5 types of links that shouldn’t be nofollowed

I don’t like the nofollow attribute. In fact I think I’m starting to hate it. Why? Because of the extensive use for purposes it wasn’t meant for. Linking is the basis of the web. And therefore it plays a major role in search. Offering the possibility for nofollowing links distorts this structure. In this article I will highlight some types of links which shouldn’t be nofollowed.
But first of all, let’s take a look at the original purpose of the nofollow attribute as stated in the article “Preventing comment spam” on the official Google blog:

“We encourage you to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.”

Internal links

Nofollow on internal links could be used to flow more PageRank to important pages and less to unimportant pages like disclaimers, login pages etc. This was clearly not one of the original purposes of the nofollow attribute. However it was a minor hype for a while. Matt Cutts says you shouldn’t do it, some research shows it still works. I´ve never heard of a case where internal PageRank sculpting got someone from the second to the first position on a competitive keyword. The effect that could be reached with PageRank sculpting doesn´t really weigh up against the time invested in it.

Status updates on profile pages

Originally nofollow links were meant for links that could be added by your ‘users’. The term users however can be interpreted in many ways. Especially for platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It’s highly debatable whether you’re the owner of your profile page or a user of the platform.

There are two reasons why the links in your status updates on your profile page shouldn’t be nofollowed. First of all you are the only user that can post status updates on your profile page, so I would argue you are the owner, or at the very least the administrator of your profile page. That means you’re much more than a regular user. When you add links to your status updates the links on your own profile page should therefore be followed. Since you choose to post these links, they will probably be relevant for your network. Of course, there’s a possibility to spam, but you can post spam links on your own website as well. It will not get you the same authority (in this case followers/friends) as when you post relevant links.

The other reason is that status updates and links on social networking sites are starting to become the new backbone of the web. When you see an interesting page or website you don’t post it on your blog anymore, you share it through your social networks. Nofollowing these links completely would mean a page with one link on a blog would be more important than a page which got shared 1,000 times on social networks. That sounds pretty wrong, doesn’t it?

Moderated links

There are a lot of admins from blogs, forums, etc. who moderate all the links added by users. If you moderate links, you check them for their added value. When you still have to nofollow your links after moderation, you´re just not moderating adequate. The purpose of the nofollow is not to devaluate all links added by users, but to devaluate links for which you can’t guarantee the relevancy or quality. Links with added value should therefore be followed.

Wikipedia source links

One thing that bugs me a lot is Wikipedia nofollowing all the external links. Wikipedia is a platform which thrives on user generated content. The use of the nofollow attribute is a way to make spamming almost worthless. But Wikipedia also moderates all the information on the website. The use of nofollow makes that all the original information sources don’t receive the value they should.

People link to Wikipedia because they find their information there. This way they pass value to their sources. But Wikipedia doesn’t pass value to their sources. So Wikipedia is gaining value for information from others. I don’t think the nofollow attribute was meant for this. You’re a researcher who put a lot of time in your research but everybody searching for that information finds Wikipedia.

When you look at Wikipedia’s reasoning for using nofollow they even are able to mention more bad things about it than good things themselves. That seems like a signal to me that maybe they shouldn´t.

Keyword stuffed comment author links

Like to follow those discussions between a certain Mr. “car insurance” and “student loans” in your blog comments? I didn’t think so. Nofollowing is a solution to prevent this. If people still use it even when links are nofollowed, I say delete the comment altogether. What’s the chance of getting a valuable response when someone uses such a name?

Writing this article I’ve come to wonder. Should we even use nofollow at all? Isn’t it a sign of weakness for search engines’ valuation of links and our own moderating abilities? What do you think?

About Jeroen van Eck

Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.

16 thoughts on “5 types of links that shouldn’t be nofollowed

  1. Re: status update links – if these were followed, spammers would be quick to auto-generate massive amounts of social media profiles and spam them with links (which they already do to a degree).

    Re: comment links – I don’t have the time to manually delete comments on my blogs, and if comment links were followed we’d all stop calling ourselves by our real name and start singing our blog comments with “Northern Ireland SEO” and other such nonsense.

    Other than that I think you’ve got a point. I do use nofollow sometimes in my blog posts when I want to refer to an example of something but don’t want to pass any value (like in my local SEO scam post here on SoS).

