Ben Nadel
On User Experience (UX) Design, JavaScript, ColdFusion, Node.js, Life, and Love.
I am the chief technical officer at InVision App, Inc - a prototyping and collaboration platform for designers, built by designers. I also rock out in JavaScript and ColdFusion 24x7.
Meanwhile on Twitter
Loading latest tweet...
Ben Nadel at RIA Unleashed (Nov. 2010) with:

I Am Strongly Against The Rel=NoFollow Link Attribute

By Ben Nadel on

NOTE: The following was written very early in the morning on very little sleep. It might have come off sounding very bitter :)

Until recently, I was not exactly sure what the rel="nofollow" attribute of a link did. I had seen it discussed briefly on other blogs, but never really looked into it. I just came across it again, so I figure I would look it up. On the Google blog, it is described as such:

If you're a blogger (or a blog reader), you're painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites' search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like "Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site." This is called comment spam, we don't like it either, and we've been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel="nofollow") on hyperlinks, those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn't a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it's just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.

Sorry for my bluntness, but this just feels like load of horse crap to me. Am I crazy? This seems to like treating the symptoms of a disease but not the causes. Linking in your comments is NOT a problem; that's why we try our best to auto-link URLs within the content. The problem here is anti-spam techniques. Get those better and you won't have to worry about where the links point to.

And as far as:

...those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.

... is also bogus. People put a LOT of time and thought into their comments. I am lucky enough to have awesome people who place comments on my site that are some of the most well thought out, amazing explanations that I have ever read. If I was to then turn around and tell them that their effort will not get rewarded by linking credit, I would feel like a disgusting person.

If you are so worried about every little thing that gets posted to your comments, then moderate them... don't stop them from working "properly".

My two cents!



Reader Comments

I tend to not use them, but for some sites I think it could be important.

For example, at one time (no longer) I had links from my www.spamstocktracker.com site to various scam sites/posts. I really didn't want to have google take my site links as encouragement to the quality so the rel attribute worked well. Ultimately I changed my mind on linking to the sites as most of what I really wanted was links to spam and that was just overwhelming.

As for blog comments, this is probably directed more at the 80% of blogs that sit empty and abandoned with comment spam keeping them active. Speaking of which, I should check my wifes blog...

@Joshua,

I have heard of your site (re: spam stock tips) by word of mouth, but have never actually seen it. Thanks for posting the link. I think it's totally awesome. Nicely done.

Why does it have to be black and white? Why not have a compromise? Have your blogging software add in the nofollow by default, but then strip it out if an admin says it's okay. I know that sounds like actual work, but I think that's more the point than an all-or-nothing strategy.

I agree with your point that a well-thought-out comment that includes a link deserves some weight. I see it as being about choice. I respect freedom of speech, and I am inclined to leave non-spam links in the comments on my blog, no matter how much I disagree with them. However, I feel obliged to provide the option for my viewers to see the other side of the argument, even if I don't necessarily agree with that POV. That, to me, is what nofollow is all about: "here's something else, but standard disclaimers apply". It removes any implied connotations of association from hyperlinks.

I have some friends that work on trust networks and reputation systems, and I can tell you that Google's PageRank (the impetus for nofollow) is just the beginning. Similarly, the rising hubbub about "the semantic web" is just the tip of the iceberg. In the coming years you will see a lot more done with the rel="" attribute, not just nofollow.

In old CS-theory parlance: a hyperlink is just data. Adding a rel="" turns the data into information. Links will say things, not just point in a direction:

"This is a friend. This is what I do. This is something I made personally. This is bad. This is popular. This is instructive. This is way too much information. This has nothing to do with me."

It seems irrelevant and silly now, but it won't be. Remember that your blog is you. If you don't distinguish on your blog between things that come from you and things that don't, what will that eventually say about you? Sure, a human might understand that a comment does not represent your views, but are you sure they will? Why not tag that comment, and thus the things it links to, with a measure of what that comment means to you? If someone, say Google, came along tomorrow and put up a personality profile of you that they had gleaned from your blog, would you be comfortable with it? How is Google doing it automagically any different than your neighbor doing it manually?

Hi Ben,

I agree completely with nofollow being a load of crap. Essentially it is there to help Google determine what links may be spam and not to follow/give PR to. It was made by the SE's and is entirely for their benefit. It does nothing to deincentivize spam, however, as there are ten other reasons to spam a site's comments. And do you think the spammers bother to look at your code to see if there is a rel="nofolow"? I have it plainly written on my comment forms that HTML is stripped and URLs are NOT linked and I still have a spam problem.

I use the rel=nofollow all the time for cf-talk, blog of fusion and other links where I have no control. On the other hand, I'm now thinking about a subscription based honor system where a 'trusted' poster can have links without it. The user subscribes to the blog/site/whatever and is set as trusted based on name recognition or number of posts.

This has an additional benefit that allows a poster to enter a username/password rather than the chunk of data above and a capta. Basically a one stop shop for posts.

