Nofollow May Be a Rank Solution

I had no idea how important Google PageRank was to the business world until I did some PHP/MySQL programming for a local ecommerce retailer. The boss watched search rankings on product-related keywords for the company and its competitors on a daily basis, and you could see the immediate effect on sales of a rank move.

Multiply one small St. Augustine company by one million and you have a huge worldwide economy, utterly dependent on the vicissitudes of an algorithm.

Google's support for a nofollow attribute throws a wrench into comment and referral spam by adding a huge new concept to the Web: a link of no confidence.

Web publishers can now link to a site without improving its PageRank. Robert Scoble enthusiastically explains one reason that people will do this:

... last year a carpet store in Redmond ripped off a lot of people. The store is now out of business, but back when it was happening I wanted to link to the store but couldn't.

Why not?

Because one link from my blog would have automatically put the store at the top of the search page on Google for "Redmond carpet store." Why is that? Because of my Page Rank.

This sounds good, though it officially abandons the pretense that Google's search algorithm is tailored to the linking behavior of Web users, rather than the other way around.

I read some search engine optimization forums this morning to see how they're responding to the change, figuring that these panicky PageRank Kremlinologists might see the implications beyond weblogging.

One pointed out that the change breaks the first principle of Google's recommendations for webmasters: "Make pages for users, not for search engines." This may not be a big deal, because weblogs themselves are one big feedback loop in which humans and Google conspire to make each other happy. We feed it links to webloggers and current content; it moves bloggers up the ranks and feeds us traffic; we become more motivated to publish. do { } while (true).

Wikipedia has the same circular relationship with the one true search engine:

We write a thousand articles; Google spiders them and sends some traffic to those pages. Some small percentage of that traffic becomes Wikipedia contributors, increasing our contributor base. The enlarged contributor base then writes another two thousand articles, which Google dutifully spiders, and then we receive an even larger influx of traffic.

Overnight, a handful of weblog companies have implemented a change that touches the entire Web: How people trade the most valuable unit of currency in the attention economy, the hyperlink.

Before this change, every outgoing link on a Web page lowered its rank, leading some optimizers to view them as a leak:

Outbound links are a drain on a site's total PageRank. They leak PageRank. To counter the drain, try to ensure that the links are reciprocated.

The most far-reaching impact could be from publishers who adopt nofollow on external links to boost the effect of their internal links, taking a bajillion rank suggestions right out of Google's algorithm. The subset of the Web devoted to making as much money as possible, properly optimized to plug leaks, becomes as searchable as AltaVista in 1997.


Interesting take, I hadn't heard that outbound links reduce ranking (not sure it even makes sense - hubs and authorities and all that).
Your pretense-inversion line sounds reasonable - but when did you last link to something primarily with Google in mind?

I'm not saying it isn't sometimes a consideration for your average blogger - if the target is obnoxious, I generally won't link.

I wonder if it will affect those folks who eschew comments on their blog - presumably one motivation there would be that to comment, the person would have to link.

Workbench is small potatoes, so I don't worry too much about the effect I might have on Google rankings when I link to something.

I think that the case by case decisions of bloggers on whether to omit a link will prove to be a tiny issue as far as Google is concerned.

The bigger one is going to involve large sites trying to keep as much of their own PageRank as possible by using nofollow for all external links.

Consider the New York Times and its 500,000 Web pages, many of which probably have hefty PageRank. Why should the Times or any other business not add nofollow to every external link on the site, keeping all of their PageRank in the family?

I predict that lots of people will be clamoring to get rid of "nofollow" within, say, 3 months, if not sooner. It really does little or nothing to eliminate comment spam -- you need a proactive approach for that -- but only solves a problem for Google, namely to get rid of what, for them, are lots of unwashed ~links~. There are many bad consequences, many that don't even depend on the outgoing link rank dilution phenomenon.

IOW, we were shooting at comment spam, but let Google talk us into aiming instead at the ~links~ to comment spam.

Bad for us; bad for everybody but Google. Actually, maybe even bad for Google in the long run.

(Sorry I have no blog to say this in, rather than just comments, where I tried to say it on the day it happened -- can't afford the time and committment for my own blog, unfortunately.)


Consider the New York Times and its 500,000 Web pages, many of which probably have hefty PageRank. Why should the Times or any other business not add nofollow to every external link on the site, keeping all of their PageRank in the family?

As Phil Ringnalda pointed out to me, Wikipedia is already doing just that. And unlike the New York Times (or a million other businesses), they have no particular economic incentive to do so.

In the short term, as those millions of others follow Wikipedia in jumping on the rel="nofollow" bandwagon, the quality of Google's search results will suffer. In the longer term, it will be interesting to see how Google adjusts their algorithm to work around the mess they've ushered in with this change.

(What! No preview?!)

"every outgoing link on a Web page lowered its rank"

thats totally wrong

"every outgoing link on a Web page lowered its rank"

it just lowers amount of translated trust to the linked pages

yeah ... those stupid wiki's!
wonder what happen if we all use nofollow to them?

Have a good one.

Hey, these are great tips! A little bit of info goes a long way. I will have to implement a few of these in my blog for sure.

Add a Comment

All comments are moderated before publication. These HTML tags are permitted: <p>, <b>, <i>, <a>, and <blockquote>. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA (for which the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply).