NoFollow: An SEO Red Flag?

Until this post, I have not shared my view on the “nofollow” attribute. It is my belief that using the nofollow with the purpose of controlling the flow of links or link juice is a gigantic red flag in the eyes of the engines.

Who Knows About nofollow?
Let’s start here with the audience who actually knows about this little attribute. Ask the random small business owner about it. Next, ask friends and family who don’t run any web sites, but still use the ‘net on a daily basis. Then, ask an SEO about it.

I’m willing to bet that the only person to know about the nofollow is involved in SEO.

This represents a fundamental flaw with the use of the nofollow. In order to use it, you need to make the effort to code it into the HTML. Once you’ve done that, you might as well alert the engines that you not only aware of optimization, but you’re willing to go out of your way to protect your site.

But, Links Are Needed!
Yeah, I get that. Anyone involved in SEO should realize that links are a major component to the equation. Big deal!

What I do not understand though is the warped perspective that makes some believe nofollows to be an asset to their site’s stature in the engines. Using a nofollow alerts the engines to the fact that you are trying to keep your tail covered.

We already know that (public) PageRank is some sort of mythical measurement that monitors the value of a page. If those little green toolbar values are nothing more than eye-candy, why should we care about whether or not it’s being passed on to others?

I know there’s some real measurement of links attributed to a page… But I’m also not naive enough to believe that Google (and other engines using similar stats) would ever make that data available to the public.

nofollows Raise Curiosity
If you and I were having a long conversation, and I kept referring to something I had tucked away in a brown paper bag that I’m carrying, you’d be interested — right? Of course! You’d even want to see what’s inside the bag too I bet, especially if I opened it up right under your nose.

Being nice, I’d let you see what was inside the bag — and then immediately require you to forget how or why you ever saw it.

That entire situation would be nothing but nonsense. There is no way you could ever forget how or where you came across whatever it was that was inside that bag. You wouldn’t let yourself forget it — and you know you’d always remember me when you thought back to what was in there.

This is what a nofollow is like for the engines. Links are intended to be contextual. Why then do we limit our ability to reason and just assume that the engines see a nofollow and forget all references between two linked pieces of content?

What’s Your Take?
Call me a conspiracy theorist if you’d like, but I’m more interested in having a strong discussion on this. Have an opposing view? Please, do post it below in the comments area.

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101 thoughts on “NoFollow: An SEO Red Flag?

  1. I have a tiny little blog and recently my page rank went from 4 to 0. My reaction – “Oh well. That figures, I wasn’t using the no follow attribute.” I wasn’t real worried about it. Should I have been?

    I still have a fair amount of traffic that continues to grow. My RSS subs continue to grow. My Technorati authority continues to grow. I am seeing my Alexa go down due to a spike from a stumble that went large. But over all, I am continuing to trend up.

    Google is actually a small percentage of my traffic. I turned off my page rank on my tool bar some time ago. Is that ignorant? Am I missing something that I should be concerned about?

    Great post, it is refreshing to see someone with some credit come forth and express this.

  2. That seems sort of like saying that using a good META description is a red flag. Especially since a lot of CMS platforms automatically nofollow some links.

  3. Jut an opinion, but I think it’s like everything else; OK in moderation. When I go to a new site, and see that every link is nofollowed except one or two, that’s a huge red flag to me.

    Considering Google, via MCutts, is telling us to use it makes me believe it is OK, but don’t go overboard. The difficulty is finding that line, without crossing it.

  4. I have the same thoughts regarding the use of nofollow, but I have seen positive results from using it to “sculpt” internal PR, so I’ll continue to implement it… with caution.

  5. Great comments so far!

    @Andy — Great job in marketing your site outside of Google! Too often people place a dependency on one source and when it goes, so too does their site (or business!).

    @Dave — While a lot of CMS’ may add in that attribute, it’s still your site to control. I’ve only offered one theory here. It just happens to be my take on the matter.

    @ Dan — I agree wholeheartedly in that when a site has zero nofollows in use, and suddenly introduces one. That too absolutely raises suspicion. While Matt and Google may recommend it’s use, that doesn’t make it a strong tool for SEO’s to rely on. Again, I may be a conspiracy theorist — but there are thousands of people who are afraid to turn PageRank on with their toolbar…. But I’m sure if you asked Matt, he’d recommend it’s use just the same.

