Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

Nofollow no longer an effective tool for PageRank sculpting

In what is arguably the biggest SEO news so far this year, Matt Cutts announced yesterday that using nofollows is no longer a solution to preventing loss of a site’s or page’s link juice, and hasn’t been for over a year!

When the rel=nofollow attribute was introduced in 2005, it was meant as an annotation for not “vouching” for a link. Virtually all forum and blog pages have nofollow attributes associated with visitor generated content, as a means of instructing search engines not to follow (crawl) these untrusted user comments or guestbook entries. Not long after the introduction of rel=”nofollow”, we learned to minimize leakage of our sites’ total allocated PageRank by ‘sculpting’ PR with the attribute as well as to push it to more important pages of our sites. We can now cross this technique off the list.

In Google, nofollow links don’t pass PageRank and don’t pass anchor text. However, we find out now through Matt Cutts (who else) that nofollow links no longer conserve the link juice from an outgoing nofollow link in order to be be divided among other links on the page in question.

Old PageRank Algorithm

2 separate cases of a page with “x” amount of available link juice.

Old PageRank Algorithm
As a somewhat simplified example: In the original PageRank algorithm, a page of PR10 would have passed PR2 each to 5 regular links (fig.1). The same page would have passed PR2.5 each to 4 regular links and PR 0 to the nofollow link in fig. 2.

New PageRank Algorithm

Page with “x” amount of available link juice

New PageRank Algorithm
As you can see in fig 3, nofollowing a link no longer passes extra juice through to the remaining live links. Many SEOs are now considering cutting down substantially on outgoing links, or going back to previous PR Sculpting methods such as:

  • Embedding robots.txt-blocked iframes containing certain links
  • Embedding Java, Flash or other non-parseable applications to contain certain links
  • JavaScript redirect scripts with access blocked for search engine bots

Many SEOs are disillusioned by the fact that using internal nofollows were advocated as best practice by the powers that be at the Big G, and now feel they’re being told the opposite. There will be a lot of speculating, calculating and theorizing in the SEO community on this one in the upcoming weeks. I’ll be back with news on this one soon enough, because I know there’ll be some.

About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.