Thanks for being the sounding board for the idea. I'm going to impliment it now. :)

@Rick,

Sorry, my email has been acting up today, so I just got your post (even though it was posted to the site some time ago). I see what you are saying. And especially with the "semantic" web that you speak up. Especially, now that I am getting more into jQuery, i see that they those people are making HUGE use of that argument to make the markup very "explanatory" and then go in after the document has loaded and hook up all the javascript based on (in part) the REL attributes.

I think it's a very cool idea (getting now completely away from spam issues) that the HTML become much more information-centric. Very cool stuff.

@Michael,

That sounds like a pretty cool idea. The only downside is that people have to log-in. However, with cookie usage, you could make this a one-time-only type of login, which would take away the negative affects.

And what are they doing now when they enter all the name/email/website/remember/subscribe info now? All a login does is bypass all of those fields. It can still set a 'remember me' cookie to take advantage of cookies. I'm just saying that it saves on a bunch of keystrokes when the cookie does not exist.

@Michael,

Agreed. I was just saying that a remember-me style thing should be used in some fashion.

@Rick,

As far as it being "black and white"... when my girlfriend is up crying the night before about the cat getting spade and I have to go to sleep late and wake up early and I have very little sleep and the office is cold.... the world just seems much more black and white :)

It take a few hours for the "normal me" to kick in on days like that :D

The official claim is that links with the rel=nofollow attribute do not influence the search engine rankings of the target page. In addition to Google, Yahoo and MSN also support the rel=nofollow attribute.

i think, it helps indexing

I agree that the The rel="nofollow" attribute doesn't really serve its intended purpose of stopping spam. The one simple reason is that spammers don't bother checking for it. They just spam everything and hope to hit the sites that don't use it. It has however found a good alternative use in allowing webmasters to dictate whether a linked to page is related to their site.

In my website I use the attribute for internal linking to pages that don't really have to do with the theme of the site. The main part of the site is strongly related to the topic so its pages are linked without the attribute. Other pages like the contact me form don't really have anything to do with the content theme. They are still an essential part of the site. They get the nofollow attribute so they won't confuse google on what my site is really about. It is great for things like legal disclaimers, privacy policies, contact forms, ect.

I'm fairly new running a website and this NoFollow business is horribly confusing (so is SEO and page rank in general...). But from what I've read so far I am in total agreement with you. It seems counter intuitive to the whole reason Google has been successful in finding good search results since they started.

Remember in the 90s when average people would say, "yeah, the internet is great but I can't find anything." Well Google fixed that problem by using links from one page to another as votes. Suddenly, due to a democracy of links the internet was really easy to search. Then years later after they were established, and unanimous with the word search, they through this Rel=NoFollow thing out there. It's almost like fixing an election, or more appropriately, like saying only the rich and powerful get the votes while the poor must bend to their will. And that's just one side of the story, I could go on, but I probably don't have a full grasp on the topic. Thanks for the article.

@James,

It's all about intent, in my opinion. If this were a message board where I was getthing thousands of posts a day or week, then sure, maybe I would put NoFollow on my links because I would not be able to moderate it. But, this is my personal blog. I have a connection to these people and more often than not, the information they provide is helpful to me. As such, I feel it is only right to help them out with some google index love. My intent on this blog is to keep it personal.

Personal intent, that makes sense, on both ends too I suppose. It seems like some blog authors get to a certain point of popularity and their personal intent changes from one of lending a helping hand to one of authoritative power. And on the commenters side, I suppose you could abuse the kindness of bloggers for personal gain or actually contribute to a page. Sigh... It seems like the whole thing would be so much easier if Google never issued the NoFollow tag to begin with.

@James,

Moderating, especially when you get more traffic can be hard. And, sometimes, its a pure judgement call as to whether something should be deleted, or altered. I have, several times, deleted people's posts because I thought it was spam - but it turned out the person was just not a native English speaker and their post was very broken.

Since then, I have become more cautious about deleting an entire comment. If I suspect that something is SPAM, I will probably just delete the URL rather than the post.

But in reality, I rarely have to do this as the majority of posts are clearly altruistic.

I agree, but both sides has his advantages and disadvantages.

if you use dofollow, you get more spam, because of seo rankings. If you don't use them, you won't get a lot comments, because a lot of potential commentators feel that they aren't rewarded for their effort to put up a comment.

in my opinion the solution is

dofollow blog with comment moderation. you get spam out and your good commentators get rewarded.

The purpose of the rel="nofollow" attribute is to create HTML links which can be viewed and clicked by normal web users, but which will not be counted as a link by the search engines.

I agree for no follow blogs. But do follow blogs are more effective than no follow. But agree most of do follow blogs goes on waiting or moderation.

Totaly agree with Neil.

I think the nofollow tag has its place, but other methods or tools need to be developed and used to stop comment spamming and the like.

Akismet is a perfect example of this...