Google Changed How It Handles Nofollow (And How It Might Affect Blogs)

By Daniel Scocco

In reality this change happened over one year ago, but only recently it surfaced. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Web Spam team, talked about it in the latest SMX event, and soon afterward the whole SEO sphere was commenting. He also wrote a post explaining the whole issue, titled PageRank Sculpting.

Here is a quote from that post that summarizes the change:

So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.

In other words, the usage of the nofollow attribute will still stop the page that is being linked to from receiving PageRank and anchor text value, but the PageRank that is being “saved” with the nofollow links won’t flow to the other links present in the linking page.

According to Matt Cutts, the change was implemented to discourage website owners who were using a technique called PageRank sculpting, which is the process of using the nofollow attribute internally to change the PageRank flow among different pages. The objective is to give more PageRank value to some pages (the ones that sell something, for example) at the expense of less important pages (the Privacy Policy or Terms of Service, for example).

If Google wants to discourage PageRank sculpting, I am fine with that. The problem that I see with the change is that it might affect other types of websites negatively, blogs above all.

Why?

Because now all the links on your comment section are reducing the PageRank that would otherwise flow to your internal pages.

Here is a numerical example to let you understand it. Suppose that you write a super cool post explaining “Why Obama really won the U.S. presidential election.” The post gets some exposure on social media, and it ends up receiving 200 backlinks from other sites and blogs. Let’s assume that, on average, each backlink was carrying 5 points of PageRank, so the total points of PageRank for that post would be 1,000.

Now let’s suppose that you have 20 navigational links on your layout (e.g., the main menu, the categories and a section with popular posts). This means that each of those internal links would carry 50 points of PageRank to other internal pages on your site, which is good.

The problem comes when people start commenting on the post. Let’s say that, given the popularity of the article, it ends up with 150 comments. Each of those comments carries a link to the site of the comment author. Despite being nofollowed, they would still be counted on the PageRank distribution of that page. Now we have 170 outgoing links, so each link receives only 5.9 points of PageRank. Each of your internal links will only pass 5.9 points of PageRank now, and the total points of PageRank that will remain inside your website are 118.

In other words, before Google changed how it handles the nofollow attribute you would have gained 1,000 points of PageRank with that post. With the change, this number is reduced to 118.

And that is just what would happen in one post. What if we consider a blog with 1,000 posts and tens of thousands of comments? Such a blog could be losing a huge amount of PageRank.

Google might do something to fix this problem, but we still got to hear about it.

Is there any solution? Yes, you can either close your comments completely (but I wouldn’t recommend that), or use an iframe or Javascript to host your comments, so that the links to the comment authors won’t be inside your pages. Andy Beard wrote a post on the topic titled Disqus — Why 95% Of Bloggers Should Switch.

If changing to an iframe or Javascript based solution could give a huge PageRank boost to my blog, I will seriously consider it. For the moment, though, I will wait a couple of weeks to see how the debate around the nofollow changes will evolve. I will keep you guys updated if anything new emerges.



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48 Responses to “Google Changed How It Handles Nofollow (And How It Might Affect Blogs)”

  • Bankruptcy

    With the amount of traffic which Google must be going through it still does not translate to much if page points have gone down for everybody. it simply means that now they work in smaller numbers.

  • j2

    in fact seems quite unfair and i heard that a couple of month ago (i.e. may 2010) google confirmed this policy, so the debate didn’t go through as it should

  • Cristian

    If a comment doesn’t enrich that particular blog post, why even approve it, in the first place?

    I mean, a comment that adds value to a blog entry doesn’t deserve the editorial trust translated in a dofollow link?

    PageRank isn’t lost in the linking out process. At least not at that degree that your blog faces PR bankruptcy. I see it more like a passed PR.

    Thanks for the disqus heads up! Though I’m not sure I’ll use any time soon :).

    Cheers,
    Cristian

  • Paul

    While some may not be happy with the change, it is essential for Google to implement some changes. As the web sites/blogs change and people find different ways of trying to “beat the system” Google must do what it can to protect it’s search results.

    I try not to concern myself too much with PageRank. I usually just let PageRank happen as it will.

  • zerrin egeliler

    I just knew about it and it is quite confusing for me in improving a page rank, but I think I would do more comment writing to other blogs I like often. Thanks Daniel for the clear description regarding this issue. Wait for the next update:-)

  • Ross

    I think the change is good. It’s a good way to deter bloggers trying to have the penny and the bun.

    If a page has a link on it, surely it should be giving some credit to the page it’s going to? If not, it’s clearly a paid for link.

  • hikaye

    Yeah, this change really has problem, I think Google PR would be confusing for many of us if this change does work, hope Google does something for it.

  • SEO Company UK

    What im telling is if you know its nofollow blog what is the purpose of commenting on that if your only target is to get a backlink? so stop worrying about will noffolow help my ranking and find some dofollow blogs and comment.

    and let me know too 🙂

    cheers!

  • Hypotheek

    So this is how it works for google. But what about the other engines. Yahoo seems to take a count for links behind the nofollow tag? There is a serious discount bud anyway they count it for something.

  • doris jeanne

    Glad for the information; too new to blogging to make a meaningful comment. I will pay attention and act accordingly now that you have made me aware. Thanks!

  • SEO Secret

    so the point is do follow rel on blog comment is not good ..??

  • Eddie Gear

    Hi there Daniel,

    Thanks for the heads-up mate.

    Cheers,
    Eddie Gear

  • Medyum

    Yeah, this change really has problem, I think Google PR would be confusing for many of us if this change does work, hope Google does something for it.

  • Blogger

    I just knew about it and it is quite confusing for me in improving a page rank, but I think I would do more comment writing to other blogs I like often. Thanks Daniel for the clear description regarding this issue. Wait for the next update:-)

  • Harrison Schmidt

    I hope they someone makes a really good iframe wordpress plugin to counter this change.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @disegni, Javascript.

  • disegni per tatuaggio

    there are not other alternatives to iframe ?

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