Point of View on Google’s Rule Change for Nofollow Attributes

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Point of View on Google’s Rule Change for Nofollow Attributes


Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist & Paul Williams, Analyst, Natural Search

In early June 2009, Matt Cutts, a member of Google’s Search Quality Group, spoke about changes to how Google treats nofollow link attributes (this link goes to a 1:48 YouTube video of the original Matt Cutts quote).

Matt Cutts’ statements caused a ripple effect in the natural search optimization world, and soon this ripple turned into a tizzy and finally a full-blown commotion.  Everyone panicked – were nofollow attributes still okay?  How did Matt Cutts’ statement impact existing nofollow attributes on Web sites?  Should nofollow continue to be used in the future?

At Performics, we do not believe there is reason to fuss over the semantics of Google’s position on rel=“nofollow”.  This attribute does not help sites rank higher in Google’s search results; it should merely be used for its original intention, e.g. the elimination of comment spam.  By adding a “nofollow” attribute, webmasters could prevent spammers from passing link value to their site by posting site links on forums or article comment sections.

Here are Performics’ responses to common questions about Matt Cutts’ recent speech:

Is this an important change?

Not really.  The actual change in the algorithm happened more than a year ago.  Matt Cutts articulated the change in his June 2009 speech at SMX but up until that point few, if any, people had noticed a difference with nofollow attributes. 

What exactly was it that changed?

Matt Cutts did a very good job of explaining what exactly changed on his blog. Please read his blog if you would like to know the technical ins and outs, but we will attempt to summarize the change below.

Essentially, nofollows were used to control how PageRank flowed through the site.  Google decided that webmasters were overusing this tag, with the result that useful information was excluded from Google’s search engines.  In response, Google changed their algorithm (a year ago), so that adding nofollow attributes no longer increased the value that links without nofollow attributes could pass to the rest of the site. 

I’ve got a bunch of nofollow links on my site.  Are they worthless now?

Absolutely not.  If you followed Performics’ NSO best practices, you added nofollow links to pages that had minimal value to natural search, such as log-in pages and shopping carts.  The nofollow links still work just fine; they inform search engines that the link destination should not compete for visibility with the more useful and important pages on your site.

Can I use nofollow attributes to “sculpt” PageRank through my site?

There are now more efficient ways to sculpt PageRank and ensure that the most valuable pages on your site have the most visibility for natural search.  Consider using iframes and JavaScript as a substitute for the nofollow attribute where the links are necessary for users but not for search engines.

Does this change how we should approach natural search?

Inbound links, as always, are central to visibility on natural search.  When people find your site interesting, useful, and informative, they are much more likely to link to your site.  There is even less reason now to obsess over internal site linking. The focus should remain on providing great content and ensuring search engines have access to this content.

Matt Cutts’ statements on nofollow attributes strongly imply that there is an appropriate role for sculpting link value within different pages of your site.  Performics will continue to recommend compliant tactics and strategies to maximize the value your site brings to your business through natural search.


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