    Keep the comments coming!

  6. Thanks for bringing that up, Eric. That’s something I’ve also been suspicious about.

    I agree with you when you say that nofollows raise curiosity and my opinion is that it should be used only for links posted by users in a blog (comments) or a forum or other types of UGC which the website’s owner have little control over. I mean, look at Wikipedia. They use the nofollow attribute for outbound links in order to prevent SPAM.

    I don’t think we should it for every single link in our own copy because, as you said, it makes no sense at all. Besides, it doesn’t seem fair considering that this is a reciprocal Web within which everybody links to everybody. I see nofollow only as a protection from unwanted outbound linking.

    Well, that’s of course just my own view over the subject.

  7. Hi
    I am a bit confused here..are we talking about nofollow used on internal links or on external links?
    Because you said something about controlling the “link juice” and this can refer to the use of nofollow on internal links too, right?
    Or the whole article is just about linking out with the nofollow attribute?
    maybe is just me but I am not sure about if I understood this right and I don’t see why using nofollow for internal links would be a “red flag”.

  8. I definitely think that you can put the conspiracy theory to bed.

    As mentioned above, plenty of open source CMS platforms nofollow tags straight out of the box so right away the population using the nofollow tag isn’t just the SEO community. Plenty of sites that rank very highly nofollow almost every link including Slashdot and so I really don’t see nofollow being a “honeypot” created by search engines.

  9. I used to feel the same way, Eric, but no longer. Using your logic, should we only use “click here” as our anchor text because that’s how Joe Webmaster does it?

    Nofollow is a tool to be used like any other, I say.

  10. @Dan — I’m speaking on links outbound to another site.

    @Hagrin — My rebuttal to you on using Slashdot and Drupal would be — Would those sites continue to rank and perform well is nofollows were not in use? My gut says so.

    @Matt McGee — No, of course we shouldn’t use “click here” as the anchor text in all of our links. As I mentioned in the article, to me, links and their anchors are contextual. The anchors used should not only flow with the user experience, but they should also speak volumes on the destination URL.

    However — I *do* agree with you that nofollow is a tool that can and should be leveraged in certain circumstances… Just not often.

    Again, this post was more to inspire a healthy debate than it was to say my point of view is the only correct one.

  11. lol

    There must be the odd million websites & blogs out there that are using no follow, knowingly or unknowingly.

    I am not sure Google has the resources to hand check all those red flags. ;)

  12. We share many of the same thoughts, as soon as you start using nofollow tags in your site is it truly organic? And even with systems like wordpress and such using nofollow tags it is easy enough for google to do a -”powered by wordpress” or whatever CMS is used to find the more interesting uses.

  13. I have questioned the same thing. I have come to a conclusion that the nofollow attribute is almost useless. I used it before the “smackdown” and it never worked for me. I have found evidence that the nofollow isn’t recognized. I have no clue if it sets off a red flag or not. I haven’t even noticed a change in indexing.

    I am beginning to think it may be a bunch of hoopla. I hope that it isn’t a bad thing following the rules…

  14. Didn’t Google invent the “nofollow” link attribute? Didn’t they define its purpose and describe its use? Didn’t Matt Cutts elaborate on the potential uses of the attribute, saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to use “nofollow” tags for PR development amongst your pages? More specifically, he said “these tools let you choose how to develop PageRank amongst your pages.”

    Why would Google open itself to doing evil by saying that it is okay to use nofollow links to control internal PR and then penalize those that do so?

    Can you provide one example where a site has been “flagged” for abusing the “nofollow” attribute?

    You stated that “knowledge” of the nofollow is a fundamental flaw. How so? If that is a flaw, then how many other tags can we name that would reinforce that flaw?

    How does using the nofollow cover our tails? What does it cover? Maybe the same argument could be made for the robots.txt?

    You asked why should we care whether PR is being passed throughout a website? If you don’t care, then try placing nofollow on all your site links. We’ll see how long that lasts.

  15. @Craig — I’m loving the heated debate!

    While Google may not have invented the nofollow attribute, they have certainly pushed it harder than anyone else out there. Why? I’m not ready to assume that they’re out there fully believing in every independent webmaster’s use of the attribute. There’s no way they can trust everyone that much.

