Improper Use of the Link Rel Nofollow Attribute

Jan 5th

SEO Question: Our site has an about us section which links to press coverage of our site. We are worried about bleeding PageRank, and are wondering if we should use nofollow on our links.

Answer: The worry about bleeding PageRank is probably a bit dated in nature. It is based upon thinking that you have a finite amount of PageRank, and that if you link out to other sites you are wasting your PageRank, but truth be told most good sites have both inbound links and outbound links. And you shouldn't be afraid of a few reciprocal links with large trusted media sites either...as reciprocation is part of the natural link structure of the web, and linking out to trusted sites helps associate your site with other high quality sites.

The goal of public relations is to get people to view your company the way you want it to be viewed, and to get people to talk about your topic and your company from your perspective using your language and metrics.

If you make the mainstream media, it generally has the following effects:

  • Improved credibility with the media, which makes it easier for the media to review your products / cite you / interview you again (if you show you were trusted in the past it is easier to trust you again).

  • increased trust with other link sources on the web - for example, the Wikipedia notability guidelines include "The company or corporation has been the subject of multiple non-trivial published works whose source is independent of the company or corporation itself."
  • When people who do not know your subject write about your subject they will likely trust many of the same sources that the media has (see Wikipedia mention above).
  • If few people in your market make the news when someone makes the news it may be considered linkworthy.
  • If the subject that causes you to make the news is a big deal many links will flow. When I made the Wall Street Journal that also got coverage on sites like Slashdot. I also mentioned it on my blog and even more people mentioned it.
  • Increased trust in the minds of consumers and many members of your market.
  • Increased mindshare and share of voice in your marketplace.

In addition to the above obvious side effects of media exposure you can also further leverage that exposure. Many media sites have strong domain related trust, and thus rank easily in the search results if they have even modest link equity pointed at them.

When people search for your company name which is a better set of search results:

yourcompanysite.com
yourcompanysucks.com
another conspiracy theory about your company
random (could be good or bad or competition)
random (could be good or bad or competition)

or

yourcompanysite.com
news article you helped promote
another news article you helped promote
yourcompanysucks.com
random (could be good or bad or competition)

In any case, you will likely have some results that are bad or out of your control, but if you link at pages that talk about you in a positive light you are helping those pages be fairly represented or overrepresented in the search results.

Consumers, consumer advocates, raged consumers, and journalists researching your company will research you and your company on Google. When people say nice things about you it helps to make it easy for others to find, and that also helps bury some of the negative stuff.

When you link to a news site you are mentioning it on your site because you trust it. When you use a nofollow to link to a news site you are saying you do not trust it. If you don't trust the people who are talking positively about you then it is going to be an uphill battle.

Published: January 5, 2007

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Comments

January 7, 2007 - 8:40pm

In a fairly large forums community where you have no control over the 'quality' of links posted, no-follow remains the only option for webmasters. Also, I don't think yahoo considers no-follow attribute?

It was a good read Aaron.

January 8, 2007 - 4:59pm

Speaking of a large e-community, does Digg.com use No Follow option within their code?

January 9, 2007 - 8:54pm

Concerning the value of your site against a metric like pagerank is like a dog chasing it's tail frankly. When it comes down to the brasstax on whether or not your site is a) relevant, b)link worthy, and c) providing trustworthy outbound links, it is the siteowner or SEO's responsibility to make sure each page has original optimized content that puts a fresh or unique spin on the topic and is linking out to pages that are trustworthy on their own.

Instead of checking pagerank, check that the linked to page is cached and indexed and is not linking out to crap sites. If you have crap sites linking to you, contact them and hope for the best.

January 11, 2007 - 11:33pm

@Cyrus: No, Digg doesn't use the nofollow on article urls.

January 5, 2007 - 11:58am

If you are quoting someone, your should always use a followable link so Google can determine the original source.

Too many outbound links say in the form of a massive blogroll can drastically affect PR, especially if the blogroll is sitewide.

If you have 300 followable links in your blogroll, plus another 50+ links to social network sites on your front page, you are doing nothing good for your own content.

mad4
January 5, 2007 - 12:36pm

Personally I don't link to sites I don't trust, nofollow or not.
nofollow is for comment spam and nothing else IMO.

Andy I agree, having a blogroll takes up valuable space you could be using for useful stuff. Most people would much prefer you mention them in a post rather than put the link in a blogroll.

January 5, 2007 - 12:36pm

"Too many outbound links say in the form of a massive blogroll can drastically affect PR, especially if the blogroll is sitewide."

I agree.

On one hand, linking out is good marketing, and as long as people aren't paying for your links or you aren't afraid of taking a little risk, I don't see a reason to use nofollow to link to a trusted site. If your site is highly visible, linking out can enduce a kind of Paris Hilton effect, where people link to you in hopes of raising their own visibility.

That's one reason people prefer leaving comments on high traffic blogs, because there's a better chance my comment will be read by more people.

On the other hand, there is going to be some PR bleed by depriving link juice to internal pages. If your site isn't well-linked, linking out excessively especially from your home page can result in your site winding up in the supplemental index.

It's not a question of either/or - it's a balancing act.

Of course, you can direct more link juice to your internal pages by decreasing the percentage of outbound links - not by using nofollow or removing links but by adding more links to deep pages.

January 5, 2007 - 1:13pm

I agree partially. Outbound links effect everything, but don't stress on the leaking pagerank bit. Stress on the trust factor.

Nofollow is a way to reduce the weight on that trust factor. You're saying:"I kinda trust this site, but nog enough to stake my reputation on it". "But why do you link to it then" must search engines think. Therefore Nofollow doesn't make it much safer to link to something. Don't link to the site at all or use even better safety measures then nofollow.

Better then nofollow

January 5, 2007 - 1:18pm

I think it's really about having class. If you set a website up as primarily focused on pagerank, you will not link to other sites as much, but your site will also be less trusted by other sites - which can lead to a bad perception.
If you have class you set a high editorial standard for your site, including being honest about sources and giving them credit (and not putting rel no follow on a link that you trust). That will be appreciated in itself and will make it more likely that other sites link to you.

January 5, 2007 - 5:01pm

I think the leaking PR thing can be quickly diffused by a well formulated "topical hubs can become topical authorities" argument.

Is the link relevant and helpful to the user? Awesome. Done. Now write some more nice content and get relevant authority/hub links pointed back to you.

Or, failing that, go buy an ancient on-theme domain and 301 it to yours. :)

January 5, 2007 - 7:58pm

Love the yourcompanysucks.com examples!. Always good to have as many positive sites come up when people search for your company name and linking out to press helps with that.

The only time I use a no follow when I'm linking to a news / press site that's mentioning me or my clients is when they are in a different language. I believe Google may not appreciate a page on an English site containing 20 links to non-English sites, but it's important from a marketing standpoint to mention all of your press. Your site / company look substantially bigger when you can point to trusted sites from all over the world talking about you.

Anyone have any specific evidence on multiple links out on the same page to non-English sites?

January 28, 2008 - 12:02pm

Cyrus - I agree with your comment, backlinks are only part of the big picture... If you haev terrible content on your sites, all the backlinks int he world aren't going to get you in the top 10.

Also I feel that having reciprocal links with other important relevant sites shows a valid content relationship to the search engines (more so to smaller SE's), and this is a good thing. The world revolves around relationships, and so does the internet...

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