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More On Link Condom & Blogger Worries Over Nofollow

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Earlier, I posted about the Link Condom site that went up, which pokes some fun at the new nofollow attribute. Six Apart's Anil Dash didn't find it funny, as he deconstructs in Anti-Nofollow FUD. Instead, he interpreted as a blog spammers attempt to discredit the attribute.

News flash for anyone who doesn't yet realize it. Nofollow will NOT stop blog spam. Want to understand more about why? See my previous article on it, Google, Yahoo, MSN Unite On Support For Nofollow Attribute For Links.

The site is more about the fact that there's a host of other non-blogging issues that the tag raises that people will want to be aware of. So it's not anti-nofollow. If anything, it deserves a little praise for helping people easily understand a concept of what nofollow does -- prevents links from actually touching another site for search ranking purposes. Link condom? Great name -- because that's what nofollow is.

I posted a long response to Anil's worries on his site, but I'll reproduce those comments below for my readers. In addition, I'd encourage everyone to look at some of the discussion within our The New Nofollow Link Attribute forum thread especially for a non-blogger view of the attribute.

Also look at Anil's The Social Impacts of Software Choices, which looks at how bloggers are now wondering if the impact of nofollow will hurt how they link between themselves for search purposes. I have a long response I posted to that, as well. The main bit that struck me was the comment that some bloggers worry nofollow will hurt their chances of ranking well when they comment on other blogs:

There's also some resistance from real bloggers, who are fretting now that their comments won't confer PageRank on their blogs.

 To which I responded:

This sounds very much like bloggers with an SEO complex. I need links for ranking? How about you write good stuff, and people will comment on it within their own posts that will help -- not that you need to be able to comment behind a post and get respect that isn't necessarily earned.

Again, see that post for Anil's full look, my comments and responses for others. And below, my full comments on the non-blogging issues about nofollow that Link Condom highlights:

Anil, the site's a light-hearted joke. Believe me, Todd Friesen who threw the site up isn't trying to spread FUD about nofollow through that site. It's more an inside things for those who know search engines and are talking about the issues of nofollow OUTSIDE blogging. Want a taste of that? Then check out this thread at our forums that goes into the non-blogging issues more.

No time for that? Then let's go back and look at the main points highlighted on that page about "uses" of nofollow:

  • Hoard your PageRank
  • Hide your outgoing links
  • Screw your reciprocal link partners
  • Add code bloat to your page
  • Find out today if people are buying links for the right reasons
  • Yet more to obsess about
  • Freely link to bad neighbourhoods
  • Far easier to use than JavaScript, perl, php, robots.txt etc

Where's the mention of comment spam in those? The word "blog" isn't on the page once and "comment spam" is down in small text as a joking aside. If this were a rant against nofollow being useless at combating comment spam, why bury it like that?

Answer? Because it's not a rant on nofollow as it relates to blogs. It's a joke having fun at the issues of nofollow that those OUTSIDE of blogging are contemplating in the wake of the tag. I'll take up some of the bigger points and explain them:

Hoarding: Some people want to get tricky and not let anything outside their own web site get link credit. It's not a blog thing -- it's a link thing. Personally, I think it's a waste of time. But for those who do worry about it, nofollow gives them a nice, new approved tool to hoard link credit.

Hiding: Some people want to link out so search engines feel they have a "natural" site but don't really want to show those links. Nofollow may -- or may not -- allow that. It's a new thing they'll try.

Screwing: Well, some people swap links for reasons good and bad, and for reasons before we had blogs and even before the search engines did much with links. And that link swapping -- again, completely outside of blogs in many cases, may now be impacted. Because if someone links to you, they might not really link in a way that gives you search credit. If that's what you wanted, you'd better know they've put a "condom" in the form of nofollow around that link.

Buying Links: People buy and sell links outside of blogs, often times for reasons of getting better rankings in search engines. Nofollow means that you can now sell links but say to the world, "Hey, I'm not doing this to mess with search rankings." That's nice if you're a big site that might want ensure you aren't going to be tainted as some type of search evil-doer. Then again, if you are someone buying links and doing it for just search reasons, you'd better make sure you don't buy them with nofollow on.

Bad Neighborhoods: Google and gang will tell you not to link to bad neighborhoods. Do you know what those are? I don't -- they didn't publish a list along with that advice. Maybe it's a porn site. Maybe it's a link farm. Maybe a porn site like Playboy is OK though. And maybe you are some newbie web author freaked out that anything you link to might get you into trouble.

I know those people because I have to deal with their questions and worries after the search engines have unleashed the fear factor. So the point is -- are you freaked out? Hey, use this new link condom and you can link safely. And by the way, it's another non-blog specific issue. It has an impact on all web authors. It's actually a great tool for anyone to use.

