productive use of resources than focusing on crawl prioritization via nofollowed links.”

What Is “NoFollow” Then & Should You Use It?

Originally, the NoFollow attribute appeared in the page-level meta tag, and instructed search engines not to follow (i.e., crawl) any outgoing links on the page. For example: <meta name=”robots content=”nofollow” />

From Google’s Content Guidelines we read:

“Before nofollow was used on individual links, preventing robots from following individual links on a page required a great deal of effort (for example, redirecting the link to a URL blocked in robots.txt). That’s why the nofollow attribute value of the “rel” attribute was created. This gives webmasters more granular control: instead of telling search engines and bots not to follow any links on the page, it lets you easily instruct robots not to crawl a specific link.”

Everything Old Is New Again

I happened upon a discussion on Inbound.org where the question was asked “Should You Add Nofollow to Content Links?” NoFollow was originally introduced to combat comment spam on blogs. Over time, Google also recommend adding the attribute to user generated content (UGC), paid links and embeds from other sources, like infographics or widgets, again to stem the tide of manipulative tactics that fall outside Google’s quality guidelines.

I’m fine with de-indexing spammy websites who clog up prime search real estate and push down deserving businesses. In that sense, Google aligns with their original mission, “Do No Evil.”

There’s one ambiguous category that gives me pause, however. It’s the “Other” category.

Google recommends we add the NoFollow attribute to links pointing to sites you can’t vouch for. Now we’re entering murky waters often referred to in the SEO community as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). When webmasters or content creators stop trusting their judgment about what type of website warrants recognition, then the industry as a whole has a problem.

It’s okay to link to other websites.

Honest. I do it all the time.

The only way Google can assess the authority of a website is to allow Googlebot to crawl all of a website’s resources, such as JavaScript, CSS and image files and follow all links (both internally and externally). You don’t want to be applying NoFollow to every link on your website because you’re sending the message that you don’t trust those links. You’re essentially giving Google permission to discount those links.

Logic dictates that the linking website (e.g. YOURS) would be considered less trustworthy too.

Similarly, tagging your Login or Terms of Service pages with the purpose of “hoarding” link equity by attempting to redirect PageRank is short sighted at best. (See PageRank sculpting above.) It’s better to allow Google full access and use the “noindex” tag instead, according to Matt Cutts, former head of the web spam team.

My big concern is the industry’s knee-jerk reaction to every change Google announces. We’ve been following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for so long, we’ve forgotten how to disrupt our own digital marketing with innovative thinking.

  • Are you identifying customer needs?
  • Are you rapidly testing and deploying solutions?
  • Are you measuring results?Are you failing fast?
  • That’s how you replicate online success.

Let’s forget about Google and just say “No” to nofollow once and for all. Ya’ with me?

Let me have it.

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