    Furthermore, I never said that Google is penalizing for the use of the nofollow. Nor have I said that sites have been flagged for abusing the technology. I’m just suggesting that by using the nofollow, you’re making them aware of your knowledge on it. As such, they may very well view your pages, site and link flow with a different perspective.

    How does using the nofollow cover the tails of site owners? Simply by not associating themselves with questionable or poor content. Wikipedia introduced these nofollows on their links in an effort to control spam.

    Finally — I’ll pass on your suggested experiment. I could not care less f Google PageRank flows from one page or another on my sites. The nofollow as you describe it is only applicable to Google and PageRank — and I don’t agree with that.

  16. We did a test at Beanstalk with invented terms and were able to rank for them. There definitely was less strength in some of the test, but sheer numbers make up for it. Another thing we found doing lots of blog commenting with nofollow tags was good for selecting which page was most relevant for a term we wanted to rank for in the serps.

  17. Interesting discussion and an interesting take on nofollow. While I don’t directly work in SEO, I know those who do and regularly talk to them about it.

    Interestingly, their opinion in converse… inserting a few nofollow links shows the search engines that you’re considering adn abiding by their guidelines. They see it as a positive way to show search engines that you’re doing what they want you to.

  18. “It is my belief that using the nofollow with the purpose of controlling the flow of links or link juice is a gigantic red flag in the eyes of the engines.”

    Nope, it’s not. Or at least, not at Google. I wouldn’t know about Yahoo/MSN/Ask, of course. :)

  19. @ Matt Cutts — “Nope, it’s not.” — No, it really IS my opinion! Damn you Google… You’ve stripped me of all I’ve had, and now, you’re after my opinions too?

    If not a gigantic red flag, how about a little tiny, lego sized flag?

  20. Wouldn’t it only be a red flag for internal structure usage? I thought Google’s stance on topics such as Blog Commenting that they should be nofollowed as they can be submitted automatically in a sense (or advertisers).

    It has always baffled me why so many BLOGs / Forums have nofollows to things like their register pages and such, or even more bizarrely links like Home. But of course I defer to you Matt as your Google’s Champion to the SEO Masses :)

  21. Your analogy between a closed bag and human curiosity and (search) engines isn’t accurate: though our brains hardly forget instantly what they saw (it’s a syndrom called Alzheimer), computers and scripts have no difficulty to completely reset their memory, forget about informations, free their memories, not consider certain parts of information flow, etc if their creator has decided so when designing them. PHP: reset(var), DB: drop table and good luck after that! You can ponder information with 0 or 1 (forget about it or take into consideration) or else go with neural networks, fuzzy logic and ponder millions of information sources that mimic (badly) what our brains can do. Brains only have the latter option.

    Now, has Google decided that after all nofollow would be be a nice honeypot? I don’t know. Is it possible? Yes, maybe. Can we draw a definitive conclusion? No.

    Do you have one example of a site being harmed by using the nofollow attribute or is it only a belief as you stated it in your introduction? If it’s a belief, well, nobody except Google can tell if you are wrong or right (and if Google told us they don’t, it would be a statement we couldn’t verify as long they aren’t caught using it against sites breaking their rules).

    Did Google created this attribute for that reason? No, it’s far more convenient and helpful at telling them “this link has no interest at all; don’t bother evaluating how tiny it is, it’s zero” and that’s why they created it. Any other use of nofollow isn’t as convenient as this one for engines. Though, yes, that doesn’t exclude that it could be used at secondary tasks.

    Btw, HTML5 will introduce (in many years) far more link attributes (noreferrer, search, help, license, archives, feed and there are 14 other ones) so when 90% of the sites coded in HTML5 will use them, there will be flags everywhere for engines ;)

  22. @ Matt : I have a question (raises hand).

    If I have a site and its FAQ page has numerous links to internal pages like Contact Us or About Us, like more than 3 links, would it make sense to NoFollow the second and third link so it does not look like that site is trying to do multiple internal links to the same internal page under an authority page like FAQ?

    I’ve seen internal rankings increase when we take the multiple links out.

    But in this case, I’d think using NoFollow would make the FAQ page look like it is only directing one link to an internal page while also addressing usability standards which say we should include multiple links in the FAQ page.

