Nofollow Fails & Farmer Fallout: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?
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Nofollow Fails and Farmer Fallout

Posted in Digital Marketing — March 8, 2011

Question: “As many webmasters are linking only in nofollow, killing the natural way of links, do you think Google will penalize people who only link out with nofollow attribute in the future?”

Answer: “EGADS! What do you mean, many webmasters are linking *only* in nofollow, killing the natural way of links???”

OKAY, okay, those aren’t the exact words above that Mr. Cutts used, but the response was still heavily focused on on maintaining that nofollow is not corrupting the link architecture of the web because:

- Only a small number of websites are actually using nofollow, in the low single digits
- 5 years after nofollow was introduced, the level of adoption still remains low
- Matt envisions many websites taking a more nuanced approach anyway – once a trusted relationship is established, webmasters feel less need to nofollow a particular link

Let’s examine the main reason WHY nofollow was introduced: the link architecture of the web was becoming compromised! Nofollow was supposed to improve the situation, working against nefarious paid linking schemes.

How ironic that Google is now accused of screwing up the web’s link graph: precisely the thing nofollow was designed to fix. When you consider that LinkedIn, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter use nofollow on every outgoing link, it’s hard to deny that something is wrong. Maybe it’s not the majority of sites, but we still feel the loss of link love keenly.

From nofollow to farmer, I admire the intent behind Google’s attempts to fight mediocre content and paid linking schemes. These are noble causes. The problem is the collateral damage.

Honestly, fighting spam is like fighting sloth and evil – they just keep cropping up everywhere. The tactics are messy, and the results are never as clean as you had intended. I’m still ambivalent about nofollow, and I still resent that some of my most beloved links send zero love to my website. I wring my hands when I see that webmasters are afraid to link out to each other, and that we must use the Bad Neighborhood tool before daring to extend our blessing. Many sites can’t be bothered, so they just nofollow everything. Which, in my opinion, is just sloth and evil in another form.

We link out freely from Big Daylight. As a recently launched website that’s also dealing with a transfer of owner/registrar 2 months ago, we’re back at square one in terms of domain authority. (Shoemaker’s children, etc.) Still, we we don’t hoard our PR by refusing to pass a vote onto other deserving sites.

I’m not sure what the answer to all this is… but I think it’s obvious that we haven’t arrived at the final solution yet. Designing the ideal algorithm is certainly one hell of a tall order – especially with spammers working against you every step of the way. In the meantime, steps are being taken, awareness is heightened, and the debate rages on. That’s far, far better than inaction.

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One Comment

  1. I am a webmaster and now I link to facebook and Twitter or any bookmarking sites with nofollow as they do the same, there is hardly any benefit in posting useful content on external websites anymore like wordpress or blogger. I am amazed to see so many nofollow links creeping up to preserve the page rank. If I own a blog and moderate it then I should have the choice to publish the links normally, even Matt Cutts have nofollow links on his blog, what a shame..

    Posted by The Webmaster, September 13, 2011 | Reply

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