(First published 2007, updated August 2009)
While "nofollow" has been around since 2005, I thought I'd publish an article on the history, implementation and issues for consideration relating to use the nofollow tag in hyperlinks after a question I received from a reader recently.
Why/when was the nofollow tag implemented?
All major search engines use the number of inbound links to a site and the quality of the sites being those links appear on as part of their calculation in determining ranking of the target site.
How do search engines treat nofollow?
The idea behind the nofollow attribute was to provide a clear signal to the Googlebot (Google's search engine spider) that the link was most likely user contributed; as in blog comments, and wasn't necessarily a "vote" for or endorsement of the site it linked to.
Nofollow attribute effects
It was a simple, but solid idea and MSN Search and Yahoo search soon joined the party. Many blogging software companies and service providers, such as WordPress, Blogger and LiveJournal, also participated in by making the nofollow tag a default feature for blog comments. In fact, in the case of WordPress, You need a special plugin to strip out the nofollow tag in comments.
They employ shotgun methods and hope to scoop up a few "good" links or visible posts here and there; but at least the SERP's (Search Engine Results Pages) of most major engines are now not so cluttered with sites that have been artificially inflated by blog link spam.
If you're putting in serious time commenting (and I mean quality commenting) on blogs in the hope of gaining a little link love; view the source code of any comments pages to see if the site uses the nofollow tag.
I'd go as far as to say that any site owner doing that to you should have their permission for reproducing your content revoked; unless of course it's a mega-site sending you a ton of direct click through traffic.
PageRank "sculpting" with nofollow
PageRank sculpting is used internally on a site; the idea being using nofollow tags on internal links to focus that page's ranking strength to other specific pages and anchor text of the site owner's choosing.
Here's how it's supposed to work: on a page you may have 10 internal links to other pages on your site. That page has a certain amount of ranking strength which is passed along to the pages being linked to. The more links to other pages, the less "juice" each of those pages receive. By using the nofollow attribute on links to pages of little importance, it was thought that you could pass on more ranking juice to the remain pages.
So, does PageRank sculpting work? Some would say yes, but
others have tried it with disastrous consequences. According to Matt
Cutts, a senior software engineer with Google, "I wouldn’t
recommend it, because it isn’t the most effective way to utilize your
PageRank. In general, I would let PageRank flow freely within your
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