Nofollow is a Form of Cloaking - Warning, it's Against Google's Search Engine Guidelines

33 comments

I got thinking about the recent Business.com fiasco. Isn't placing links in your editorial content a way of telling site visitors that you trust those links? And then using nofollow on those links is a way of telling search engines you do not trust them?

From Google's Webmaster Guidelines:

Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."

I would recommend every serious webmaster take a hard look at abandoning the use of nofollow in all cases other than user generated content. The web is founded on links. Don't ghettoize the web, and do not ghettoize your site. Save the Internet!

Comments

Interesting Way of Looking at it

I guess what we have heard is that using nofollow is a way of separating adverting from regular content. But really, how does one decide? There are all sorts of practices that go on:
1) Link exchanges
2) Purchases Links
3) Purchased Banner Ads
4) Link Directories (some paid, some not)
5) Cross linking ones own sites (to commercial sites)
Whose job is it to determine what links are of quality, and which are not?

It is the search engine!

And which companies would not want to rank better by gaining more links that are considered by search engines to be of quality?

No company I know.

Ha ha

Good one, Aaron.

Technically, it's not cloaking because the source code is the same for both versions. Now, if you want to talk about inserting the rel="nofollow" code into the anchors dynamically, server side, we'll talk about it being cloaking. I've seen that done, by the way.

PeterD recently posted a

PeterD recently posted a post that was big on the concept of "What is a paid link". No matter which way you look at it, any and every link is in one way or another paid (either by directly earning trust through consistent performance or creating something new, useful, and interesting ... or more directly purchasing the link using cash).

Cash is just a means for barter. It is not inherently wrong or evil or anything. It is just a mechanism upon which makes many markets more efficeient and perhaps function. Why let others profit at your own expense?

The bottom line is Google is the world's largest link broker. Anyone else who deals with bartering links should treat Google's opinion, claims, and policies with the suspicion that a market leading position grants. Why let some external force guide your business policies to the point of potential self destruction and/or heavy devaluation, as Business.com recently did?

To quote Kermit the Frog

Link or link not, there is no no follow.

Everyone here (who's not employed by Google, Yahoo or MSN) please stand up and state your reasons why you were heavily requesting nofollow tags before they were implemented. Oh that's right; this wasn't driven by us the community, it's a yoke laid on us by the search engines. And we bought into it. THe community can stop this crap, and the search engines can't do anything.

But all the nofollow sheeple had to say was Baaaaaaa! My blog get's less spam! (no it doesn't) Baaaaa!

Let the search engines figure out what links they want to follow.

But surely this cannot be?

Only a few hours ago Adam from Google assured me over on Stuntdubl's blog that "we make our decisions based upon an enormous amount of internal consensus, outside information, and a desire to provide useful information to people around the world."

Sometimes I wonder if brainwashing is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to work for Google.

All links should be rel=nofollow, all pages should be noindex

It's my content and it is only for those that I approve to see/find it.

SE's can purchase feeds from me at a price, and I can choose to supply feeds to other "publishers" for free or at a cost.

If my content is repurposed in anyway without my approval, I will sue if I feel I can make a case.

I am tried of being on the defensive, time to go on the offensive.

The use of rel=nofollow and noindex should be legally protected and any major IP law firm should take this on just for the publicity.

They say I need to log off now, it is time for my meds.

SERP Pages on Google

SERP Pages on Google don't have any nofollow tags.
Isn't google just a bunch of scraped, dynamically produced content? What is wrong with others doing it on a smaller scale?

Technically, it's not

Technically, it's not cloaking because the source code is the same for both versions.

So using CSS to hide divs is legimate then, so long as the source code (which most surfers do not know how to directly access) is the same for bots and humans?

Technically, it's not

Technically, it's not cloaking because the source code is the same for both versions.

So using CSS to hide divs is legimate then, so long as the source code (which most surfers do not know how to directly access) is the same for bots and humans?

Well, I would say using CSS to hide divs is legitimate even if I hadn't made the above argument, but then again I'm an unrepentant cloaker.

How about mouseover-revealed divs... are they legitimate? Are CSS based dropdown menus cloaking? Categorizing certain types of content as "legitimate" or "illegitimate" is leads to a slippery-slope. Where exactly do you draw the line?

