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Using NoFollow for SEO: The Quick Facts

15:47 on Tue, 16 Jun 2009 | SEO | 0 Comments

If you follow any SEO blog it's very unlikely you've missed the storm of posts about nofollow over the last 48 hours in the wake of Matt Cutt's revelations on PageRank Sculpting.

For the uninitiated, PageRank Sculpting is an SEO technique that aims to "sculpt" the flow of link equity around a website, pushing greater PageRank to pages deemed important, thus increasing their chance of ranking. Until now, it has been common "best practise" for SEOs to advise that sites use the nofollow attribute on links to pages they had no wish to rank or contain links they could not vouch for, such as basket pages, T&Cs, Privacy Policy, Comments and some UGC.

We heard last week from SMX Advanced 2009 that the NoFollow rules had changed and there have been some excellent write-ups explaining this change. Matt's post however, gives us the first confirmation of these changes.


NoFollow a Nutshell

Change: Using the NoFollow attribute will no longer "save" PageRank for other links on the same page.

Confirmation: NoFollow links do not pass PageRank, anchor text or help your rankings in any way (any cases where anchor text was passed was considered a bug and fixed).

Clarification: The more links you have on a page, the smaller the amount of PageRank passed to links on this page

Clarification: You should not attempt to sculpt PageRank on your site.

Bonus Confirmation:  Linking out to trusted sites can have a positive impact on your rankings*

*Much discussed in our office and pretty much what we suspected - a post coming on this shortly.


What do the NoFollow changes mean?

There's been a lot of discussions about the impact of the NoFollow changes, especially in regard to the "balance" of protecting yourself from search penalties and losing PageRank.

For instance, when writing a blog post, I may have previously decided to link to a source relevant to my article that wasn't a major player, you know, help the little guys. I could have given that site a little boost in traffic and protected my own site by using the NoFollow attribute.

Unfortunately, with the recent changes I now have two rather unappealing options:

1) Link as before with nofollow, except this time I'm indirectly detracting from my own site's link equity.

2) Might as well just give them a followed link then? Well, unless you're going to audit every site you link to, you run the risk of linking to a bad neighbourhood / paid links etc.

Why bother linking at all? Why even allow NoFollowed comment links on your blog for that matter? A thought echoed by Danny Sullivan:

"I’m encouraged to reduce the number of links rather than let them be on the page period, nofollow regardless. If I’m worried my page won’t seem “natural” enough to Google without them, maybe I allow 5 comments through and lock them down after that."


What can I do? Can I still sculpt PageRank?

This is where I think there is some ambiguity.

SEOMoz says: "Yes, You Can Still Sculpt PageRank. No You Can't Do It With Nofollow"

Matt Cutts says: "I wouldn’t recommend it"

I think this is a tricky area - does Google now consider PageRank sculpting to be blackhat? My gut reaction would be "no", but consider this:

The only way to "sculpt" PageRank now would be to:

1) Use Flash links (probably will be followed soon anyway)

2) Use iFrames (probably will be followed soon anyway)

3) Use Named Anchors (a bit better, as Google seems to ignore things after "#")

4) Use obfusticated Javascript / Javascript redirects through noindexed pages (probably the best solution)


Okay, so let's go with number 4 and we've set up all of our old NoFollows links to nasty unGoogleable Javascript, sweet - the PageRank is flowing where we want it again.

What I'm about to suggest will no doubt get some flak, but I think it's worth thinking about, so I'll just throw it out there...

In my experience the treatment of "blackhat" sometimes boils down to intent. Sometimes regardless of how successful the webmaster was in applying a technique, the intent of what he/she was doing can be used in the consideration of penalties.

Now, we all know that cloaking is the delivery of different content to search engines to that of users, a well-known blackhat technique.

My question to the SEO community is this: If you're going to the lengths of purposely exploiting technical limitations in of Google to hide links that will be visible to users, how is that morally/intent-wise different to cloaking?

The intent is the same: "Here is what I want users to see, here is what I want search engines to think they see".

Matt Cutts:  "I wouldn’t recommend it"

Worth a thought at least.

Making big structural changes now will do one thing though: make you stick out as an SEO who is intent on fiddling with PageRank.

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