12th March 2007

Nofollow is killing the web at it’s roots; hyperlinks being handicapped.

Ever since the famous World Wide Web was formed and standardized, pages and documents have been connecting themselves with all kinds of other documents and pages through hyper links. These links often weren’t between ‘just’ HTTP powered pages, in fact, it started even before that particular protocol was widely used.

When the HTML format was created in 1991, I don’t think anyone expected it’d become so big, popular and spammed as it is right now. In order to prevent the most spam and other junk from the web various people have created methods, think about CAPTCHA, those nice images you’ve got to enter when you sign up for a website or just (email) spam filters.

Another option, which was introduced in 2005 by Google, is the ‘rel: nofollow’ tag on ‘a href’ elements (hyper links), ‘rel’ stands for ‘relation’, there are also some other (unofficial) values such as ‘me’, ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance’. When you use this piece of code in your HTML it doesn’t actually block anything, the only thing it will do is prevent search engine spiders from following these links as well as preventing them from counting it when calculating the rank of your webpage. Right now the three major spiders, Google, Yahoo and MSN Live, support and respect this tag, making it a pretty good solution towards spam, as the spammers will not get any advantage of the link to their website.

So far only positive, where’s the bad news?

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Sadly the use of this tag has become a bit over hyped; a lot of websites and web-software automatically adds a ‘nofollow’ tag to all the links posted by visitors or even members. It seems like a lot of developers consider this an easy way to make spamming uninteresting for people as it wont have any effect on your web ranking or ratings.

The problem with this heavy usage is that even legitimate users will be ‘punished’, even if they contribute with something extremely helpful. Another side-effect is that the web is becoming a bit ‘disconnected’, while roughly 30% of the internet users use hyper links as a way to jump from one page to another rather than using the direct URL or a search engine. With these ‘nofollow’ tags a search engine will simply ignore those links, potentially rendering them unfindable on the web.

As you might understand, this isn’t too nice. In fact, it might be pretty annoying if you write a fabulous resource of a certain item, it becomes popular but still, your link remains barely findable by search engines, simply because all websites – including Wikipedia and other big sites – do not let search engines follow them.
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There are plenty of more efficient, or ‘fair’, ways to handle comment spam (in case of a blog) or edit spam (for Wiki’s). A nice option is lifting the ‘nofollow’ on older articles, reducing the chances of having spammy comments or links visible as you’ll most likely have moderated them by the time the first web crawler comes by. If you’re using Wordpress the ‘DoFollow‘ plugin will handle all of that for you, all you need to do is pick a timespan.

A second also nice way is simply an alternative for ‘nofollow’; blacklists. Using a centralized blacklist of ‘bad’ websites, hosts and providers you can filter out a lot of ‘evil’ people. One of the simple scripts that will handle this for you, available as plugin for a lot of software, ranging from Wordpress to MediaWiki, is ‘Bad Behavior‘. There are various other options available with this plugin.

Besides these two I’ve listed there are of course also other combinations possible, approval queues combined with spam solutions such as Spam Karma or Akismet will block most of the ‘bad things’.

Why would you want to change it?

While ‘nofollow’ is a nice way to remove the benefit of spamming, it wont actually stop or reduce it. In fact, I’m still receiving some comment and pingback spam on my weblog here, despite the Bad Behavior plugin I’m running – bots simply wont care if you block it or not. Having this said, a spam prevention solution is mandatory in order to keep your blog readable. If you’ve got to run various spam solutions, that generally will catch more than 95% of the ‘trash’ coming in, you might as well consider removing the nofollow, simply because there are some advantages as well.

For example; I’m using ‘Do follow’ on this blog as well with a delay of 3 days – the advantage of this is that older articles, that generally will have more value according to search engines, will also give back some ‘credit’ to the commentators or contributors of that particular post. Doing so you’ll make your commentators happy without costing you anything and at the same time encouraging commenting some as you’ll reward your commentators over time with quality links of a ‘real’ website with most likely related and actual content, which makes the links even more valuable.

I’m wondering what the takes of other people on this one might be, I’ll be more than glad to read your comments and trackbacks: Is ‘nofollow’ pure evil or not?
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There are currently 8 responses to “Nofollow is killing the web at it’s roots; hyperlinks being handicapped.”

Why not let us know what you think by adding your own comment? We're as interesting in your opinion is as the opinions of anyone elses, so come on... make that comment!

  1. 1 On March 12th, 2007, PlugIM.com said:

    Nofollow is killing the web, do something about it!…

    Nofollow is killing the web at it’s roots by killing hyperlinks for search engines. What can you do to work around this somewhat stupid way of spam prevention without harming your weblog or website?…

  2. 2 On March 14th, 2007, Blog improvements made (SEO) « Spying on ALL those “SEO Pros” | What really works, in my opinion said:

    [...] Nofollow is killing the web at it s roots [...]

  3. 3 On April 4th, 2007, Phil said:

    This article is right. I totally agree. People are using way too much nofollow links. I always thought Wikipedia should improve their system.

  4. 4 On March 13th, 2009, Debate: DoFollow vs. NoFollow Links » Blogussion said:

    [...] but by sticking in a NoFollow tag you are indirectly breaking this tender bond. A lovely quote from LeftBlank was; “…with these ‘nofollow’ tags a search engine will simply ignore those links, [...]

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