    Yeah, this may be a bit OT to Eric’s post, but just thinking out loud.

    Thanks, LB

  23. Outrank Dave?! That would be the day, if you mean Dave Davies my boss at Beanstalk. And SEO Canada is nothing like ranking for SEO Services :P I mean the only way I could would be to bribe someone like Matt Cutts…. My term is just for fun :)

    For a side job I repair PHP based CMSes. And let me tell you it sometimes could classify for Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, although not everyone can think of code as possibly being dirty :)

  24. Personally, I use internal nofollows to block pagerank from useless pages, and direct it to more important pages.

    In a pretty recent article/ interview with Matt Cutts, he pretty much gives the ok for using nofollows to “sculpt” pagerank.

    “Yes – webmasters can feel free to use nofollow internally to help tell Googlebot which pages they want to receive link juice from other pages” (

  25. @SEO Canada — The red flag, IMO, appears when you suddenly use it (or, begin using it). Like the Wikipedia situation, nofollows can and are still being introduced to control spam submissions and links.

    @Felipe — Excellent and well written response! I apologize for coming up with a poor analogy, but I do hope that my stance on the subject was presented as intended.

    I love that you’ve read as deep into the issue so as to consider the technology behind the algorithms in play. I would not agree though that it’s a simple True/False scenario. Look back to some of the papers available on the Hilltop Algo and I’m sure we could agree it’s more complex than your comment suggests. Nofollows may be involved in some simple triggers, but how those triggers are interpreted in the rest of the algorithm must be complex.

    As you indicated though, this is but one man’s belief… And, as you also stated — we cannot draw any definitive conclusion based on the information available.

  26. (Posted on Sphinn, worth repeating here as well for comment subscribers.)

    Have we all forgotten the roots of the nofollow attribute?

    I’m really surprised that no one has spoken about the origin of the nofollow’s usage. We assume (and I led one to think that way in my writing) that a nofollow impacts the flow of link values on all sites we work with. While that’s assumed to be true, the nofollow was introduced to prevent spamming in the blog community.

    Yahoo said as much on their search blog:

    I’m pleased to announce that Yahoo! Search is one of several organizations in support of a technique that should help combat weblog comment spam. Others involved are: Google/Blogger, MSN Search, Six Apart (TypePad, MovableType, LiveJournal), and WordPress.

    Other links of interest on this include:

  27. Saying that the use of nofollows is a red flag about the optimization of the site implies that SEOing a site is manipulating search engines and that search engines are working to identify SEO’d sites.

    I think however that search engines are in the business of producing relevant results, that should be enough in their plate.

  28. Google want you to use No Follow because it makes their life easier. DaveN recently pointed this out with an example of his blog being slammed because of the do-follow.

  29. I also don’t think that there will be red flags for websites that use nofollow. Like Eric noted, the search engines came up with the nofollow attribute.

    But on the other side, it would be a really smart move ;)

  30. So are you assuming that all of us have something to hide?

    Not all SEOs are sporting their black-hats all over town and many still play by the rules and thus have nothing to hide from Google.

    I also agree with the many others that there are soooo many sites with nofollow (the majority of every wordpress blog out there) so that red flag is probably not waving as high as you think.

  31. Yes but their main reason was for external links, internally is where we are talking about red flags flying. LOL and I don’t think it made Googles life easier as they had to add it to the algorithm but it made their SERPs more relevant from all us blog spammers… I mean err :)

  32. Even before Matt Cutts added his comment on this one, I was shaking my head. I’ve had websites improve rankings because of the use of NOFOLLOW. It’s great for dealing with duplicate content issues if there is no other way of handling them.

  33. I don’t get it. You’re talking about nofollow not allowing search engines to follow links, but it seems to me that you’re saying that it’s a bad thing? Or an extra effort. I’m so lost.

  34. Wow, what a conspiracy theory! This is ridiculous. In the Google Webmaster account you will see many nofollow links showing up as counted in your backlink profile. So to say that by using the nofollow you are hiding something in a brown paper bag of sorts is not true. Google still sees and follows the links, they just are not supposed to pass authority through that link.

  35. @Mark Barrera — I’m not assuming that all of us have things to hide. In fact, the contrary is true. We’re all taking the time to educate ourselves on SEM related topics. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here on SEJ.

