Thoughts on the Nofollow Link Attribute from the SEO Community

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The nofollow link attribute has always been a bit of a boondoggle in the SEO world. Is there anyone who’s been in search marketing for over 5 years who doesn’t remember the whole page sculpting, “nofollow everything” moment in our history? I think we all remember that…

In case you missed it, March 2020, Google updated its nofollow attribute policy on links, as promised in September 2019. Originally, the 2005 nofollow implementation meant exactly that; the nofollow attribute on a link meant that, to the search engine, the link didn’t exist. -But in March, nofollow became a hint. A suggestion. An “it’s my search engine and I’ll ignore that link if I want to,” policy.

The search giant also added:

  • Rel=”sponsored” for sponsored links
  • Rel=”ugc” for user generated content

But you can just use nofollow, without specification for untrusted or sponsored links.

Personally, that’s all fine and dandy. It makes sense to point out when you have a paid link, or when you link to a site that you don’t trust, but want to talk about them behind their backs. You know who you are.

But…

Google Says Stop Passing the Buck… Again

Search Engine Round Table, whom we all know and love, posted a blast about how links in guest posts should be nofollow. As in, Google’s John Mueller said this in 2017 and it hasn’t changed. In essence, the post just covered that John Mueller went into more detail, stating that it didn’t matter the type of link. If it was in a guest post, it should be nofollowed.

Let me say that again.

No link, in any guest post, should be followed.

First, our thoughts.

Excuse me? This may be an old statement, but it brings a little bit of new ire with it. In part because… aren’t links part of ranking? And aren’t they a part of ranking because they’re votes for a particular site? So if I want to talk about a site that I really like, such as the one we’re discussing now, shouldn’t it be up to me – as a webmaster – to give that vote to Search Engine Round Table?

For those of you who say, “Well, links can be manipulated,” I just have to respond that so can everything else. Think of the paid social scams, for example, where you go buy 1000 Twitter followers so you look exciting even though you’ve only ever posted one Tweet. Putting a nofollow on every guest post is…

Nofollow Thoughts From the SEO Community

Well, there’s a point where you have to stop talking before you step in it. I’ll let other members of the SEO community share their thoughts about the nofollow attribute.

Debra Mastaler

I think the most interesting thing Google Webtrends Analyst John Mueller said about links in guests posts was this:

The other thing is that because this is so old, we have a lot of training data for our algorithms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the largest part of those links are just ignored automatically.  

I see two things here: 

First – sounds to me like RankBrain/AI is ruling the algorithm roost. It doesn’t need or depend on good or bad links to produce results.  This makes sense since the ‘importance’ given to a link is driven by the importance of the page it sits on.  Dismiss the URL, dismiss the link popularity passed. 

Second:  Anyone buying PNB links or paying for syndication services should really reconsider their spend.

Jeremy Knauff 

If a publisher chooses to post an article and they feel the links in that article are valuable for their audience, who is Google to say they’re not? If a link is supposed to be seen as a “vote” for a page, shouldn’t the decision to make that “vote” be the publisher’s decision? Whether a publisher wrote that article themselves or accepted it from an outside writer is completely irrelevant.

Michael Bonfils

First of all, I am really not sure if this is one of John’s tasks. He might be informed but not yet clear, but he is not going to say that publicly at least. I think it’s Gary who holds the thoughts in more depth of where nofollow is and the definition of what a “hint” might mean (per Sept, ’19 blog post).

They were supposed to launch this back in March 1st when they indicated it would, when Covid hit…now that people at Google are getting back to work, it’s probably now starting to get enacted. How are they going to regulate this unless they have done a pretty good job at databasing ‘paid guest posting’ sites? If they did, Google is going to seriously be doing some ‘honesty checking’ with webmasters.


With that said, if I were Google, here is what this “hint” means…

Database A: List of guest posts we know are paid links which we said for 15 years NOT to do. Database B: List of webmasters and their customers who we know continue to do be involved with paid guest posts.

Database C: Relative content written and then calculate the math to determine a penalty percentage (don’t underestimate that they can’t do this with their data).

If this were to happen, then publishers/writers/ etc will figure out a work around, they always do…maybe pay them with gift cards. LOL

Alex Alexakis

I see backlinks as the wild card for SEOs. 

Google Search drives the majority of traffic for all sites around the world. Being the gatekeeper to traffic = power. The way we are treating links currently might be making it difficult for Google engineers to see what is a real link or not but also that in my opinion provides a balance of power between websites (SEOs) and Google. 

No one likes spam and the ability to add rel=”nofollow” to areas on our sites like comments has helped to stop the extreme use of links for rank manipulation and spam. Having the ability to create content on other sites using a backlink for exchange is important and follows the same process with how we conduct any type of business in our society. (I work for you →  You pay me). “You pay me” is the exchange that any business exists for, so when a business understands that backlinks will translate into traffic growth, they invest to create the content that John Mueller thinks they should just give away for free. This content is also important for Google as they are using it in feature snippets and their search results without compensating authors, photographers, the only exchange provided is traffic (sometimes). 

Adding the new suggested attributes will only benefit Google, when we start tagging our links, we help them organize and easily classify them, removing any of the power that currently our websites have. 

(please DON’t say what about branding? If you dare to say that, type any hotel name and look at their GMB profiles – where Google is serving Hotel ads right on their GMB profile to users that just searched for a specific brand name.)

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – not that Google is going to listen to anyone. You don’t like how they run their search engine you can just go advertise for free some place else, amiright?

Do we want a better search engine? Of course, we do. Do we get tired of working to rank our clients above craphat sites that have no business being in the SERPs at all? Absolutely. Are we proud of the great work we’ve done for our clients, and are ready for them to be seen as the kick ass businesses they are? Indubitably.

But are we ready to add just a little more power into Google’s hot little, money-grubbing hands? I’d have to say that’s a cool hard, “no”. And although I know this isn’t a guest post, all links in this post are followed. Because we give these sites a solid 5-star vote.

What are your thoughts? Does the nofollow policy on all links make sense to you?

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Thoughts on the Nofollow Link Attribute from the SEO Community