Nofollow's Historical Changes (and Associated Hypocrisy)

26 comments

Have you followed nofollow (and how it has changed)? Graywolf puts nofollow in historical context, noting how current rants about paid reviews are causing Google to put their users last:

What’s really happening is we’ve got another FUD campaign going, this time designed to stamp out paid reviews in an inconsistent, arbitrary and undocumented manor. Some people are allowed to do it, some aren’t, and we don’t know why, rather than take a risk people will just decide not to participate, due to a lack of a clear answer. What happens then, the market goes underground, the disclaimer requirement fades away, and no one, especially the people viewing a page know what editorial forces might be at work behind the scenes influencing that page. Way to go Google and good job of putting the users needs ahead of your own!

When Matt Cutts uses nofollow on his own editorial links doesn't that invalidate nofollow? Why does Matt need to hoard PageRank when he is clearly against that practice? As Matt stated 5 years ago:

It's pretty easy to spot domains that are hoarding PageRank

Indeed it is.

Comments

relevant

John Andrews also has a post about recent events, and John Scott posted about the hypocricy of Google's moral superiority strategy.

Nofollow: What it is, and what it isn't

Nofollow seems to be, to me, just one signal that Google uses to assess the trustworthiness of links. I don't think you can control whether Google counts a link or not. Nofollow may influence that a bit, but why would Google give that signal 100% weight and ignore all the others? That doesn't make sense.

If you Nofollow a link that otherwise seems trustworthy, I think that Google may still count the link (but not to give you brownie points for linking to trustworthy resource). If you don't use Nofollow, Google may still decide to ignore the craplink (and maybe dock your trust score too).

Scottie posted a good explanation here.

Any Googlers out there? How about shining a little light on this subject? I don't see why the functioning of Nofollow should be a secret, expecially if you want to encourage it's use.

I've tried to write a post

I've tried to write a post on this four times and each time I'm not happy with what I write.
Google's stance is totally unsustainable.
Surely all advertising will fall under this massive umbrella of not allowing any paid advert to affect a search engine's results.
I understand that it is Google's game and if I want to play i.e. enjoy their traffic I need to follow their rules but I think this stance (as seobook says above) goes so much further than just the SEO community.
Google is actually attacking the fabric of their success i.e. links.
Advertising links be they text, editorial or banner are legitimate advertising and to make them all nofollow (or equivalent) would stile the internet as we know it.
Unfortunately Google is actually powerful enough to achieve this.
But I don't think G are that stupid, I think they know they can't keep introducing negative tests to catch unwelcome SEOs. If they do then they have folded their hand just like excite and AV did back in the day.
When an engine focuses on the negatives rather than the positives of a website it is game over.
I don't believe Google will do this which is why I too believe this is a mis-information campaign.

But if the Googlers don't

But if the Googlers don't state how they treat it and don't follow their own usage guidelines why should anyone else? How is it relevant on any level?

Great comment GerBot. :)

No Follows are a bit of a joke.

I was really shocked when I found out that the wiki has marked all there outgoing links as no-follow.

In a search engines eyes I would consider the wiki's outgoing links some of the most trustworthy. Even though anyone can edit then, to stay in for any amount of time you need to belong there.

So what will google now do, ditch all the wiki link from the algo. I really believe that would have a pretty negative effect on there results.

So originally nofollow was designed to remove the worst most spammy links from the equation, it is now also being used to remove some of the most useful ones too.

If google is going to continue using links as part of the algo I think they are going to have to stop taking no-follow tags seriously.

I hope I'm not breaking any

I hope I'm not breaking any kind of forum or blog posting etiquette rules here, but I would like to repeat a comment I made at Mike's blog. I feel I can add some historical reference and hopefully make a point that adds value and makes sense at least to some.
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massa Says:
January 25th, 2007 at 11:58 am

Very well written post Michael. I would pay a LOT to be able to turn back the clock to about August of 2002 AND have someone like yourself arguing my case.

Better late than never and I applaud the effort.

In effect, what we are still discussing is restraint of trade, IMO. I conceded from the beginning that a search engine has the right to display what they want the way they want. What they should not have the right to do is to use their power and influence as a weapon to limit the opportunities of competitors, (other people selling advertising), to their own benefit.

In the history of the no-follow tag, which would include the lawsuit going back 5 years now, we have seen not only algo changes for the express purpose of favoring or penalizing specific sites for specific reason far beyond protecting the integrity of their results, to hand manipulation to spreading FUD, to public examples of applied penalties being shown.

I hope you have better luck than I had at making a sensible impact. One that convinces Google that linkbait is no more relevant than paid reviews and paid reviews are no less relevant than sold text links. That selling links or ads or space on YOUR website is the definition of NATURAL. To not sell or lease something of value to an interested third party for the purpose of conducting business is as natural as it gets in the scope of human endeavor and to try to stop that,(or stop only "special" people), is not only unfair trade practices, it is completely back assward of the objective.
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I believe history bears Gray wolf out here. The harder they try to control it, the more out-of-control it will get. It occurs to me that were they to embrace the practice, they would come much closer to actually being able to influence the direction of the industry than they are now. AND I also suspect more FUD would be spread faster and to greater effect if they simply stopped saying anything about it giving they impression they already knew everything and didn't need to speak of it.