    Like you appear to, I’m in favor of white hat techniques and practice them regularly. As such, I don’t use nofollows to pass or control link benefits in a static content environment. nofollow attributes on a link were intended to prevent user generated spam, not for you (the rheotorical you) to control what pages on your site are most worthy of your link juice.

    @Jenny — It’s an extra effort, yes. It’s also (arguably) a sign of SEO initiatives on a site, as their use could be for the purpose of controlling PageRank, link juice, etc.

    @KDye Vertical Leap — I’m speaking of nofollow being used in an a href, not as a META tag. I agree that nofollow within META parameters is a way of policing duplicate content. Let’s not forget the use of robots.txt, .htaccess files, etc. though for more appropriate spider control on dupes.

    @Miguel Salcido — Exactly my point! They see the links. They know where they come from. They even know where they point to!

    As I stated above in the comments, they cannot and will not forget that information.

    Now, if they’re reusing that information in Webmaster Central, could they not also use that in their algorithms?

    If a site has 1,000,000 inbounds, ALL of which are nofollowed with the same anchor text — do you think Google will simply discard those links in their figures?

    Perhaps that’s an exaggeration — but you probably get what I’m driving at here.

  36. “Like you appear to, I’m in favor of white hat techniques and practice them regularly. As such, I don’t use nofollows to pass or control link benefits in a static content environment. nofollow attributes on a link were intended to prevent user generated spam, not for you (the rheotorical you) to control what pages on your site are most worthy of your link juice.”

    You’ve gone beyond not having a leg to stand on to implying that those that use nofollows for controlling link juice are using black hat techniques.

    Please tell me that I am misunderstanding you.

  37. Eric,

    I love debates like this, thanks for starting this post!

    “Now, if they’re reusing that information in Webmaster Central, could they not also use that in their algorithms?”
    Why yes they COULD use the links in their algo, but not for counting link popularity. Or at least that is how it is supposed to go.

    There is NO doubt in my mind that Google has been accumulating massive amounts of data over the years because data is very powerful, especially all of the toolbar data! I also believe that Google looks at the traffic your site receives as a function of the authority that it will give a domain, by using Google toolbar data AND Google analytics data!!!

    SEO will continue to be commoditized and the future will only have room for boutique SEO firms that will be VERY privy, similar to traditional ad agencies. So all you self proclaimed SEO experts better start looking for another job. ;-)

  38. Craig, you are misunderstanding me in this context. In fact, I’m in agreement with a lot of your comments above and appreciate you taking the time to make the contributions you have.

    I tend to make things more complex than they need to be. Hopefully this is more clear…

    nofollows should be used on a per link basis to police the potential for user generated spam.

    That is why the engines have adopted the use of the element and requested it’s adoption. They eagerly want a world of less link spam, and the adoption of nofollow has created a world where we are all more aware of the power from one single link.

    Using a rel=nofollow to control link status within ones own site does not constitute black hat efforts.

    It simply alerts the engines to the fact that you may be trying to massage the flow of links in a controlled environment. My suggestion is that this process is one that may alert the engines to some degree.

    Furthermore, this use is not what the rel=nofollow was created for. That doesn’t mean you’ve crossed the line at all. As someone on Sphinn phrased, it simply means that you have evolved the usage of nofollow to suit your needs.

  39. I just found this 2005 article by Danny Sullivan:

    I guess I’m OK with the outbound linking discussion. No hurt, no harms, link control. Alright! But what about inbound links?

    Here’s what Danny said 3 years ago:

    “You definitely DO NOT want to use the attribute on links to your own pages. Do that, and you’ll deprive your own pages from the chance of influencing how your other pages rank.”

    I confess I’m a bit confused on this one.

  40. And yet if you go look at any of Danny’s sites (SMX, etc.), you’ll see the nofollow attribute used correctly on internal links.

    In this industry, it’s dangerous to quote and rely on an article that’s 3 years old.

  41. I wouldn’t do it. I’ve always believed in building sites for users. Users don’t need “nofollow”, so I see absolutely no reason why we should faff around sticking “nofollow” attributes on links where no one but the search engines will see them.