I think you're stretching it

I think you're stretching it Aaron. It's not cloaking.

Sure, but he was probably

Sure, but he was probably going for the Friday linkbait. Of course nofollow != cloaking, because the same page is presented to users as to search engines, but Aaron can say whatever he wants to believe in Aaronstan. I don't think anyone reading here is going to confuse Aaronstan with Googleland.

Personally, I think it would have gotten more traction with an alien love child somewhere in the mix. And Elvis. :)

I would use nofollow on

I would use nofollow on links added by users -- like comments on a blog -- if I were foolish enough to fail to premoderate comments. Since I'm not foolish enough to do that (my foolishness shows itself in other departments), I have no use for nofollow. Nowhere, never. I won't post a link if I don't trust it, so I won't hide any of my links or tell any users not to trust them.

Will I be called a brown

Will I be called a brown nose for laughing at Matts joke?

HAHA!!!

You have to admit, it was very good, Aaron must have also be joking unless he is completely losing it. ;)

confuse Aaronstan with Googleland

For some reason, contrasting those two places raises a question in my mind: Which place is better at spin? Hmmmm. Just thinking out loud. And speaking of spin, I kinda see Aaron's world as more akin to "Aaronville" than "Aaronstan."

"Aaronville" strikes me as a sort of straight up, friendly, say-it-like-it-is sort of place, maybe located in the mid-west or something. Aaronstan sounds a lot closer to Googleland. :p

stretching it ... not cloaking

Well actually, he didn't say it is cloaking...he said it's a form of cloaking. And it is. What is cloaking? It is essentially nothing more than a way to manipulate search engines, by altering what they "see" versus what users see.

Cloaking is not always bad, even from the SE's point of view. I know that because lots of very large, very well known, very high ranking sites use cloaking, or, ummm, IP delivery, to ensure that the SE's understand what a page is really all about. And of course, the SE's know this. Let's call this practice: "Search engine clarity." ;-)

As nearly as I understand it, the SE's problem with cloaking is not cloaking in the way that the big sites do it, but cloaking to deliver substially different (and far better optimized) text than what users actually see. Let's call this practice: "Search engine manipulation."

But wait a minute. Isn't the sole purpose of nofollow to manipulate how SE's "see" pages and links, versus how users see them? Of course it is. It is Search engine manipulation.

In introducing this silly, non-standard convention, what the SE's who embrace it have really done is to offer up a way to essentially cloak links. While I'll grant that it can be a useful tool for lazy bloggers who, unlike qwerty, can't be bothered to moderate their comments, there is really little other use for it. Well, except of course to cloak certain kinds of links that the SE's would like us to cloak. Which kinds should we cloak? Well, according to G, the kinds that they don't want to "see." In other words, it is a convention designed to manipulate the way the bots read pages/links, to influence the SERP's, in a way prescribed by...well does it matter who prescribes it? Its purpose is to manipulate the bots. That sure seems to me to be a form of cloaking ... only done at the link level rather than at the page level. ;-)

I have always hated nofollow, primarily for two reasons:

1) It is hypocritical for SE's to ask us to manipulate the way SE's see some links and not others. Let the SE's look at all the links, and decide what links they like and don't like, and how they feel about pages containing all those links and the pages linked to by all those links. That is their job, IMO at least. Put another way, nofollow is not a page oriented tag. It is not like "b" or "strong" or "Hx" ... nofollow is a bot cloaking tag functioning from within a page.

2) Nofollow is a confusing, and confused, convention that only the more SEO-oriented of us really get at all. The Business.com case is a perfect one to highlight the issues surrounding nofollow. If Buisness.com doesn't understand it, or can't get it right, or chooses to abuse it (I have no idea which of these it was), then what chance do non-SEO oriented sites, including mom & pop sites, have?

Aaronville

Definitelty Aaronville ...

One could argue that since most people (not your average TW reader) don't have their browsers configured to show no-follow links differently than regular links, they are seeing things differently than the search engines, and it is therefore not entirely dissimilar to cloaking.

I wasn't going for a Friday

I wasn't going for a Friday linkbait...that was a Tuesday / Wednesday item this week (SEO for Firefox).

