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

Daniel Scocco

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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)”

  • Tommy Kirt

    This all gets very difficult for the majority of people on the web, the overwhelming majority of people who have web pages and blogs really aren’t all that savvy as to how search engines rank sites and how they punish sites. The problem is that Google doesn’t make it easy for these people to understand what is and isn’t right in terms of SEO, and as a result a lot of quality content written by smart folks just isn’t showing up in the SERPs to be found by the ordinary punter, and we’re all the worse off for it. I look forward to the future when search engines can recognise the difference between quality content and linked content, and pass out the SERP rewards accordingly. Until then, I suppose it remains the due diligence of the website owner to stay informed and act accordingly to whatever the latest rules are.

  • SEO For Google

    I believe this is Google way of pushing everyone to continue in their link building pursuit particularly for those important web pages.

    Itrs either you dont rely on Google for business or follow their ‘rule’

  • Harson

    I also read this kind of information somewhere else. for those who really worship pagerank this might be a big concern. but those who just take care of readers or commenters this might not be a big problem. anyway, may it’s time to change, though.

  • Bill Hartzer

    >>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.

    I totally don’t buy that. Google is a lot smarter than that, they would know that if there’s a lot of traffic and comments on a blog post all of a sudden then they should be rewarding you for that, not penalizing you for that.

    Personally, I think they’re actually changing the value of nofollow links (or links in general) based on the amount of traffic on a page (or how popular the page is at the time).

  • TheMadHat

    I don’t believe for a second that on 99% of blogging platforms that can’t immediately recognize comments and not count them at all in their algo. Penalizing (which it essentially amounts to) for users engaging in your website is completely against everything they are moving towards.

    I for one am not going to give a bunch of behavioral toolbar metrics to some other URL in an iFrame, or attempt to block outbound URL’s with javascript (which they can normally read anyway).

    Keep your blog natural looking and focus on engaging your user base and forget whatever FUD google is throwing around now.

  • Andy Beard

    @Steven Sanders

    Switching to Disqus was a hard decision, and not necessarily permanent. I might well fall into the 5% of bloggers long-term if Disqus don’t make significant improvements.
    Don’t forget I was one of the primary original supporters of dofollow – the primary reason for switching isn’t for my own benefit, but that of the majority of readers who may do the same.

    I am quite capable of mitigating the detrimental effect of 100s of dofollow comments on a blog, or any changes to Google’s handling of nofollow, but I doubt 95% of my readers can (even among the professional SEOs, WP programmers etc)

  • Adam Pieniazek

    Google should be smart enough to figure out what’s a comment and what’s regular post/link structure. Wouldn’t doubt that they devalue comment links in their algorithms and push that PageRank elsewhere.

    Would entirely screw up their ranking system if they didn’t as sites with lost of comments would lose PR and be ranked lower (which would be bad for them, since sites with lots of comments are usually quality sites).

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Nicholas, no worries, not your fault 🙂 .

    Yeah the purpose of the nofollow attribute on blog comments is to both discourage spammers, and protect yourself in the case a spammer posts a link back to his spammy site.

    If you don’t use the nofollow and many of your comment links start pointing to spammy sites, Google could penalize you.

  • Nicholas Z. Cardot

    Sorry Daniel about your loss of page rank then. So what then is the primary benefit of using nofollow if that is now the case? Is it just to discourage comment spam?

  • URL Masking

    I simply don’t get Google. Even their SE algorithms are very much unpredictable. No wonder my PR is swinging back, up and down!

  • Winning Startups

    So that’s why my PR went down!

  • Vikas

    Wtf.. are they retard….

    Commenting is the most important part og blogging.. we just can’t stop / disable comments.

    Hope they will do something about it… looking forward for update.

    Thnx…

  • Sean Davis

    I learned a lot in this article. I don’t know enough to have a conversation about it yet, but my awareness at level 10 now. My blog isn’t going to be effected yet but I’m going to keep this in mind and watch… just like you guys are.

  • Annie

    Disqus will help? Hermm

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Max, yeah if you don’t plan to use iframe or Javascript I agree using dofollow is the way to go, at least the PageRank won’t go wasted.

    Even if Google can follow iframe and Javascript links, though, using a solution like Disqus will help because in theory there will be only 1 link in your HTML code. Take a look at the source code of a blog that uses Disqus and you will understand.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Rarst, PageRank is only one of the factors being considered to determine search rankings, yes, but it is not a tiny part of it by any means.

    On the example I used in the post, you can see that in certain situations this change might lead a certain post to lose 90% of its PageRank value. This could definitely have an impact on your search rankings, and thus on organic traffic.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Nicholas, yeah that is right, by posting a comment you are reducing the amount of PageRank that would flow to my internal pages.

    What is worse, you are not even gaining that PageRank to your own blog. It is just being “wasted,” or going to a void.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Missy, yes Disqus is bases on Javascript, so in the HTML code of your page you will just see 1 javascript link, instead of dozens of comment links.

  • GoBusiness101

    For those blogs which readers like most, like this type of blog, you don’t need to have the google search. they will type your site directly in the browser.

  • Rarst

    I remember same source sharing that PR is only tiny part of Google equation. 🙂

    Really. Professional SEO people might be obsessed with that but I see no reason bulk of bloggers should care this much about PR.

    I am clueless in SEO, never paid much attention to link practices and openly against nofollow. My blog has PR 4 in the end. Good? Bad? I don’t think I really care as long as visitors from Google are coming.

  • Simon

    It’s interesting that this happened more than a year ago and no-one had figured it out. On my main blog (sig), I use dofollow to get more comments, so effectively right now, the flow of page rank from my site is no worse off than those that are using nofollow links. I.e. I don’t waste that pr, I pass it to my readers. yet I get 100’s of comments just because people comment to get backlinks. I may look at disqus though.

  • Steven-Sanders

    Pagerank is very important but so many bloggers have been extremely successful without it.

    Which only shows that it really doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got the determination to really try to build your blog with creative and amazing content.

    Personally, I’ll leave my comments just the way they are. I’ll not make any sacrifices of my commentators out of greed for myself.

  • Max Pool

    Daniel you forgot the biggest alternative of all, just allow your blog to go “dofollow”.

    Google also has stated that it can now follow and interpret JS and iFrames even passing PageRank (I have seen this on client sites for some time now).

    If you are diligent with cleaning out your spam comments dofollow might increase commenting and increase the link love.

  • Chester

    It might afftect those with lots of commentors though but I think this is a good move also.

  • Jeff

    I don’t get a lot of commentors… so it’s working in my favour, I think? 🙂 Interesting article anyway.

  • Daily Good Tips

    Hmm…good information, as a nofollow blogger i still need next information about this. I have pagerank 3 and it is enough to get more tasks from paid to review broker. But, because of google changed its pagerank method, i will often monitor the pagerank changing. Thanks Daniel

  • Nicholas Z. Cardot

    So am I stealing some of your page rank points just by leaving you a comment here? I suppose that I am. Anyways, thanks for making this concept very clear to me. I had not heard of this change yet. Thanks.

  • Daniel

    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.

  • Cananito

    It’s going to be pretty lame if they don’t change it so that comments can work the traditional way.

  • Missy

    I take it then that by using Discuss or something similar – blog comments are hosted in javascript?

    Very interesting development. I will also do the same as you and hold off on any big changes till further news and insight comes along.

    Thx!

    P.S. I left my URL out so as to save you some juice. LOL.

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