Easier to use: Yeah, it is easier to use. You and Todd seem to agree on this. Having easy options is good.

Now, I know you've got generally a bad view SEO, that it seems populated with scumbags like the supposed scumbag behind this site -- and being on the sharp end of blog spam, its understandable. But let's get personal a moment about the scumbag in question for this site.

Who published it? Someone who definitely does black hat SEO, yep. Someone who does white hat SEO, as well. And someone who knows a heck of a lot more about how search engines work -- and how this tag will and will not have an impact -- than the vast majority of people out there.

Scumbag? Then Yahoo -- who joined you and the other major search engines  on nofollow -- is hanging out with scumbags, because Todd and I and several others all had a nice dinner recently with key people from Yahoo's search team last month.

Oh, and Todd's good friend Greg? One of MSN's search champs that got invited up with a few months ago along with key bloggers that MSN itself talked about in its post on adding nofollow. Why invited? Because despite being black hat at times, he also knows search intimately.

Let's not leave out Google. Todd and Greg have better contacts with Google's search engineering teams than the vast majority of people. Why? Because those scumbags know search so well they're respected for it. That's why I myself have them talk on search issues. There's a lot to learn from them regardless of what hat you wear.

Now for some of your points:

Nofollow Gives Choices: Yep!. I love it for that. Bring on more choice with what search engines do and don't index, so people like Brad Choate don't have to cloak and violate search engine guidelines. Brad, cloaking. Yeah, my How About An Indexing Summit! explains why he ended up doing this without realizing it. And by the way, that also puts Brad on the same exact page as people like Greg and Todd, who feel like they should be able to control their content as fed to search engines as much as Brad wants to.

Rankings From Blog Posts Won't Be Impacted: Oh yes they will. Hey, Jeremy says he's just put nofollow on the link to Todd's site in his post about it. Hey, that's a ranking impact. If someone links to you (on a blog, in blog comments, in a blog post, on your personal home page whatever) and now uses nofollow, you aren't getting the credit for that link. That's their choice, and I'm glad they have it. And they've had it before, but not as easily as nofollow makes it now. But you'd better believe it will have an impact. Whether it's good, bad or very little remains to be seen. For most people with quality content, probably very little.

PageRank Is Not A Contest: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Geez, I beg and plead for you, someone with such high standing in the blogging community, to stop making such bad mistakes and spreading misinformation about search. Perhaps you should be forgiven, given that the PR-meisters themselves at Google often make the same mistake. But to clarify:

PageRank is how Google calculates the popularity of a page, based on looking at all the links across the web. But you don't want PageRank alone. Go on, search for "cars." Did you see Amazon come up? No -- because despite having incredibly high PageRank, it's not got anchor text with the word "cars" pointing at it. So PageRank does not equal how Google ranks pages in search results. It is one key component, with the other two being the link text itself and the words on a page itself.

PageRank is also a Google-specific thing. Nofollow has an impact with ALL three major search engines participating, so talking about PageRank just reinforces the notion that it's all-Google or nothing world, when it is not. In fact, Ask Jeeves is specifically not supporting nofollow at the moment because they use a radically different ranking system that they feel might not be impacted by blog spam, link spam, link bombing and so on.

What you're really saying is that search rankings are not supposed to be a contest but instead be an objective decision of a mix of factors that the search algorithm uses to determine what's relevant. And it's a nice goal, but it's not true.

Even if we had no blogs -- no SEO -- no spammers, search algorithms wouldn't get it perfectly right. That's because people still make unintentional mistakes, create non-search engine friendly sites, rely on graphics rather than text, Flash rather than text and a host of other issues that ensure there's no such thing as a "level playing field" on the web. That's also, by the way, where plenty of SEO firms that you'd like come into play. They can help clear up many mistakes that the search engines themselves suggest fixing.

As for being a contest, search rankings are indeed one. And PageRank specifically itself is definitely a contest. Remember, when Google talks about counting links as a key component of what it does, it talks about relying on the web's "uniquely democratic nature." Democracy -- that's a popularity contest. In fact, to quote Google:

Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Not a contest? If it's not a contest, then what are all those votes being counted? Maybe nofollow will help ensure that we don't have a lot of chads polluting the election, but then again, maybe not.

What is clear is that nofollow will NOT stop blog comment spam. Not at all. Don't believe it? Then right now, all bloggers can stop making use of blacklists, registration schemes and other tactics used before nofollow emerged. Sit back and see if the spam goes away. It won't. Nofollow is a nice new tool that we can use, one that as I've said many times before is welcomed for giving us choice and more options, but it's not a magic bullet. Well, it's a magic bullet for one thing. It now lets the search engines say to bloggers, we gave you want you wanted, stop blaming us for the problem!


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