  42. @ Farhad
    I’m all for building sites for users, but i wouldn’t want to ignore SEO or I wouldn’t have many users. Also adding this code does not negatively affect user experience.

    Interesting post, also interesting to note that it appears you do not use rel=nofollow for the links in the comments here. :)

    But still I would have to go ahead and agree with most of the comments here that nofollow is a tool that can and should be leveraged in certain circumstances, until testing can prove otherwise.

  43. When we use the Nofollow tag on our clients sites we haven’t experienced any negative impact from any of the search engines. I would venture a guess that sites that are being penalized for this tag are, more than likely, using them in such a way as to raise a red flag.

  44. @warren You’re right about not ignoring search engines, and I would never advocate that, cos like you, I wouldn’t be in business without them either.

    However, i think sticking “nofollow” on links goes far beyond the realm of ignoring search engines and pretty much enters the realm of designing with primarily the SE in mind.

    In my mind, it’s yet another classic case of a Google paradox, not unlike the link selling issue.

  45. Use no follow tag in link help to search engines to avoid link counts as backlink. But it follow the links to crawl the pages and cache in database.

  46. Brilliant post. I completely agree that nofollow is a tag only SEO guys are aware of. Secondly, Google has always recommended webmasters to make sites for visitors and NOT FOR SEARCH ENGINES..

    So why is google bent upon asking webmasters to add nofollow to their links?

  47. That’s a complete fallacy. Google recommends you use a robots.txt file. That’s something you make specifically for search engines.

    We all need to get over this “make sites only for users” thing. If you want to work that way, go for it. But I consider search engine spiders to be part of my target audience, so I’ll use the tools available to me to help them do their job better.

  48. “nofollow” attributes are not a ‘tool’.

    If you constructed your site well in the first place, you wouldn’t need to go around fiddling with nofollows to channel search flow etc. Sane linking structures achieve that objective just as well.

  49. Simple: We don’t.

    If Google wants to rank us #1 for “Privacy Policy”, they can go ahead and knock themselves out.

    I am sure that after 10 years of being, the Google algorithm is smart enough to differentiate unimportant footer links from the important ones.

    However, if you go and chuck your important links alongside the unimportant ones, my suggestion would be to just separate the two (physically or graphically) rather than messing around with nofollow

  50. @Chris … you get me wrong mate, I was genuinely trying to help by pointing out the more important issues holding your site back.

    Didn’t mean it as a direct attack. Sorry if it came across as one.

  51. Frahad I think that the struture of our own site is not really the issue here. Craig’s strategies for controling link flow are succesful, from the testing we are seeing. In fact, you may be able to get some PR for the About You page you link to from your name, simply by restructuring your internal linking, no?

  52. @Chris I’m not debating the success of using “nofllow” to channel PR flow, nor am I speaking about your site structure in particular.

    All I’m saying is that we would not use the “nofollow” attribute to channel PR. We would just modify the way pages are linked, and concentrate on other factors that we think are much more important.

    Taking the example you just make about the About Me page on our site as a case in point. This isn’t a page I care about directing visitors to. Thos who want to see it, will find it easily enough. So the natural link flow towards that page is accordingly structured. If we decided that my profile page needs to receive more PR (for whatever reason), then we’d add more links towards it within our site, rather than just the 1 link from the ‘About Us’ page.

    PS: I link to that page from my name because that page describes me most aptly, as against linking to our home page, which would give readers absolutely no idea about who I am.

  53. Thank you Farhad I respect your opinion and the time you take to explain. I see what you say about the link that I chose to use as an example. You could easily change the structure of your site to make that page more “link heavy.” So it seems we are all saying the same thing but in different ways.

    ahh the way of SEO – many effective ways to a successful destination. :)

  54. The question we should be discussing is the potential as a red flag, IMO, internal use of the “nofollow” attribute is the sort of “technique” (using technique in its loosest meaning) that has the potential to be perceived in the future as a flag for an over-optimized site. If it were a “standard” attribute then we could simply go to the spec and no guessing… this attribute will be abused by both SEOs and SEs. SEs don’t want it to be a HTML standard ’cause then they can make it do whatever they want going forward.

  55. “Im willing to bet that the only person to know about the nofollow is involved in SEO.

    This represents a fundamental flaw with the use of the nofollow.”

