July 6th, 2009 Add Your Comments Bookmark and Share

It’s at this point that some smart arse cheeps up and tells me that shaping page rank with nofollow is old news and that there’s nothing new in this post? Fair point. But whilst this may not be news to everybody I’m sure it will be to some and besides this post isn’t going where the majority of you think it is. Over the last few weeks our (the webmaster communities at large) perceptions of what nofollow is and does has been blown away by Matt Cutts from Google. So with that in mind here’s how I’m changing my websites for better rankings:-

The Old World With NoFollow

For years now we’ve been told what NoFollow represents and how as webmasters we should be using it. Put simply the search engines would neither count that link as being a positive vote for whatever it linked to nor would it include the anchor text when ranking the destination page. In short although the search engines spidered those links they ignored the value from them. Does that sound fair? The way we could benefit from this was to use the rel=nofollow attribute on our websites to shape where we wanted our link value to go. So pages such as the terms, contact, privacy etc were all nofollowed as were most links left by user created content out of our control. This was a totally acceptable strategy by Google who even pushed it at several conventions. In essence we were pointing out to Google and the other search engines what we considered to be our most important content. Assumptions were that because the search engines were active in this process that the nofollow attribute would do us no harm. We were right, well up until a year ago we were, and then Google decided to change the rules without telling anybody.

NoFollow In The New World – Why It’s Not Worth Using It

In the scenario above it was taken for granted that because a nofollow link wasn’t counted then it didn’t impact on the other links on our page. In the last year this is what Google changed. Each web page on the internet has a certain page rank value (not the visible thing we see in page rank checkers) but an actual big number calculated all the time. Say we have 5 links going out from a page, 2 of which were no followed and 3 of which were normal links. In the old world and simplified to hell each of those 3 normal links would pass on roughly 33% of that pages value to their destinations. However in the new world and how things currently exist it’s different, now Google would divide the total value of that page by 5 (the total number of links) and then pass on the value to each normal link, so each of our normal links get 20% and 40% gets sent to the ether/heaven or wherever else Google decides to send it. In other words an amount of our link value has been passed back to Google. They did this without telling anybody so over the last year we’ve all been happily using nofollow without any regard with how it affects our websites when in fact one of the oldest rules in SEO is now very valid again – you must control the NUMBER of outbound links from EVERY page.

Of course that’s a simplified way of looking at it but the rule still sticks. The more links you have on a page (whether nofollowed or not) the less each of those links will pass on. You’re a blogger right? Well think of your average blog post with say 10 comments. Then imagine if you’re using the CommentLuv plug-in? Then you’ve got your categories, top posts, top commentators, archives, friends links down the side of every page? It’s no wonder that blogs have been on a steady slope down the rankings over the last 6-12 months. The visible page rank for most blogs has been hit hard. Internal linking strategies are being shot to buggery by the sheer number of links on your average blog webpage. Matt justified the recent announcement of this policy by saying that nobody noticed. Sorry Matt but I sure as hell noticed, the trouble was that because of the search engines pushing nofollow that nobody would have guessed for 1 minute that it was this that was having the impact.

You can already see how I’ve started to change things, I’ll be minimizing the number of links in my sidebar as much as possible. As of an hour ago I had over 1400 comments approved, I now have less than 1200. All I’m doing is removing those 1 liners that add no value to a post but in the same respect weren’t seen as being blatant spam in the past. Now just having those comments damages my content so they have to go. The other side of this coin is that if simply by having links (i.e. comments) affects my content then there is no point whatsoever in having them nofollowed. So in the next day or so I’ll be moving my blog back over to a do follow blog. In other words commentators will get link value passed. Because of this I’ll be very strict with approving comments, if I consider it to be in the slightest bit spammy then it will be deleted. The good news for genuine commentators both passed and present is that when I hit the switch a good amount of juice will start flowing their way, more so because the number of outbound links from each post will be limited to those good comments. It’s a simple philosophy, contribute and benefit.

On my other websites there are things I’ll be changing as well. In the past I’ve put privacy policies on their own pages and not as part of the template. This made it easier to update them and as they were nofollowed it did no harm to have these “dead end” pages. Now however they are impacting on me, not least because these are the sort of pages included in the footer links on every page. That’s just more link juice being given back to Google! Every single page needs to be part of the template and include menu links. This is so that when my followed link to my privacy policy is followed by the search engine spider some of that link value comes back into my other pages. I’ll never be using nofollow on any internal link on my websites again and very rarely on outbound links (think affiliate links only).

So if you couldn’t be bothered reading all that above here’s the thing. Before you place any link on any of your web pages give it some serious thought. NoFollow no longer gives us a free reign to link out as and when we like, with each and every single outbound link you’re giving a little bit away, either to the website you are linking to or if not to Google.