Linking Out, Nofollow, And Common Sense

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.

PageRank was a great innovation. It works really well when you turn it loose at the scale of the world wide web. What it doesn’t do very well is identify the most important pages within a web site. Inside of a site, a lot of the internal links are "have to have" links to "overhead" pages (privacy, contact, terms of use, cart, shipping, guarantee) on every page…

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.

28 thoughts on “Linking Out, Nofollow, And Common Sense

  1. Dan, THAT is a quality, thoughtful response. Thanks for confirming your honest intentions for others. It is refreshing to see someone openly man up these days, especially when the claims of erroneous propagtion of your “how to’s” were based on misunderstandings by the claimants.

    I read Aaron’d critique, and was surprised how sharply he replied without clarifying with you first.
    Thanks again.
    EddieIntegrity

  2. The idea of “leaking” page rank to “unworthy” pages within my own web site is a new one. My concern in doing this, using NOFOLLOW, is about reducing the total number of internal links within my own web site which appear to have some value.

  3. That’s why you do it very selectively, Mary. I don’t even bother trying to teach more advanced applications, because it’s too easy to screw it up and hurt yourself. If you do nothing but limit links from your home page to the “overhead” pages, you’ve probably achieved half the benefit right there.

  4. I am indeed fascinated with the merits of giving link love either internally or externally to certain sites. Look forward to delving into this concept with dan’s lessons

  5. Dan, firstly, for sharing your thoughts and experience on SEO. I’ve run a travel business for five years, and the first 3 years were great, I took my foot off the pedal, and find myself fighting the search engines.

    I’ve not read your book yet, but I intend to.

    I was wondering pages where you wouldn’t normally optimise, i.e. terms & conditions, contact us pages would you do a no follow on them, or are we only really looking at external websites?

  6. Dan,
    I totally agree with what you are saying in regards to nofollowing some outbound links. My issue though, is if you are nofollowing because you don’t “trust” these sites, or don’t deem them worthy of link, what are you saying to the engines when you nofollow your own pages? Do you follow my logic?

  7. Hello, i used the nofollow tag to some of my client’s website, like privacy or contact us from tier 1 and 2 pages, and i saw great results for their rankings.

  8. Darren, yes, I do recommend a nofollow on links to your “overhead” pages, at least from the home page.

    Mike, this is similar to a conversation I’ve had with my kids… it goes something like “just because I don’t buy you ice cream, that’s not a punishment.” :D

    In the same way, “nofollow” simply means “don’t follow this link.” You can use if for links you don’t trust, you can use it for links that point to duplicate content, etc. We’ve heard this loud and clear from the search engines, especially Google.

    Simply preventing a link from being followed can do a lot of things. That’s why you see search engines like Google “encouraging” webmasters to use nofollow in a lot of situations, including paid links, untrusted links, internal links, etc.

  9. I find it ironic that the link to Aaron’s site is a nofollow link in this article. I use a Firefox plugin called Search Status and it will highlight NoFollow links and I’m often surprised at the amount of links that aren’t followed. For example, every link on this page is a NoFollow.

    I have turned it off of my blog. I check all my comments and make sure I’m linking to good sites.

    I do agree with you, Dan, about the sites that aren’t part of your trusted sites. Good post.

  10. No irony intended, Shell. Every page on the support portal has a “noindex, nofollow” in the robots META tag because I don’t want the support site spidered right now.

    SearchStatus shows the links in pink because of the robots meta tag, not because there’s a nofollow on the link. One of the little quirks of that tool, but we love it anyway.

    I’m still waiting for solutions to some vexing issues in the WordPress workflow (Denis @ Semiologic is my hero). Once that’s all resolved we can build out the rest of the site the way I want it. At that point, I’ll remove that robots meta tag and activate the DoFollow plug-in for comments.

    Dan

  11. Dan,

    Here is what you said above “That’s why you see search engines like Google “encouraging” webmasters to use nofollow in a lot of situations, including paid links, untrusted links, internal links, etc.”

    Where does Google (or even a major SEO) encourage webmaster to use nofollow on internal links?
    I would like to read that (I did do some looking and couldn’t find much on that subject).
    Thanks

  12. Gutenberg, you may want to attend some of the webmaster conferences that focus on search, such as SES or Pubcon. You’ll have an opportunity there to hear from search engine reps directly, ask questions, etc.

    At the last two Pubcon events, Matt Cutts from Google has had positive things to say about using nofollow internally, for overhead pages as well as to help with duplicate content. We’ve heard from Google and Yahoo reps about using nofollow as a substitute for robots.txt and meta tags when these don’t do the job.

    For those who think there’s some kind of potential penalty for using nofollow on a site, here’s a quote from Vanessa Fox:
    “Q: If I nofollow a substantial number of my internal links to reduce duplicate content issues, will this raise a red flag with the search engines?
    The number of nofollow links on a site won’t raise any red flags, but that is probably not the best method of blocking the search engines from crawling duplicate pages, as other sites may link to those pages. A better method may be to block pages you don’t want crawled with a robots.txt file.”