Sometimes it is better to keep quiet and have others wonder about your true ability than to speak and remove all doubt.

Aaron, you started this

Aaron, you started this thread and then asked in a comment "But if the Googlers don't state how they treat it and don't follow their own usage guidelines why should anyone else?"

I've said for years that nofollow can be used for links that you can't or don't want to vouch for. See for example my interview with Philipp, from 2005:
http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2005-11-17-n52.html

where I said "The biggest surprise to me about nofollow is how many people seemed to think that it was only for blog comment spam. It’s actually a very general mechanism that can be used in lots of places: guestbooks, referrer lists--basically anywhere that you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the quality of a link."

My original post at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/preventing-comment-spam.html
states quite clearly how Google treats the attribute:
"From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel="nofollow") on hyperlinks, those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn't a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted..."

Wikipedia

So if Wikipedia links were helping you improve quality of search results, are you going to sit on your hands when Jimbo nofollows all of them, and let the quality of your results take a hit?

Morphing is morphing. The

Morphing is morphing. The original "sale" of nofollow was to specifically fight blog spam, clever word play like "I've said for years" doesn't change that.

Ya snuck in a trojan horse Matt, kudos!

Altering the character of the web is not taking a snapshot of it. I still think you are acting in an anti-competitive fashion when you work to de-value the price/value of any paid link in any fashion. All the MONEY belongs to U.

lmao.. suprised ?

Matt if your suprised then please read your companies announcement about the nofollow. A post which you apparently helped write since your name is in the byline.

In case you need a link it here:
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/preventing-comment-spam.html

Please point out where in there it alludes to using nofollow for any of the uses you have suggested ? You won't be able too, it was sold as a solution to comment spam only.

The most offensive part for me is the presumption that its any of Googles business what webmasters do. The passive aggressive language, the backhanded insults, and the assumption that everything a webmaster does is somehow google related results in my indignation.

Missing Something

>where I said "The biggest surprise to me about nofollow is how many people seemed to think that it was only for blog comment spam. It’s actually a very general mechanism that can be used in lots of places: guestbooks, referrer lists--basically anywhere that you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the quality of a link."

Matt, that bit of info is conspicuously missing from the original announcement

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/preventing-comment-spam.html

specfically it's ommited here

Q: What types of links should get this attribute?
A: We encourage you to use the rel="nofollow" attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.

No mention of advertising, reviews, or any other of the things it's been applied to down the road. I'm not foolish enough to say you can't change things, but when you do a nice official statement that's clear, easy to understand and applied equally to everyone, would be a really good idea.

You know, for me, all the talk

You know, for me, all the talk from google about how I use links on my site feels like being evangalized to at a family get together. After a certain point one just can't listen politely anymore and just have to tell the person to mind their own damn business.

If I am going to burn in a fiery Google hell for how I decide to run my site, then so be it, but its my site, my choice, and none of Google's damned business.

I found a paid blogger!

I was just doing my normal seo blog reading rounds when I found this blog.
This blogger is not just getting paid to comment once, they are actually on the target company payroll.
As an seo it is obvious that they know what they are doing with strategically placed anchor text and almost every post being another ad for the target company.
You can even see the blogger being so bold as to say "Click here to register!"

you can see this blog here

jehochman, I don't think

jehochman, I don't think this change will cause a major hit given the way that we process Wikipedia links.

graywolf, I'll check. It may possible to add an update to the original post.

Threadwatch Bait Thursday?

I don't think this change will cause a major hit given the way that we process Wikipedia links

Not fair baiting us like that, Matt. You know we wanna'a more ;-).

Can you

will you, do something about the way you process those bullshit wikipedia articles to the top of the SERPs? ; )

I am more upset with

I am more upset with Wikipedia for not having better spam flagging so they would not have to use the nofollow.

jimbeetle - It is no secret that Wikipedia's passing favor (pagerank) has been devalued in Google for some time.

I do have an example of a small site dropping out of the SERPS today because it's only links came from Wikipedia.

no worry

>>I do have an example of a small site dropping out of the SERPS today because it's only links came from Wikipedia.

I've seen that too.

What you need is to supplement with some Payperpost, reviewme and blogsvertise juice. Ignore the FUD, where the blogger doesn't disclose Google doesn't know. Try V7N.

But I don't think G are

Quote:
But I don't think G are that stupid, I think they know they can't keep introducing negative tests to catch unwelcome SEOs. If they do then they have folded their hand just like excite and AV did back in the day.
When an engine focuses on the negatives rather than the positives of a website it is game over.
I don't believe Google will do this which is why I too believe this is a mis-information campaign.

Nice post. I thought that, too, but lately it seems the Google team is in disarray. Everyone's talking about Yahoo faling apart but really, are we seeing a unified, teamwork-driven Google these days? Nope.

My Spidey senses say Google is a mess internally. Maybe they, as a collective, are that foolish. It takes a concerted, committed effort to do things well, but any dysfunctional group can approve these negative actions one after the other ad-infinitum (just like the US government). Google eschews traditional business values and operations...maybe they aren't paying any attention to organizational behavior either?

