NoFollow Nonsense

NoFollow was hailed as the saviour of our sites, the answer to comment spam, forum spam and poorly maintained sites.

The idea was that by adding the “rel” attribute to a link the search engines would know that the link isn’t endorsed by the site.


The syntax isn’t difficult and easy enough for a spammer to find, and walk away from.

Sadly, the spammers haven’t caught on, and continue to employ unfortunates to do their dirty work, hoping that one day someone will see the light and spend some money on their ridiculous sites.

A spam filled site is a neglected site, one where the owner has had good intentions but not the time or inclination to follow through. The spam becomes a red flag to Joe Average that the site isn’t maintained and to look further for the information sought. That the site will eventually be downgraded in the search engines is appropriate – it is after all, stale and abandoned.

For those of us keen to maintain our sites and fight against the spammers and hackers we have other tools like Akismet and Spam Karma2 (which doesn’t like me, oh the irony). But even these will let the crafty through and so a site must be maintained, you must be vigilant.

This blog used a modified version of standard template with the nofollow attributes on the links left inplace. I’ve since removed them but the spam still came. Those who spam are filling some sort of spam quota and the check for nofollow obviously isn’t part of their quality control 😉

Google frontman Matt Cutts wrote recently on the subject: Quick comment on nofollow.

The rel=’nofollow’ attribute is an easy way for a website to tell search engines that the website can’t or doesn’t want to vouch for a link. The best-known use for nofollow is blog comment spam, but the mechanism is completely general. Nofollow is recommended anywhere that links can’t be vouched for. If your logs analysis program shows referrers as hyperlinks, I’d recommend using nofollow on those links. If you have a wiki that anyone on the web can edit, I’d recommend nofollow on those links until you can find a way to trust those links. In general, if you have an application that allows others to add links, web spammers will eventually find your pages and start annoying you.

It’s all good, but the reality is that it doesn’t stop the spammers and forum owners are using it to stop posts from including links. That’s wrong because in a forum people aren’t responding to a post (like this one), they are creating the content that makes the forum valuable to the people who use it. To take away any benefits tells the users that they aren’t valued.

Again, it takes time to moderate the crap from a forum. But there are too many forums with no clear niche, they’re wannabe forums. Not that they have to be big, they just have to have something to offer, something that hasn’t been done over and over. If you can’t build a decent community with motivated moderators then should you be in the game anyway?

As a test I’ve created two pages with an excerpt from a book I read recently (The Bug by Ellen Ullman). They have the same menu, same rss feeds, both are cached. Excerpt One has clean links, nice and normal. Excerpt Two looks the same and has nofollow.

Over time, if inbound links are applied equally to both pages yet the outbound links are doctored, then any changes in the Page Rank or SERPs may be attributed to the use of nofollow.

As of today (May 17 ’06) they are both PR0 and neither has inbound links. I’d hoped that a search for the bug excerpt would take a while longer to show in the SERPs but they’re sitting there at 4 and 5. Can I read anything into the fact that the normal version is higher? Neither are anywhere to be seen for excerpt one or excerpt two.

Lets see what happens now!



Recent Comments



  1. May 17, 2006

    Was the nofollow supposed to address spammers, or just stop them from being able to achieve PR associated with it?

    For example, there is still a lot of value in adding comments and such, personally, to become part of a community and be recognized as such, whether or not there is any PR involved at all.

    Anyway, I’m on blogger and I find that the visual verification keeps out the automated spam, and any comments I do get are on topic and worth having on my blog (well, in general anyway).

  2. May 17, 2006

    If you are making valid comments and building the community then it’s not spam.

    However everyone is being tarred with the same brush.

    If you’re spamming a well maintained site the owner or mods will delete your comment.

    I don’t believe nofollow should be used in an automatic, no verification way.

  3. May 17, 2006

    I don’t think it is nonsense at all Sarah, but great title!

    I think that we can be ruined if we don’t begin to understand how to use this tag properly!

    Comment spam can destroy your websites (forums or blogs) PR and SERP’s if allowed to get out of control, this is a way to control it in signatures and links left within posts themselves!

    Each publisher must make up their minds and form a policy, some blogs use no follow by default on all comments!

  4. May 17, 2006

    You have a point, and sites can change over time, so the comment you approve today may be vile in a years time. That is the exception however and even if you use a redirect or javascript on a link to totally neuter it the post of a spammer is rarely worth retaining. My point is that if the content is worth having on your site then it’s worth giving a link to.

    You don’t like those “great site, thanks” posts (they bug me) then delete them, or remove the link.

    Most systems give you the tools for monitoring new content. vBulletin and WordPress certainly do.
    If you rely on the site for income then you should be able to justify maintaining the site.
    Too busy? Then delegate.
    The site doesn’t justify the expense? Then consider if there is, infact, a business justification for it to exist in the first place.

  5. May 18, 2006

    I agree Sarah, but to insure that you are not linking out to bad sites or link farms that may get a sites pages devalued many forums are using no follow for the live links left in posts and in for signatures and this is starting to make a lot of sense indeed and must be considered!

    Remember, this is why we wanted to conduct this research in the first place and get this discussion going because many are very confused on what to do at this point!

    I just shut off comments on one of my blogs and on one forum members must have 10 posts before any links are live or to gain a signature.

    We have not gone with no follow tags, but this is an option down the road, many forums are going this direction today.

  6. Brian
    June 19, 2006

    I still don’t understand why bloggers don’t have better ways of stopping spam.
    I think we need better CAPTCHAs. I think a good CAPTCHA can stop almost all bots. Once you get rid of bot spam, now all you have is people who enter the spam manualy. I think good moderation would take care of most of that.

  7. July 30, 2006

    I like the idea. I just wish someone would tell the cmment spammers that their efforts are worthless!

  8. July 30, 2006

    Thanks Brad. So are the efforts of bloggers with only adsense “above the fold” 😉

  9. September 20, 2006

    The best way to stop spam would be to spend some time in moderating the comments persoanlly rather than relying on any captchas. You can go to the other extreme of not allowing anyone to comment – but then the whole essence of sharing information is lost. At least Yahoo and MSN rewards the commentators with relevant backlinks, so that is a reward which many spammers like to go for.

  10. November 13, 2006

    Yes, spamming is a nuisance and nofollow tags are not acting as a deterrant to them. Nofollow does not help to get rid of the spammers and it does not help the genuine commentators who keep the communnication active in a blog. So it is better to use good captcha for catching spam than using nofollow.

  11. November 13, 2006

    I’m probably from the anti-captcha school of thought and find Akismet and now Bad Behaviour to be very effective. Still simple for the good guys but a menace for the rest.

  12. July 22, 2007

    yeah those stupid wikis!
    wonder what happen if we all use nofollow to them?

    Have a good one.

  13. July 28, 2007

    We are currently testing the no-follow tags true behaviour using the method described in the page which this comment is linked to. It should only be a matter of weeks before we see some results. This is the kind of experiment that various people have been waiting for so we can get the truth about the no-follow tag.

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