    Some more…
    http://www.searchenginejournal.com/googles-matt-cutts-on-seo-from-smx-seattle/5041/
    http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2007/06/smx-video-matt-cutts-explains-how-to-get-out-of-googles-supplemental-index.html

    Thanks!
    Dan

  13. Merry, you can register with sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, and submit a specific post from the portal. Other members will then read the digg, or Stumble, and it might get some traffic from these sites.

    I’ve had a few posts submitted to Stumble and it can bring nice traffic.

  14. Ok, I have made some SEO friendly changes to my URL’s

    So in place of chalet/French%20Alps

    I have replaced it with chalet/French-Alps

    Now I would imagine this is going to cause dup content issues because both URLs will be indexed by Google.

    So I was going to go to Google webmaster and remove URL chalet/French%20Alps BUT wondered if this would have a negative impact on the chalet/French-Alps URL.

    I know I could do a redirect, on the chalet/French%20Alps URL but its’ a new URL and I just want to be rid of it completely.

    What do you think?

  15. Nice idea Dan, thanks! I’m testing this nofollow strategy on internal links on one of my sites right now.

    Do you know if Google neglects the words in the anchortext of the nofollow link for the page being linked to (in all cases)?
    And do you know if Google also neglects the words in the anchortext of the nofollow link on the page that’s linking?

    And thirdly, does Google treat nofollow on internal links differently than nofollow on external links?

  16. Bert, anchor text shouldn’t pass through a nofollow link, but it would still read as text on the page. As far as we know, the meaning of nofollow in technical terms is the same, whether the links are inbound, outbound, or internal.

  17. I have just this second downloaded the seo fast start book and im wondering about the following, regarding outbound links, to my site. I have recieved many links to my sub pages from artistdirect.com, however, the link format they use means the outbound link to my site is in the format as follows:
    artistdirect.com/cgi-bin/gx.cgi/AppLogic+SimpleRedirect?src=/nad/music/artist/links&destination=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Erapcentral%2Eco%2Euk&site=4400581&artist=594954&priority=-1&type=7

    now i was wondering, does anyone know if search engines can even follow this link properly, or is it hard for them to count this as a vote for me, or is it a the equivilant of a nofollow link as its hard for them to read as a direct link, as i was very pleased to get get the links on this site, especially on the main artist page of the site.

    THANKS ALL!
    p.s.

  18. Chris, those links return a 302 redirect to your site, so they won’t count as links in search engines. But I assume they’re sending you traffic, and when people find you that does generate some links on its own.

  19. Dan,

    I am working on a massive site. About 7000 pages more. I am thinking of using the nofollow tag for the anchor text “home” and the image link at the top which links to the homepage. I will then place a link in the footer to the homepage that contains a highly searched keyword to our sites theme. Do you see any negative effects with implementing this strategy?

  20. Dan: I tried to post and show three different coding examples, but they were converted to actual links on the site. I am confused… I took out the following from the beginning of each line of code:so you might see what I am asking here…

    We are trying to implement nofollow on our site where a click on the links in question opens a new window within our site (it is an rfq form).

    Normally, the link would be structured like this: rfq-popup.htm rel="nofollow"

    If opening in a new window, should it be structured like this: rfq-popup.htm target="_blank rel="nofollow"

    Or like that:  rfq-popup.htm" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"

    Thanks, Toby

  21. Toby, I need to check into some kind of visual/WYSIWYG editor instead of the text input box…

    If you’re doing a popup, you have a couple choices, you can use target=”_blank” or you can use a Javascript onclick event and run a script to open the window.

    It shouldn’t matter what order you put the rel and target attributes. I generally prefer to use alphabetical order for attributes (href=whatever rel=nofollow target=whatever) but the spiders should be able to interpret it correctly no matter what order you use.

  22. Dear Dan, thank you for your great book.

    Could you advice me with these situations?..

    1- In my home page I have a top menu and a bottom menu with the same links. Is it ok if I use “rel=nofollow” in the bottom links? Seomoz.org applies this technique..

    2- In the top menu I have a link pointing to my home page with the anchor text “home”, but in the bottom menu I have the same link pointing to the home page with a “keyword” in the anchor text. Can I place the “rel=nofollow” in the “home” link. Will Google count the bottom link “with the keyword”? or will ignore my homepage because i added “nofollow” on the link “home”. I have this doubt because the “home link” appears first in the code??

    3- In your book you said:
    Home Page Navigation
    “Do not use nofollow on the link to your site map page, if you have one.”

    Global Navigation / Interior Pages
    Add nofollow on all links to the site map. From the spider’s perspective, the
    site map is only linked from the home page.

    I have seem in many important sites they use nofollow in overhead pages but they do not use “nofollow” on the site map page? What is your opinion about it??

    Thank you Master!!

  23. If I link out to authority sites from my home page or any other page, will that increase my site’s trust in Google’s eyes?

    One of my top competitors is doing this and is ranking well, but I am not sure if I should use this strategy.

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