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In a recent post, I discussed the use of the nofollow attribute as an SEO best practice.

In a guest post on SEOmoz, Distilled.co.uk's Will Critchlow suggests the opposite: nofollow is dying.

The reason? He cites two:

  • The increasing use of third-party publishing platforms such as Twitter.
  • The increasing use of nofollow for a range of purposes that fall outside of Google's suggested use of the attribute.

Critchlow's thesis:

I believe that just as the search engines have acknowledged the limits of webmaster declaration of untrusted or paid content and often downgrade links they believe should have been nofollow, I believe they have to acknowledge the limits in the other direction as well. In other words some nofollow links should be followed. In the interests of finding the best content for their searchers, search engines are increasingly going to have to use their own (algorithmic) judgement to disregard some nofollows and include those links in their link graph.

He cites an unnamed site that only has nofollow inbound links that is ranking. Interestingly, one of those nofollow inbound links was from Wikipedia.

Is this a sign that Google may be changing its algorithm to ignore certain nofollows in a 'subjective' fashion? Could be.

It would be ideal if links on nofollow-heavy services like Twitter had some SEO impact. After all, a large amount of site 'recommendations' are made on these types of services. If Google and other search engines were to ignore these outbound links forever, it would be disappointing. Of course, not every link provided on Twitter is the same so search engines would certainly need to develop techniques for distinguishing the important links from the not-so-important links.

But back to the main topic: the death of nofollow. Does any of this mean that, as a publisher, you shouldn't use nofollow? No.

While I do think it would make sense for Google to kill off nofollow in many respects (it can't expect publishers to do its work for it vis-à-vis paid links, for instance), until it's official that nofollow is dead to Google, I believe it still makes sense to use nofollow where appropriate to minimize risk when linking to third-party sites that aren't trusted.

After all, you probably don't want to start linking to shady sites that are likely in 'bad neighborhoods' without nofollow just to see what will happen.

So before we jump to conclusions, let's let Google kill off nofollow.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 February, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2393 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Will Critchlow

Thanks for the write-up, Patricio.

For clarity, I am not suggesting we stop using nofollow (we still recommend it to many clients) - I am simply saying that Google are painting themselves into a corner with it and I believe we are seeing the first signs of the system creaking ;)

over 7 years ago

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Mark

I'd always suspected the no-follow has either been this way, or would end up this way, especially when wikipedia nofollowed.

It should probably be called "probably-don't-follow-but-feel-free-to-ignore". As the post says, there's just too many good no-follows out there, and the algo would be foolish to totally ignore them.

over 7 years ago

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Joseph

It doesn't seem likely that Google will kill nofollow altogther, nor would that necessarily be for the best. But I would foresee that Google will change even its public policy to be more like its policy regarding canonical links, preferred domain version www. vs. non www. -- that is, it will regard "nofollow" as a suggestion, which it will decide whether to take or to ignore, based on a host of "factors."

over 7 years ago

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Purple Widget

The one constant when dealing with search engines and algorithms is change.  And what will change things quicker than anything is the ability to manipulate any aspect of the algorithm.  So as more and more people use nofollow outside of Google's intent for the tag the more likely its influence within the algorithms will decrease and/or change.

over 7 years ago

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