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Nofollow Link Attribute – So How Does Google Treat It (& Do We Need to Care?)

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Nofollow Link Attribute – So How Does Google Treat It (& Do We Need to Care?)

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A few days ago I came across a post at Search Engine Roundtable that features the Google’s thought on link building through comment spamming, the post ended up with the final words of Matt Cutts on how Google treat nofollow attribute:

Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Links that use the rel=nofollow microformat do not pass PageRank and are not used in our ranking algorithms.

This does not mean that the target URL will never be crawled. By adding a rel=nofollow to a link, you’re essentially removing a sign pointing to the restroom. Just because that sign is gone does not mean that Googlebot will never find the restroom. Using rel=nofollow is not a way to block crawling altogether – if you need to do that, then use the robots.txt file.

Matt Cutts is one of the smartest people I know in the search industry but, sir, I have some concerns about using nofollow now. Instant and obvious questions that come to my mind are:

  1. Does Google really ignore "no-followed" link as a ranking signal?
  2. Is there any use in getting nofollow links from the high priority sites like Wikipedia?
  3. Will a nofollow link from a mediocre blog and a nofollow link from a high-authority website like Wikipedia be treated equally when it comes to ranking in SERPs? 

While I was researching the question above, I found Matt’s video where he talks about nofollow links and how Google treats them, and in that video he clearly says that Google does not pass any page rank juice if the link has nofollow attribute and even if you have a nofollow link from a high-authority site like Wikipedia, this is not going to affect your search engine rankings.

Ok, while reading Jennita’s post on SEOmoz about ‘The Social Media Marketers SEO checklist’, I noticed 2 things that got my attention:

  1. Social Media Links are "nofollowed" (if not always, then most of the time)
  2. Social Media have influence on search rankings.

Does Google Treat Social Media Links differently?

Well, according to Matt Cutts video on Youtube’s ‘Google Webmaster Help’ channel, they do use social media as ranking signals.

While writing this post I though it will be a great idea to add the perspective of those who are in the search industry for years and have strong eye on day-to-day changes in search industry.

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Samuel Crocker

“My answer to this question is admittedly a bit of a cop-out. I have not run enough tests on this particular issue to try to overrule what Matt has said. Although I would suggest that whilst going after "no-follow" links is not always the most valuable use of time or resource in linkbuilding efforts, I do not believe the fact that Matt claims that these links are not used as a ranking signal renders these links entirely useless for other purposes.

As has been covered by the folks at SEOmoz (and plenty elsewhere) there is every opportunity that if you share a link that is extraordinarily helpful in the comment sections (one place where lots of no-follow links turn up) sometimes it is enough for authors to go back and edit the story to include that link and allow it to be followed. There are a number of other reasons to include these links – potential traffic/business if you provide valuable insights and people want to know more about you, potential for these links to be picked up and stripped of no-follows by scraper sites (could be a pro or a con), etc.

In addition to blog comments Wikipedia is another example of places where no-follow links may be of value. Again, even if we accept Mr. Cutts indications that all no-follow links are not treated as a ranking signal, it doesn’t mean that they cannot be beneficial to a business. Setting trust metrics and SEO to one side, there is definitely commercial value in getting a link or a mention from a high authority/well respected site. Given the choice over a no-follow link from the BBC or no link at all, I would take the no-follow link any day of the week. The obvious preference would be to get a followed link but some sites cannot or will not link out to commercial sites with followed links and in many cases the mere mention can be worth a substantial amount to your business.

At the end of the day I think one interesting distinction that I have not heard Matt Cutts make is that "Google does not crawl these links". Sure it may not help you rank any higher (if you accept Mr. Cutts explanation at face value) but he hasn’t said anything about whether it can help your pages discovered/indexed more quickly. And as Google points out in their support section they say "in general" they do not follow these links. They go out of their way to say that even though this is a directive and may be used for crawl allowance and so forth it does not mean that they won’t lead to the page/site landing in the index – ergo they may well have been crawled anyway.

My final piece of advice would be that we should always question these statements a little bit and try to test them on their own. I am currently running a little test on this myself on one of my sites… I wish that I had a conclusive rebuttal for you at this point, but I don’t. At the end of the day, I try not to dwell too much on any one thing that the G team says about what is or is not a ranking factor and try to keep testing new ideas. It isn’t always easy to be so skeptical but I know the Google guys are smart and I think they choose their words very carefully knowing how closely we are listening.”

Gianluca Fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO specialist from Spain and he has a great SEO insight. I invited him to join the conversation and share his opinion and he said:

“You rightly report what Matt Cutts recently told about no-follow. And I think it is correct (why would he need to not say the truth, let’s not start being conspiranoic).

But the fact that no-followed links are not passing PR is not denying that they are not considered as a ranking factor.

Matt Cutts – again – in a recent post, or probably in a comment he left on YCombinator – said that actually Google is not using just PR to determine if a page in above another in a SERP. That is logical, if we consider that ranking factor are also the anchor texts, the title tags, etc. etc.

But what makes me believe that Google is using no-followed links as a ranking factor (maybe a minor one, but as a factor anyway), is the importance of citation as a way to define the popularity of a website.

This is especially true in the case of the social media use of links, and we know – officially too – that Google use links in RTs and shares (more the first ones though) as a ranking factor… and we all know those links are No Follow ones.”

Ross Hudgens

I asked this question to Ross Hudgens on twitter and he shared his quick opinion, he said:

“I honestly don’t know how much credit they give to it or not, I haven’t done any research on it. I just trust they give 0 and…Act accordingly.”

Tadeusz Szewczyk

Tadeusz Szewczyk is an SEO analyst from Germany and he shares his opinion here:

“Is the nofollow attribute a ranking factor or signal? Yes, it

is, most probably, but it’s a negative one. It’s a negative ranking factor like keyword density or the meta keywords tag probably is. Too much of nofollow on your site is bad, it means you have lots of low quality content or paid links.

Likewise too many or not enough nofollow links leading to your site can mean that there is something wrong with your site. ​Also as the PageRank from nofollow links evaporates it’s bad for your site especially when you use it on internal links.​

This is a complex issue I can’t explain in a short paragraph, thus I have elaborated on that topic over at SEOptimise.”

Conclusion:

After collecting opinions from the professionals from different parts of the world, I can conclude that there is a big ‘May Be’ here. The best practice that one should implement is to actually consider Nofollow attribute in their SEO strategies as they might or might not be the ranking signal but they are surely passing some valuable traffic to your website.

Do you really think Google uses "nofollowed" links as a ranking signal? Please share your opinions!

Moosa Hemani

Moosa Hemani

Inbound Governor at SEtalks.com

Moosa Hemani is a strategist and a blogger at SEtalks.com. We also help our client get better online visibility using ... [Read full bio]