Matt Cutts is often the insider who lets us – John Q Public – know what’s going on inside the giant Google machine. He’s the one who told us that the search algorithm makes more than a change per day on average, that Google is focusing on preventing cloaking as part of its first quarter goals in 2011, and much more. His most recent Webmaster Help Video does more than make a clarification about Google, however; it encourages sites, including several major ones, to take a more “nuanced” approach to how no-follow links are utilized.
First of all, what’s a no-follow? For those who don’t understand the lingo, a “no-follow” is simply an HTML tag that’s added to any link, and which tells the search engines that the link is not one the site is intending to publicize (whether it’s because the link is a negative review, untrusted, or a paid link all being possible reasons for this). “Link architecture” experts have gone back and forth on the value of no-follow for several years, with the outmoded concept that not allowing any followed links on a page still holding some real sway in the world of modern SEO.
For that reason, many sites simply use the tag on every a href on their page, preventing any “link juice” (that is, help for the SERP position) from going to the site in question. While Cutts clarifies that sites can restrict all links to no-follow, and that no-follow still serves the same purpose it was created for, he also states that groups should try to avoid this practice.
The example Cutts uses is Wikipedia, who slaps a “no-follow” on every link. This makes a lot of sense, Cutts reminds us, since the site was being gamed with low-quality edits designed for no other purpose but adding a link. But Cutts suggests that another option may be possible, where links from specific editors, links that have stayed on the site for a specific amount of time, or links that are otherwise “trusted” receiving the appropriate acknowledgment and support in search engine ranking. Cutts’ stance, at least, seems clear: neither permitting unlimited followed links or shoving no-follows down the throats of every link provided are effective tactics, and sites should work toward creating a solid middle ground.