Restraint of Trade

Part of what you might be seeing at Google is the ascendancy of the lawyers. That happens when a company gets big and acquires, as Google arguably has, monopoly status in certain markets.

It's wonderful to own a market - whether that market be online search, or contextual advertising.

It's also pretty scary, because once you become the unchallenged 800 pound gorilla you need to look at all your actions through the prism of the antitrust laws. Are you just doing what you've always done, trying to be the best search engine and the best seller of wonderfully relevant advertising, or are you trying to abuse your monopoly power and restrain trade?

It's scary even when your heart is pure, because it's not what's true that matters in a court case, it's what some malcontent and his/her lawyer can sell to a judge and jury.

The folks that sell links compete with Google for online ad dollars. They send traffic to your site, just like Google. The money that goes to pay per post sites, or to link selling sites, could just easily be spent buying ads from Google.

What would make doing business with those competitors of Google less attractive? Well, if buying links from them were going to tank your organic rankings in perhaps the only search engine that really matters, that would make doing business with them less desirable. But Google hasn't said that would ever happen - they very carefully, again and again, have said that buying text links won't help you but won't hurt you, even though it's clear they just don't like paid links messing with their algorithm, and even though some of the statements seem to me to tiptoe right up to the line of suggesting that "Google senses much" and maybe could put a fix on you in ways you don't even perceive if you are getting illegitimate links.

Why the neutrality? Why the uncertainty? Why not just say, We don't like purchased links any better than comment spam, and we will hurt you if we catch you using them?

One possibility - scared of being made out to be monopolists restraining trade, they are staying carefully within the permissible bounds. They aren't telling anyone not to buy a link. They are staying carefully behind a line drawn for them by their lawyers. They act unilaterally in the way they run their algorithm, but very, very carefully avoid crossing over into interfering with the business of their competitors.

Why the neutrality? Why the

Why the neutrality? Why the uncertainty? Why not just say, We don't like purchased links any better than comment spam, and we will hurt you if we catch you using them?

Maybe the key to that is the word "if".

>monopolists restraining

>monopolists restraining trade

Thats why Matt is always careful to couch the FUD with BS like:

"links in those paid-for posts should be made in a way that doesn’t affect search engines."

Trying to make it sound like revenue zapping is an industry custom, not monopolistic behaviour. Of course, I've yet to see any engine come out the way Matt (not google official) does.

Nofollow No Good? - Jeremy Zawodny

So Matt....

Matt.... You need to talk to the Google Video guys because the ONLY google video links that are not nofollowed are to paid partners content.

Maybe their copy of the nofollow memo had a typo ?

@GerBot

Great observation,

No word from MattCuts on his next comment (right after) ?!

clean slate when all links are nofollowed

So, Matt, what do you do when every link on the Internet is nofollowed? We seem to be moving in that direction, no?

Bury the rel=nofollow-fiasko

The value "nofollow" in the REL attribute creates misunderstandings, even in the inventor's company, because it is, hmmm, hapless.

In fact, back then it meant "passnoreputation" and nothing more. That is search engines shall follow those links, and they shall index the destination page, and they shall show those links in reversed citation results. They just must not pass any reputation or topical relevancy with that link.

There were micro formats better suitable to achieve the goal, for example Technorati's votelinks, but unfortunately the united search geeks have chosen a value adapted from the robots exclusion standard, which is plain misleading because it has absolutely nothing to do with its (intended) core functionality.

I can think of cases where a real nofollow-directive for spiders on link level makes perfect sense. It could tell the spider not to fetch a particular link destination, even if the page's robots tag says "follow". For example printer friendly pages. I'd use a "ignore this link" directive for example in crawlable horizontal popup menus to avoid theme dilution when every page of a section (or site) links to every other page.

There is nothing wrong with a mechanism to neutralize links in user input. Just the value "nofollow" in the type-of-forward-relationship attribute is not suitable to label unchecked or not (yet) trusted links. If it is really necessary to adopt a well known value from the robots exclusion standard (and don't misunderstand me, reusing familiar terms in the right context is a good idea in general), the "noindex" value would have been be a better choice (although not perfect). "Noindex" describes way better what happens in a SE ranking algo: it doesn't index (in its technical meaning) a vote for the target. Period.

It is not too late to replace the rel=nofollow-fiasco with a better solution which could take care of some similar use cases too. Folks at Technorati, the W3C and whereever have done the initial work already, so it's just a tiny task left: extending an existing norm to enable a reasonable granularity of crawler directives on link level.

Since the rel=nofollow thingy exists, it has confused gazillions of non-geeky site owners, publishers and editors on the net. Last year I've got a new client who added rel=nofollow to all his internal links because he saw nofollowed links on a popular and well ranked site in his industry and thought rel=nofollow could perhaps improve his own rankings. That's just one example of many where I've seen intended as well as mistakenly misuse of the way too geeky nofollow-value. As Jill points out, that's just the beginning of net-wide insane.

So, since we now know that the "nofollow" value is a notional monster, can we please have it removed from the search engine algos asap? Thanks.

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