Hooking Up Your Hyperlink Rel and Not Following It

nofollowRelnofollow is a cool hyperlink attribute. In the SEO world, we say relnofollow as if it’s a legit word that Webster’s should know about. No, it’s not in the dictionary yet, because there’s an equals sign and some quotation marks in the real version of relnofollow that make relnofollow actual HTML code. It normally looks like this:

rel=”nofollow”

Here’s the actual HTML with the correct relnofollow hyperlink attribute usage:

<a href="http://www.seo.com" rel="nofollow">No follow link</a>

When referring to it, we don’t say rel equals quotation mark no follow quotation mark. That would be completely fatuous. If you haven’t guessed, I’m going to be talking about relnofollow and how it relates to your SEO success, so listen up.

First, there’s good ways and stupid ways to use relnofollow. We’ll discuss the good ways in detail, and mention a few bad ways, because you shouldn’t be doing those unless you’re a knucklehead who likes to commit SEO suicide.

In conversations about relnofollow, you will often hear mention of pagerank, or PR as SEOs affectionately refer to it. Pagerank has become an important attribute of overall SEO health, and matters quite a bit when thinking about why the heck we use relnofollow in the first place.

Over time, and through effective on- and off-page search engine optimization, you achieve pagerank, which is Google’s way of declaring how important your site is, or how much authority it has in their index. Pagerank, in Google, is pretty important and shouldn’t be ignored.

Relnofollow allows you to carefully manage and distribute your pagerank across pages of your site, and also the sites that you link to. It allows your search engine indexing to be clean and powerful.

How Does RelNoFollow work?

Quite simply, it tells the search engine spiders to not follow a particular link and to not pass link authority or pagerank to the page that the link points to. If you have pages with many links, you can use relnofollow so that you don’t pass pagerank and you don’t pass authority. Nofollow is critical in managing your sites pagerank and in keeping your site’s SEO attributes clean. By maintaining a high pagerank, and by nofollowing links to shady or semi-shady sites, you can better maintain SEO trust and authority which is critical for search engine success.

Back in 2005, Google started paying attention to relnofollow. You can find this quote on the official Google blog:

“From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.”

Google initially made this move in response to the comment spam that was hammering bloggers. Commenting was the new and improved way to get “unlimited” links. People who wanted  links for their site would post comments on random blogs, most of them worthless, and put the anchor text they want to rank for as their name, which is made into a link to their site in most blogging platforms. They would also stuff the comment with links. Google tested out a new tag, which became relnofollow, to combat the spammers. They have suggested the use of relnofollow anywhere that users can post their own links. Since then, there have been many other helpful uses for relnofollow.

Pagerank is passed through links. Incoming links with good authority provide pagerank. Each page of your site has its own pagerank so you can end up with different pageranks throughout your site. Similarly, your outgoing links provide pagerank for other pages of other sites. You may or may not want to pass pagerank to other sites, and you may or may not want to pass pagerank to other pages on your site. Herein lies the uber secret of relnofollow…

Here’s how pagerank is divvied up. If your home page has a page rank of 5 and you have 5 outgoing links, no matter if they point to internal pages of your site or to external pages of other sites, each link will pass 1 point of pagerank to the page that receives that link. Hypothetically, the page that receives that link would gain a pagerank of one. Pagerank affects where Google places your site in the search engine results pages (SERPS). You should focus on passing pagerank to pages that you want to rank well.

NOTE: If you have too many links pointing to other pages the amount of pagerank you pass is limited. If you have a pagerank of 5 and you have 50 outgoing links, each link is worth less pagerank, in this case just one tenth of a rank.

What are some common uses for the rel=”nofollow” tag?

  1. The most common use of relnofollow is to nofollow blog comments. Most blogging platforms do this by default, and you have to either have a plugin or manually change the link attributes to allow blog comment links to be followed.
  2. You probably don’t want to pass pagerank to your privacy policy, terms of service, or disclaimers. Who cares if those rank for anything, ever. Add a simple relnofollow attribute to the hyperlink and you won’t have to worry about spreading your pagerank where it shouldn’t be spread.
  3. A lot of advertisers choose to nofollow the ads that they display on their sites. This way, the sites the ads point to don’t steal pagerank and authority.
  4. On the blacker side of SEO, some webmasters may use relnofollow to cheat out reciprocal link partners (if you do that, I promise it will come back to haunt you). They will perform a link trade. After the link has been verified, they’ll nofollow the link to the unsuspecting webmaster’s site. That way they don’t pass pagerank but they get pagerank from the weaseled webmaster.