I was being honest, and it is worth taking a hard look at what the tag does to the web (a net ghettofying effect similarly to how the telecom monopolies want to carve up the web for their own gain). Caveman hit the nail on the head. If Business.com is fucking it up, then who else is too? And how does that effect the web?

And isn't it hypocritical to tell us not to manipulate the search engines then offer up some proprietary tag that has no other goal in mind?

check out this great blog about an Elvis alien love child
check out this great blog about an Elvis alien love child
No difference to the reader of the content...but a big difference to some bots.
AKA: a form of cloaking.

My biggest gripe about nofollow...

My biggest gripe about nofollow...is that the inventors don't even respect it. If it WORKED, and was actually a standard, there might actually be some potential for assisting with duplicate content and the like. Unfortunately, the support is pretty dismal at best (try running a test), and it obviously hasn't done much for improving blog spam.

Quote:
"we make our decisions based upon an enormous amount of internal consensus, outside information, and a desire to provide useful information to people around the world."

They do stuart...they're here reading, and while they can't obviously respond to everyone ALL the time, they do listen, which is amazing considering the amount of lunacy they sometimes have to deal with. A lot of times they are pretty good decisions...some of the decisions we just don't like, but almost ALL of the decisions are generally questioned to a great degree of scrutiny. It is because of this that a high level confidence is in the products is necessary. Sometimes it's just hard to know when to let one go.

Quote:
Cloaking is not always bad, even from the SE's point of view. I know that because lots of very large, very well known, very high ranking sites use cloaking, or, ummm, IP delivery

Sorry caveman...cloaking is ALWAYS bad unless you're trying to be a cool rebel at the bar bragging to some other evil blackhat SEO. Please just use the friendly "delivery" euphemisims from no one so there is no confusion and you don't go scaring the corporate folks;) It would be really nice if we didn't need euphemisms, but cloaking will always be equated to spam even though it's technically the same as IP delivery. Extent and Intent.

Nofollow COULD be perceived as a form of cloaking depending on the extent it is used and the intent of it's usage. With several of the definititions of cloaking I'm sure you could argue the semantics that nofollow can be used as a form of cloaking. Sure the title is titlebait, but it's really not ALL that far off when you start seeing implementations like business.com that should really have no *ahem* business utilizing the tag.

I'm with Aaron to a point

I am with Aaron to a point.

The problem with the nofollow tag is that it is abused alot.. a hell of alot..

I am not saying the nofollow tag is evil.. in fact it's quite useful for user generated content (IE: Forums, Blogs, Wiki) .. I do find it distastful when the rightful webmaster of the site uses it.

I will admit sometimes I use the nofollow when I REALLY don't know if that is a site that I am willing to link to.. like let's say it has a paragraph of content on the site that I feel worthy of a link.. but then the target page links out to 200 very questionable sites...

It's questionable then... so I have to really think about using the nofollow or not in that case... I like the content.. but I don't want to donate pagerank to hundreds of porn / scam sites.

The point is that just because the owner of the site puts up a good paragraph doesn't entitle him to donating rankings to crappy porn sites... the cost / reward ratio is not high enough.

Absolute Positioning

How about using css and absolute positioning and putting a pretty human friendly image over some spider friendly text? Is that cloaking? Maybe you're enhancing usability for people with disabilities and images turned off. Slippery slope indeed ...

There is something surreal

There is something surreal about a propietary link attribute that:
* was a panic solution as the originator(s) were overwhelmed by the Blog.
* may or may not be currently recognised by the originator(s).
* may or may not be used as originally specified by the originator(s).
* may or may not be used by sites as was originally intended.
* has become almost as much an item of FUD as PR.

The minor argument made for 'nofollow': user generated content, is simply a cheap out for SEs lacking an algorithmic ability to separate the gold from the crud. It represents a double failure: first, the initial need for outside crud identification; second, the continuing irrelevance/contamination of many search queries.

'nofollow' is a rather small, patched, and tattered cloak - perhaps simply a used hanky looking for a trash receptacle or, at the least, a long hot wash with bleach before being put back in a drawer and forgotten.

No difference to the reader

AKA: a form of cloaking.

That's close to surreal. You will ask why ?

Well you DO present the SAME information physical (HTML code) for the visitor AND the spidering bot.

What Google refers by cloaking is :

present different content to search engines than you display to users

You present the exact same content to both parties.