  2. @Barry How is that different from creating massive amounts of websites and spam them with links? In essence it’s the same and search engine should therefore be able to filter that.

    On the comment links, why do we even use a link for that? Just your name should do? Maybe you can add the name of the company you work for when you react on their behalve. But the link is fairly useless.

    Your example is a use of the nofollow I would support, but naming the URL without making it a link could work as well.

  3. @Jeroen: filtering out entire websites for link spam, or filtering out *some* profiles on social media websites while leaving others intact are very different things. The latter is, I imagine, much harder, making the nofollow solution a simple and effective one.

    And I think we’re having a misunderstanding on comment links. An example then: if links on this blog were followed (and thus would pass anchor text and link value) I would probably alternate my name in every comment so I can promote the various sites I do SEO work for. So one comment I’ll be called “Used Cars NI” with that name linking to the appropriate site, and the next comment I’d call myself “Northern Ireland SEO” with a link to another website.
    But because these links are nofollowed (as they should be) people have little to no incentive to do this and instead just reply with their real name or online handle.

    But hey, let me know when you follow all comment links on your own blog. I’ll be making use of that. 😉

  4. @Barry You’re right is is harder. But if you treat individual profiles as individual websites, you’re getting closer. Still it’s much harder because it’s still part of larger platform. But I think nofollowing everything isn’t the solution either. The few bad ruin it for the good.

    I did understand what you were saying about comments. My question was more of a follow-up question. Why does your name have to be a link anyway? Does it really add that much to what you’re saying to know which site you ‘represent’?

  5. I think it’s a valid point in theory but as Barry said, the issue is not that link in status updates aren’t relevant or worthy on paper – but more that for every one valid status update link there is, there will then be 200 spammy ones.

    Tse same goes for comment links. It’s not that we wouldn’t value and appreciate relevant links in comments, statuses etc if we could. It’s how you make this happen without opening up a whole new world of easy opportunities for spamming – which will in the long term have a detrimental effect on the value of blogs and social networks.

    Either got to shut out some of the good human generated stuff in order to avoid massive spamming, or figure out how to deal with abuse of followed links on such sites and allow them to be a free for all.

  6. @Jeroen: yeah I reread your comment and realised I misunderstood your follow-up question. More coffee!! And yes, you make a good point, why not simply leave out links altogether in comments? At least that way you can be sure that those who comment do so because they have something to say about the content of your post.

  7. Good one, Jeroen, but there’s 3 issues to this in my opinion:

    1) Your points are valid when the world is all white hat, but the world doesn’t work like that. People will start to spam wikipedia, twitter, etc. This leads to the 2nd issue…

    2) Google’s & other search engines’ algorithms simply just aren’t that smart yet to fully combat such spam practices, although the change as the web evolves. Which leads to #3..

    3) Link, or better, authority analysis isn’t done in such a basic way anymore. The search engines tweak their algorithms to adapt to the ever changing web. If conversations on social platforms become more important than plain hyper links between pages, than search engines make sure to weight it into the algorithm as well.

    Nonetheless your points are valid and I like to continue this discussion moving forward.

  8. @Annabel They can do it with email, they can do it with websites, they can do it fairly well with comments (e.g. Akismet for WordPress). I know it’s not all perfect. But they should be able to make it work for other platforms as well.

    The problem is that links on social networking sites become more and more important for graphing information on the web. Ignoring that would just be wrong. There should be some kind of Pagerank or TrustRank system that could calculate the spam-level of a profile.

  9. @all My overall point is we are giving in to the ease of the nofollow attribute too easily. Especially sites like Wikipedia. But also for blog comments. What’s wrong with a little moderation with some automated help by Akismet for instance? Moderation could be the other way around as well though: removing the nofollow attribute for valuable links.

  10. Well there is also the old ‘how nofollow is a nofollow’ question – can that be tweaked within the algorithm? But that’s a whole other pot in the fire…

  11. Pretty sure PageRank Sculpting has been a dead dog for *years* because it doesn’t “insulate” anything any more.

    Page A links to Page B. Page A loses authority, Page B gains authority

    Page A links to Page B. Page A loses authority, Page B does not gain any authority

    ^ Page A will lose authority in both instances. It just goes “nowhere” with a Nofollow (vented… into cyber-space).

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