There seems to be a common misconception in the webmaster and search engine marketing field that inbound links which use the ‘no follow’ attribute have no value to the site which they point towards.
Earlier in the week, Raj Dash commented in a post on Exposing the Invisible Web to Search Engines that in addition to bookmarking and social news sharing, securing links from authority sites such as Wikipedia can help search engines discover sites which they may not have been able to find.
A reader responded in a comment that this is false:
Links from Wikipedia will not allow you pages to be seen by search engines, because Wikipedia recently added rel=”nofollow” to all of there external links.
Instead of challenging the reader to an argument on No Follow, I thought that for once and for all, the law needs to be laid down as to how search engines treat the no follow attribute in terms of linking and discovery.
What better way to do so than to ask the search engines themselves? So I wrote Google’s Adam Lasnik (Matt’s on vacation), Yahoo’s Director of Search Tim Mayer and the Ask.com Search Team to get the lowdown on No Follow directly from the source.
So, here are the basic No Follow questions and answers, from Google, Ask.com (a surprising response) and Yahoo.
1. How does your search engine treat the No Follow attribute?
- Google : The Googlebot does not follow that link.
- Yahoo : If we find a link we make it available to our algorithms to find new content, whether it has a ‘no follow’ attribute or not. However, if the ‘no follow’ attribute is present, it means that no attribution is given to the target from the source of the link.
- Ask.com : We have never officially supported No Follow, so your questions don’t apply to our crawler/ranking.
2. If a site has no web citations and only has one link pointing to it, and that link is from a Wikipedia entry, would your search engine find that site and index it even though the link uses a No Follow attribute?
- Yahoo : Yes, the link is available to our crawlers for finding the target. Then the target will be crawled and indexed based on our algorithms.
- Google : Assuming that link is still no-followed per Wikipedia’s current practice, we will not find much less index that page (remember, this is page, not site related; if links to other pages on that site are not no-followed, we will see and potentially index those pages).
On a related note, though, and echoing Matt’s earlier sentiments… we hope and expect that more and more sites — including Wikipedia — will adopt a less-absolute approach to no-follow… expiring no-follows, not applying no-follows to trusted contributors, and so on.
3. Is there any quality given to sites which attract No Follow links from authority sites, besides the lack of the passing of PageRank, Link Authority or “Search Juice”?
- Google : Since the Googlebot does not follow no-follow links, this isn’t really an issue.
- Yahoo : As promised in the semantics for the ‘no follow’ tag, the anchor text and attribution will not be carried over to the target of a ‘no follow’ link.
In conclusion, the commenter was correct about links to pages from Wikipedia some search engines, specifically Google, but Yahoo and Ask.com both not only follow No Follow, but also make those sites available to their algorithm. Therefore, even links with the No Follow attribute do have value; especially in the counting, but not always authoritative measurement, of backlinks.
No Follow does not mean that search engines do not see the pages which No Follow attributed links point to, it means in some cases (not Ask.com) link value nor referral attribution is given.