No difference to the reader of the content...but a big difference to some bots.

It's just that the nofollow version has no real effect on humans (alotugh the webbies that use search status or other plugins, do know about it) but in exchange it has on the search engines.

It's not cloaking. My 2cents.

present different content to

present different content to search engines than you display to users

Display is the keyword.

By linking to something you are typically telling site visitors that you trust it. Or, if that is not the case, then why do so many people use Google? And why does Google sell some links for over $10 a click if there is no implied trust there?

By adding nofollow you are displaying a different relationship to search engines than humans.

Weather or not you decide to define it as cloaking in your mind is up to you, but the net effect this tag has on the web is a damaging one. Business.com is just one more example of that.

By linking to something you

By linking to something you are typically telling site visitors that you trust it.

Not quite right all the time. What if I want to present a website that's negative ? Like a post with a spammer, and I want to present his website (but with a link, so that lazy visitors can visit too). I don't want to trust that right ?

Sure, I could do a javascript link or something else, but c'mon. Nofollow is easier.

Weather or not you decide to define it as cloaking in your mind is up to you

With the issue you presented (nofollow beeing cloaking) i totally agree. It's up to each other's brain to decide whether it is or it's not.

the net effect this tag has on the web is a damaging one

I wrote something about this in the other Aaron's site. I'm not sure if you have time to read it, but if you do, I'd love to hear your opinion:

Some other major players are concerned that this nofollow attribute can have an unwanted effect on the natural linking effect that we, white hats, want on the web, and that people will start to refrain themselves from linking naturally to other websites, that otherwise they would’ve linked without any problem or second thought. Well I can say that that’s bullshit. How many Internet users are actually web-savvy 5%? How many of the web users actually know how to place a link with an anchor (letting the other attributes aside)? Most of them just copy paste the URL in a page.

I think that we, web professionals, tend to think that all people are like us. Well it’s not like that. Most people just “use” the Internet.

And we, “web professionals” know how to use the nofollow attribute, and when. So this wraps it up, as far as my thoughts on the nofollow attribute go. :)

>What if I want to present a

>What if I want to present a website that's negative ?

typically I either ignore them or just don't link (why send them traffic at all unless the associated ensuing controversy is going to send you a ton of traffic).

I could only think of two potential exceptions thusfar:
- user generated content
- Someone steamrolled NickW calling him a sellout when I bought this site. I went back and removed that nofollow though.

typically I either ignore

typically I either ignore them or just don't link

When I want to blog about X website (which spams, or which I don't trust), how can I blog and ignore it at the same time ?

I do want to link because a lot of people are annoyed about the fact that they can't click to go there, and have to copy/paste the text (if I just use a plain text, without linking).

talking to myself...

you can either NOT BLOG ABOUT THEM

or NOT LINK TO THEM

simple, man

to the annoyed people who want to visit annoying shit that pisses you off, I think "fuck them" needs to be built into the core of your brand if you want to like what you do, or want your brand to matter

Hmm.. Don't get annoyed at

Hmm.. Don't get annoyed at me Aaron .. I think my/anyone's brand is not so closely related to "fuck them". "They" are my visitors after all (not in the sheer numbers you have, but still).

And anyway, I kinda love a guy which I read, and who thinks for me, and cares for me as the reader.

When did you change your mind, Aaron?

Quote:
you can either NOT BLOG ABOUT THEM

or NOT LINK TO THEM

simple, man

I guess you've changed your mind then, Aaron?

I recall some posts here where you linked to shit sites via nofollow because you wanted to blog about them for whatever reason.

Jill, Aaron went back and

Jill, Aaron went back and removed the nofollows just yesterday. ;)

all the nofollows on my

all the nofollows on my sites have been in the user generated content areas or the one noted above...which I changed.

This one...from you

I only read this one of your sites, and was thinking of a few posts here. (One or two from a long time ago.)

Even if its not technically

Even if its not technically cloaking, its still the same concept.

Caveman's right:

It is hypocritical for SE's to ask us to manipulate the way SE's see some links and not others.

I wonder if the SE's are really treating 'nofollow' as they said they would or for how long they will?

Using HTML is cloaking

That's all nofllow is - HTML, like DIV.

Now lets start a thread outing the rel="tag". I can't see that on my browser either.

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