    Great quote. So are we to believe Google has gifted only the people who know of nofollow attribute the ability to out-rank others that dont use it? LOL, hardly. In fact even if this PR Sculpting does work, it probably does on such a small level comparable to other SEO techniques it is not even worth doing.

  56. Frankly, I’ve been wondering for some time how Google continues to use links in their algo, when it has become one of the most poisoned means for measuring a site. That pendulum swings both ways: Either Wikipedia has open links and becomes a great big spam link target, or everyone covers their links and Google has little to go off of.

    Frankly, I think they have been weighing traffic to a site more heavily to counter the rash of “nofollow.” If that’s true, then driving traffic becomes important again, which is all Google cares about – finding sites people like.

  57. Interesting article – I have a web site showing some of my photographs and I recently inserted a few “no follow” tags into some of the links on my links pages – only to the commercial directories mind, not the personal web sites of photographers. My site dropped 10 positions overnight on Google for my designated key words. I quickly removed the tags and hey presto! my website moved up 10 places overnight.

    This may be coincidence and maybe my drop in the rankings was a minor glitch but it made me nervous about using “no follow “tags. Should I be or am I just being paranoid??

  58. This is a great article and has generated lots of questions. I have published an orphaned page (no links to it on the net). I have added 4 nofollow links with the term I want the page to be found under. The term is not on the orphaned page. I want to see if Google does index the page for the term in the link text and the title tag. I have picked a term that currently has no results in google. I will add more when I find out the outcome. Its an interesting text that will give a me a better conclusion on the nofollow theory. I currently have a nofollow on all my non important pages and they still get found due to the fact that the pages are in the sitemap. The orphaned page is not. If anyone has done this allready please let me know about it as I am very interested.

  59. @Lee,
    There is a flaw in your test. Remember, “nofollow” does not pass PR, neither does it prevent indexing. You also mention that the page will have a page title. Since the page is indexable and has a title, it is possible to rank in Google.

  60. sorry about that im real busy. I have no page title that has the key term, the page itself does not have any text that relates to the made up word. The page has no links to it apart from 4 nofollow links. the link text is the keyword and also are the title tags. The title of the page is “this is a text to see if google looks at link text in a nofollow”. the page name is test.html. The test is not for pagerank. I hope this clears it up a little

  61. This “nofollow” business is getting out of hand. I just found on my profile page with Linkedin that they add “nofollow” to my site link and my blog link but they don’t include “nofollow” to my profile page on MySpace – why? probably because the profile page on MySpace doesn’t show links except for the ones that take you deeper into MySpace.

    This is a conspiracy and Google needs to be stopped!

  62. I have a theory that the nofollow attribute is time related for PR. It is difficult to test, but when looking at competitors for sites I design, I note that they get from a great number of older blog pages with nofollow.

    This aligns with Craig Geis’ note above, but these guys appear top of the list. They get indexed and PR from Google. Looking at their SEO design and who links to them (and their SEO design), I can’t see anything else that determines why they should be top of the pile.

    It sort of makes sense that a blog site will clean out the spam eventually, perhaps especially if the article is being archived and no further comments are allowed. This leaves valid contribution which many people would agree should count towards PR

    I’ll let you know in a few years if this link helps my site ;-)

  63. Matt Cutts can say there is no flag now… but that doesn’t mean at some point they won’t see it as a red flag. It was these kinds of techniques that seemed to be flagged in the SEO filter implemented during the Florida update.

  64. Yet another example of a figure/voice of orthority speaking on the subject of SEO and instant confusion and differing opintions set in.

    If this is one of those “write something contraversial to get attention” posts, then it has worked judging by the responces – but it doesn’t help anyone!

  65. I think it’s just like meta tags. At one point, no one except web developers knew what they were. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry knows about meta tags and how great they are for SEO. It’ll be the same with the nofollow eventually.

  66. And what about web app products like WordPress or others who have the nofollow pre-built in? I think once it becomes more widespread it won’t be as easily discernible a “red flag”.

  67. I have often wondered about what search engines do when they see the ‘brown paper bags’. This is a good analogy… I don’t dispute that search engine bots are likely to follow the links anyway, but do inbound links that feature a nofollow tag contribute at all to a websites PR?

