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Glossary Definition: Nofollow Rel Attribute

An ever-growing glossary of SEO Jargon

What is the Nofollow Rel Attribute?

Nofollow is an attribute that can be added to the HTML hyperlink tag when the quality of an external link is unknown or untrusted.

Because linking to low quality websites can negatively affect rankings, the nofollow attribute acts as a barrier, protecting referring sites from any harm.

The rel=nofollow attribute was introduced in 2005, primarily to discourage blog comment spam, by preventing destination URLs from inheriting PageRank.

Nofollow Rel Attribute Example:

<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Link text</a>

Interpretation by Search Engines

Major search engines vary slightly in how they interpret the nofollow rel attribute. Contrary to its name, the nofollow rel attribute is "followed" by most search engine spiders, just as all links are, but do not pass PageRank. Google has stated that their spiders do not crawl past nofollowed links; however, this has been disproved. A more appropriate name might have been NoVote.

When to Use the Nofollow Attribute

  • Untrusted Content: Common used on blogs. Most popular blogging software has nofollow attributes enabled by default on comment links, to allow unmoderated linking activity, and to discourage comment spam
  • Paid links: Buying links from trusted websites is a common method of search engine manipulation; therefore, to prevent search engine penalties associated with paid links, online paid ads should use the nofollow attribute

2009 - Onwards: Google's New Interpretation of rel=nofollow

With Google's new interpretation of rel=nofollow, the attribute continues to prevent destination URLs from inheriting PageRank; however, it no longer prevents the loss of PageRank associated with outbound links. Instead of conserving the percentage of PageRank blocked from its destination URL, it now vanishes.

Google's new interpretation of rel=nofollow came about to put an end to PageRank sculpting, the manipulation of the attribute to conserve PageRank, which normally flows through link to link across the Web.

The Rise and Fall of PageRank Sculpting

Because a percentage of a web page's PageRank flows to the destination URL of each outgoing link, some have become wary of linking to other sites for fear of losing valuable link equity. In an effort to control and concentrate PageRank on select web pages, webmasters learned to sculpt PageRank using the nofollow attribute.

PageRank sculpting came to an end in 2009, when Google engineer Matt Cutts disclosed that the search engine's interpretation of the nofollow rel attribute had been altered the preceding year.

Some webmasters still try to hoard PageRank in an attempt to conserve link equity and increase their rankings. This effort is misguided, as outbound links to high quality, relevant content is in itself a quality signal that can built a website's trust and rankings.

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