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The Great nofollow Debate

Alex Christie

2 July 2010

The Great nofollow Debate

Recently Matt Cutts posted a video on the Google Webmaster YouTube channel stating that in the vast majority of circumstances site owners should not add nofollow attributes on internal links.

There is some disagreement in the SEO community on this issue with a poll on Search Engine Roundtable showing a fairly even split of opinion, (48% saying they do use nofollows internally and 52% saying they don’t).*

So with that in mind I thought it best to chime in to the debate and state my position. Personally I agree with matt on this one; especially in light of the changes made last year to the way Google treats PageRank with regard to nofollow links; the change was explained well on SEOmoz, but is summary;

Matt Cutts dropped a bomb shell that it no longer works to help flow more PageRank to the unblocked pages. Again — and being really simplistic here — if you have $10 in authority to spend on those ten links, and you block 5 of them, the other 5 aren’t going to get $2 each. They’re still getting $1. It’s just that the other $5 you thought you were saving is now going to waste.”

Or if you prefer a diagrammatic explanation;

new Pagerank nofollow

So if we take that using nofollows internally will not ‘save’ you any authority to pass to more important pages as a given, (although some would debate that this is not a certainty); then the only reason you’d use nofollow internally is if you didn’t want a page to rank at all… but there aren’t many cases where this would desirable.

Generally speaking, although you may not explicitly want to drive visitors to your ‘about us’ or ‘Ts & Cs’ page, you wouldn’t be too upset if a visitor landed there from a long tail search query, (or if they were specifically looking for that page via a search engine). If you really don’t want a page to appear in the search engine results then there are simpler methods you can use to prevent this, (robots.txt, noindex attributes, etc) or you may want to question having the page on your site at all.

I think it’s worth mentioning that we are not talking about stopping using nofollow on external links such as blog comments etc – as this can still be an effective method of discouraging spam and preventing your site linking to ‘undesirable’ external webpages.

If you want to engage in some PageRank sculpting then there are better tactics at hand, such as; consolidation of content, optimising your site hierarchy, better on-page link placement etc.

So my advice, don’t lose sleep over internal nofollows – spend your time creating great content instead!

*Figures correct at time of publishing

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