  68. I think that the nofollow attribute is great for some links, like login pages. The problem is when you start playing around with it when you don’t know what you’re doing. I have trouble believing that it raises a red flag, but more that you have the potential to mess up your site on your own.

  69. I’m really trying to learn about this Nofollow attribute, but I seem to keep getting more confused.

    I thought that nofollow was meant to prevent a link as counting as a Vote to the site it is pointing to…

    Thus, the link will have no Search Engine value,
    only direct traffic by clicking.

    I hope to understand this matter to it’s fullest, because I think it is something important.

    Thanks for your article Mr.Eric Lander,

  70. I just don’t understand…people keep on saying NO nofollow…but nobody actually supports…especially the trusted sources with high pageranks…either you remove nofollow yourself or atleast stop talking about not supporting it!!!

  71. It’s amazing that this discussion has been running for nearly 18 months and yet still no overall concensus.

    Maybe i’m wrong but presumably Google etc simply decided that it was too easy for individuals to play the rankings game, and rather than change algorithms etc they put in the hands of website owners to do a bit of policing / controlling themselves.

    Is’nt this a win / win?
    The search engines don’t get played, and blogs etc don’t get ‘spammed’ so heavily.

    Or maybe my thinking is a bit too simple!?

  72. This is interesting and have actually been something i was wondering about lately, I have seen a trend in companies hunting for higher PR are trying to use nofollow to inside pages in order to fool google…

    I think its just crap and i hope we all will start to make real sites for real people and forget about the search engine focus…

    Deliver what you want a client to see, not what makes your site in the search engine go higher or value wrong!!!

    Huge mistake for SEO beginners…


  73. It is really a big topic to already lots of folks discuss this but still there are many problems or confusions webmasters are facing …but you have discuss it very effectively.

  74. It seems that most of you are missing the point entirely…

    No-follow isn’t there for cheating the search engines. Using it properly isn’t about ignoring the people and trying to optimize for search engines.

    Do you want people searching for your site to go straight to an obscure page on your site, or to specific land pages on your site? If you don’t want each of thousands of pages to be landing sites, wanting to instead choose certain ones designed for your viewers..

    Well, that’s what no-follow is for. It’s foolish to go on about conspiracy theories, and I imagine that you were likely semi-trolling with the post.. However, you are accurate that many people foolishly and stupidly attempt to use no-follows to stop flow to external links…

    That argument IS a valid one.. But use of no-follow in internal links is a VERY wise optimization – for the sake of helping your viewers, not helping your PR.

  75. It’s definitely used to avoid spam in blogs and forums.

    I think that is also intended to be used on blatant advertising links. Or, at least, search engines want us to do this to prevent paid links.

    It’s also good for login pages, I believe. I can’t see how it can be a red flag. However, you can mess up your site if you overuse it to try to control page rank. This is why Google came out a few months back and said that using no follows doesn’t give followed links more value. To prevent people from using it for the wrong reasons.

    I think it’s perfectly fine to use, but you should do so in moderation. Don’t try to use it in a way you think you can trick search engines. Use it for advertising (if you choose to do so), spam prevention in comments and login pages.

  76. I see that you use here rel=’external nofollow’ to all the guys leaving a comment.
    Has it got any bad influence on Google Page ranking ?

  77. Hey Eric, I realize this is an old post, but it is relevent today. Have you noticed all the large sites are doing no follow? Looking back since these tags were originally devised, what do you think? Are you using no follow tags? Thanks, John

  78. @John Sostak
    Yes this is no longer relevant today. In fact if you nofollow internally on your website you will lose strength. I believe Matt Cutts used the word evaporate @ SMX Advanced 2009 in Seattle. So instead of 100% of the strength going to internal pages that aren’t nofollowed a certain amount of strength will disappear… as too how much no one knows except Matt and a select few at Google. Only nofollow external links that you don’t want any strength passed to.

  79. There's also a nofollow plugin on wordpress that does that to all posts…does anyone use that?

  80. The more and more I learn about Google, the more I don't like having to sculpt my website to how google works, if it decides to change it's algorithm I have to go around changing loads of things on my site.

  81. Great title chosen “NoFollow: An SEO Red Flag?” like this require readers to think as they read. I took my time when going through the points made in this article. I agree with much this information. Thanks and keep it up.