Rel=”nofollow” is critical to your site’s SEO health and should be used accordingly. Remember, you want your site to look natural to the search engines, so even with this useful tag, use it wisely and with moderation.

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6 Comments

  1. David says

    I never thought of adding nofollow to the privacy policy, terms of service and what not.

    Thanks!!!!

    Also I did not know that adding too many links distributes the page rank authority…

    Double Thanks

    I’m a better wiser SEO guy now

  2. Michael Martinez says

    “You probably don’t want to pass pagerank to your privacy policy, terms of service, or disclaimers. Who cares if those rank for anything, ever.”

    BZZT! Bad advice. Privacy policies and terms of service pages, at least, are types of content that people actually search for. It’s better to include your basic site navigation on those pages to help the PageRank flow through the site.

    PageRank Sculpting has had its day as an SEO myth but now Googler Matt Cutts has said at the latest SMX Advanced conference that if you are nofollowing your own internal links the PageRank will just vanish rather than be reallocated to your other internal links.

    Of course, no one has ever been able to show that they could make PR sculpting work anyway. There is no way for anyone outside of Google to measure and track PageRank flow — and if you cannot map how the PageRank flows through your site, you cannot sculpt it.

    It’s time for this SEO myth to die.

    • Seth Ellsworth says

      Perfect timing for this post eh? Thanks for the comment and for your point of view. This post went live one day before Mr. Cutts drops a bomb on relnofollow and yesterday I get a “BZZT!” ;) He has definitely started a massive debate about this subject. At SEO.com we haven’t really used “PR sculpting” with our clients though we do quite regularly nofollow documents we don’t want to receive any PR. We don’t use it much not because it doesn’t work in some cases, but because it’s usually not necessary. There is data to support that PR sculpting works.

      Here are a few posts about this:

      SEOMoz
      SearchEngineWatch
      SearchEngineLand

      The jury is still out about what Matt Cutts said. Even so, if what he said is true, then “PR Sculpting” will become completely superfluous. In any case, I would still want to nofollow/noindex pages like the privacy policy and the TOS. I personally don’t care to have all the legalese indexed and in the past, on most of my personal sites, i don’t include the sitewide navigation on those nofollowed/noindexed pages. In the future, if what Matt Cutts says is true, a simple noindex would work just fine because it would make more sense to not limit the PR that is passed through a site.

  3. John S. Britsios (aka Webnauts) says

    @Michael Martinez

    PageRank Sculpting dead?

    Then please explain me this: If page A has a followed link to page B, and the page B has a meta robots tag with a “noindex” directive, and page B has a link back to page A. What should to happen in that case?

  4. Toni Anicic says

    @Michael Martinez,

    That’s exactly what I was just about to write in comment about Matt Cuts putting the end on the PageRank Sculpting at SMX Advanced :)

  5. Dave Bascom says

    Honestly, I’ve never been a huge advocate of pagerank sculpting. In theory, it makes sense (or at least it did before MC’s announcement at SMX), but I usually didn’t see a need to do it on sites that don’t have a bunch of fluffy, useless pages. Plus, if a page is out there on the public web should be indexed and searchable, so I just feel like nofollow has always been lame. Besides, I have a hard time believing that rel=nofollow has cut down comment spam, which was the original intent, because I still get tons of comment spam every single day, and I’m sure everyone does. Fortunately Askimet catches most of it, but the volume coming in is still substantial.

    The SEO world is abuzz talking about this change and what it means. @Toni not sure this puts an end to pagerank sculpting, but it certainly adds a new twist and intensifies the controversy about it. I know a lot of people who don’t necessarily believe what Matt said, or at least don’t feel like we’re getting the full story.

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