To Follow or to No Follow? The Misuse of Rel NoFollow Tags

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rel=”nofollow” tags were initially introduced by Google to help prevent comment spam. In other words, to prevent spammers from bombarding your site with links to their in the hope of gaining link popularity and Page Rank points. Most search engines have now adopted use of this tag, which basically tells the search engine to do three things:

  • NOT follow through to that page.
  • NOT count the link in calculating PageRank link popularity scores.
  • NOT count the anchor text in determining what terms the page being linked to is relevant for.

The abuse of nofollow – hoarding PageRank

The problem is that many developers are using nofollow to “hoard PR” (hoard PageRank). In other words, they add nofollow tags to any links pointing outside their site. While this may not have a negative effect under the tags current handling, Google notes that they are leaving their interpretation of the tag open based on initial results. What does this mean? Knowing Google, I would not be surprised if they integrated treatment of the nofollow tag into their results algorithms, meaning they may use it, for example, to identify sites with a disproportionate number of links in as opposed to out – in other words, too many nofollow tags. After all, if the tag was designed to combat spam links, a site that is littered with nofollow tags will therefore be looked at as one that is littered with links to spammy sites. I can’t imagine that’s viewed favorably.

Detecting rel=”nofollow” on other pages

There’s an easy way to detect rel=”nofollow” links on other pages, aside from viewing the source code. Simply define a custom style for the nofollow tag. Most of today’s browsers allow you to define a user style sheet. We’ll show you the locations of these for Firefox and Opera.

Setting a Custom (User) Stylesheet in Firefox, Opera, etc.

In Firefox you can style your nofollow tag by adding a statement such as the following to userContent.css (in your profile directory – under C:\Documents and Settings\%user name%\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\%profile name%\chrome\userContent-example.css), making sure you rename it to userContent.css (remove -example):

a[rel~=”nofollow”] { border: 1px dotted red; background-color: #EED3DE !important }

This will add a light red background and dotted red border to links using nofollow tags.

In Opera, the user.css file is located by default in C:\Program Files\Opera\Styles\user.css. You can specify the location of your user stylesheet by browsing to Tools -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Content, and selecting the “Style Options” button.

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Alex bring a series of in-depth articles on search marketing and content management systems as well as troubleshooting tips to We Rock Your Web's collection. He is an avid tennis player, nature enthusiast, and hiker, and enjoys spending time with his wife, friends, and dogs, Bella and Lily.

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4 Comments on "To Follow or to No Follow? The Misuse of Rel NoFollow Tags"

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Anonymous
Anonymous

I’m my humble opinion, trying to “sculpt” PageRank using nofollow tags to influence the flow of “link juice” is a complete waste of time. People are better off spending their time writing good content and marketing that via legitimate channels such as forums, blogs, online communities, social networks, etc. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to nofollow comment links as a general rule, which is what the nofollow tag was originally invented for anyways, I believe.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Nofollow tags should be used as a “set it and forget” it kind of thing. You set nofollow on any “un-moderated” content on your site, and then forget about it. We don’t spend any time building backlinks or trying to “carve” link juice out of nofollow/ follow links, etc. and we’re doing just fine.

Anonymous
Anonymous

“for example, to identify sites with a disproportionate number of links in as opposed to out – in other words, too many nofollow tags”

I completely understand your logic here, but what if the links that were being nofollow’d were actually internal links. As in secondary navigation that would create 100+ links on each page if not nofollow’d

alexc
alexc

Good question. If you have over 100 links to internal pages from one of your pages you have another problem. I would optimize your navigational structure so you’re not pointing to more than a couple dozen or so internal pages from any one page (excluding your sitemap of course).

Optimally, you want to establish a pyramid hierarchy that will let users get to the content they need to quickly and efficiently. Your primary navigation shouldn’t contain more than 7 items (because the average human mind finds it difficult to process more). Notice how we’ve organized our category links. They point to primary categories, then secondary categories, and then listings of the actual articles. This is in lieu of a page with hundreds of direct links to articles, which would be mind-boggingly confusing to visitors.

Finally, you can link to your most important pages directly. Notice how we do so with newest content and recent comments. Or, on our homepage, we link to the 10 newest articles and provide teasers.

Using nofollow on internal pages is risky, since you risk telling search engines not to index them. Is that what you want with 100+ internal links? If so, what are you linking to that you don’t want search engines to see? Either way, you should be able to group all the files you don’t want search engines to index in directories and simply exclude these from indexing via your robots.txt file.

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