The Crusade Against Nofollow

I could not believe my eyes when I began reading this week of a growing desire to kill nofollow.

The premise behind the argument is simple: nofollow doesn’t work. The truth is that is does work. It just didn’t succeed in stopping spam outright. For those advocating its death, very little critical thought is being applied to how nofollow can be evolved or improved upon. Killing nofollow is reactionary and counter productive, because whether or not nofollow has succeeded in stopping blog spam or not, it is still an incredibly useful tool.

The way I see it, nofollow is not about penalizing spammers, it is about rewarding good actors within a community.

Let me explain, Movable Type has implemented nofollow such that links created by anonymous and/or untrusted community members are not given the benefit of being followed by search engines. Conversely, if you are trusted contributor to a blog or community then Movable Type will reward you by allowing search engines to follow your links back to your website - thus positively affecting your pagerank.

But Movable Type’s implementation is relatively unique in that respect. Other implementations simply implant the rel=”nofollow” attribute in every link without discrimination. That is just wrong. Why should we penalize those people on the Internet who contribute meaningfully to all of our blogs and websites? We shouldn’t.

But let’s fix that. Killing nofollow is drastic and unnecessary. Unnecessary because there is never the need to actively kill technology. Technology, like everything else in the world, is subject to the Laws of Natural Selection. Technology that is truly useful in the world survives, and technology that is not either adapts or dies. Therefore, there is no need to rally behind a movement to kill a technology. It is simply a waste of energy.

So to all those out there raising the battle cry: just stop. Let’s work together and turn nofollow into something more meaningful, shall we?

3 Comments

Nofollow has succeeded, notwithstanding the fact that many people misunderstood its goals. It is designed to let a site owner designate which links on a page aren't under the control of the owner, and therefore were not (presumably) an editorial statement of intent when the link was created.

At its most ambitious, this could be seen as an attempt to indirectly clean up search engine result pages, which nofollow has definitely improved. But it's both inevitable and predictable that spammers would continue to use dumb, brute-force methods to send comments, regardless of their ineffectiveness in increasing pagerank. Even if everyone in the room at the first anti-link-spam summit had been acting in good faith after the nofollow effort started, it's a corruption of the original goals to judge it on this scale.

Put more succinctly: Nofollow is designed to cut down on the effectiveness of spam, not on the volume. And it has succeeded.

It's unfortunate that spammers aren't concerned enough with efficiency that they haven't cut back on their spamming of nofollowed sites, but nofollow has also failed to teach dogs to sing or to cure cancer. None of these failings are the fault of nofollow, nor are they valid rationales for why it should be abandoned.

I searched for a hotel for a trip this weekend and got the hotel's site back as the first result. That wasn't true before the nofollow effort. Let the link whores and pagerank obsessives fret.

Actually, I blame the search engines for starting the cycle of perverting links in the first place, and then feeding into people's thought that more links = good. There's an inherent stupidity in assuming that all links are positive; they're neutral connections, nothing more.

For what it's worth, I think nofollow does accomplish its very specific goal but then fails to acknowledge the rest of the issue. Which isn't to say trusted commenters should all get vote-for links(they shouldn't), but that only nullifying the bad still allows and maybe even encourages crap to float to the top; it's just other crap.

Nofollow cancels out spam, though only the ones that are flagged, but it does absolutely nothing to help good content; and I mean help, not just taking advantage of default being good. It's still implicitly no better than un-flagged spam. Worse even, since the spam will win on sheer volume.

I'd like to rephrase "say no to nofollow" or even "kill nofollow": revamp nofollow. It seems Google thinks about the various nofollow issues.

The value "nofollow" is hapless because non-geeks obviously cannot handle it properly. See the rel-nofollow page at microformats.org linked one comment above. It's not all about blog spam you know. To make it a useful tool it should be usable for the masses.

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  • I'd like to rephrase "say no to nofollow" or even "kill nofollow": revamp nofollow. It seems Google thinks about the various nofollow issues. The value "nofollow" is hapless because non-geeks obviously cannot handle it ...

  • Actually, I blame the search engines for starting the cycle of perverting links in the first place, and then feeding into people's thought that more links = good. There's an inherent stupidity in assuming that all links ...

  • Nofollow has succeeded, notwithstanding the fact that many people misunderstood its goals. It is designed to let a site owner designate which links on a page aren't under the control of the owner, and therefore were not ...

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