It’s probably all my fault… in trying to simplify site structure as much as possible, I seem to have left a few folks confused. If you haven’t actually read SEO Fast Start, go read it, because the rest of this won’t make as much sense otherwise. In particular, Chapter 4.
So let me say one thing, loud and clear: I do not recommend putting nofollow on all outbound links. I am sorry that Aaron Wall decided to pull a quote out of context. I don’t have a beef with Aaron, because he is a very busy guy, he did me a favor by taking the time to read the book at all, and he invited me to comment and clarify. Aaron is one of the good guys, and if he misunderstood my intent, then a lot of people did.
When I wrote SEOFS, I was thinking, for the most part, about business web sites. While working on Chapter 4, I should have thought a little more about sites like blogs, where a big part of the plan is to link to other stuff you’ve found on the web.
Now, with that lens in mind, let me walk you through the strategy again, with some comments:
- Home Page:For a business web site, you would normally not want to link out to other web sites from your home page. Why invite prospective customers to leave? However, sometimes you have to do it. Either because you’ve agreed to do so (business partner, parent company, sister site, etc.) or because you have some other logical reason.
For example, shopping sites displaying the Scanalert "Hacker Safe" logo consistently demonstrate an improvement in their conversion rate. The Hacker Safe code contains a link to a page at the Scanalert site, that basically says little more than "this site is scanned daily."
I recommend putting a nofollow on links like that, because there’s no good reason for a search engine to index that page, and there’s no reason to send it any link juice. BBBOnline’s "trust logo" is also helpful, but again, there’s no reason to send them any link juice – you’re already paying them and giving them an ad on your site!
- Internal Pages: For a business web site, you normally would not link out to many other sites… that’s just a fact. When you do, I would hope that you’re doing so for a good and logical reason… and here’s where I just have to differ with some folks. If you are linking to a site you trust and recommend, then send them some link love! If you don’t trust and recommend the site, then put nofollow on the links if you can, assuming you haven’t agreed to do otherwise (link exchange, condition for use of content, etc.).
Let me now quote Aaron Wall: "I think excessive use of nofollow carves up the web, leaving scars in it and making it more wounded for those who use it."
Nofollow is not seen by web users at all, Aaron. The only place nofollow has an impact is on SERPs. Personally, I think the web is far more wounded by irresponsible linking, which leads to less worthy sites clogging up SERPs. What if every site started putting nofollow on the links in press releases? Would the web be scarred, or would the volume of press releases drop to a tenth of what it is today?
When it comes to search engines, links are votes. If you don’t trust and recommend a resource you’re linking to, then I say don’t vote for it. If you do, then vote as hard as you can, and make your vote count as much as possible. How you manage your links is up to you. If you never use nofollow on an outbound link, you’d have to be pretty careless (linking to bulk email software, spyware dropping sites, etc) to see any major downside.
My fear in writing Chapter 4 was that readers might start obsessing about "leaking PageRank," and take the intent as "hoarding" link juice. That’s not the plan, folks. Don’t be afraid to link out. Every web site should have some links pointing out to the rest of the web. This stuff isn’t worth obsessing over. The internal structure is far more significant than how you link out to the web.
This is not about "leaking" or "hoarding" PageRank. It’s about managing links responsibly.
The main point of Chapter 4 is that we can take control of the structure of our sites, without compromising usability for SEO. Nofollow lets us do that. Your shopping site can have a dozen links to the "shopping cart" page on every page, if that works for users.
If you use nofollow on those links, then you aren’t sending PageRank (and spiders) to an empty shopping cart. Nofollow isn’t the only way to do this (robots.txt and robots meta tags on overhead pages can do the same thing), but nofollow is very flexible and can do things that we can’t do simply by blocking spiders.
Without dynamic linking, those pages get more link juice than your product pages! Using nofollow lets you give your "overhead" pages a little love (so they’ll get indexed and show up in a site search) without making them more important than your actual content.