On the surface. No Follow tags are a good idea. The tag rel=”nofollow” was set up to beat comment spamming. The point of the No Follow tag is to ensure that search engines do not follow the link to the spammer’s website, rendering the link, um, impotent. No Follow tags have now been adopted by more than just blog comments. Wikipedia now also uses No Follow tags to cut down on the amount of false linkbuilding. Basically, you’re going to see these types of open websites, where anyone can add a link, using No Follow tag more and more.
There’s a couple of problems with this. Though No Follow tags are bad news for search engine marketers who want some easy linkbuilding, there not actually all that effective at cutting down on spam. Marketers have to worry about incoming spam as much as they have to worry about the quality of links placed on other people’s sites, so a marketer who manages a fleet of blogs is going to have trouble with comment spam using No Follow regardless.
However, there’s a line between spam and self-promotion. Automated spam is one thing – in which a spambot puts a link on a page regardless of the page’s content. However, a commenter who runs a site might make a comment on a blog and link to his site. You can see comments like this on the SEO Hosting blog – bloggers of other SEO-related sites will add a comment and link to a site, often to an internal page. It’s obvious that the site owner is trying to get some extra traffic to the site, rather than being purely compelled to make a comment. This is fine, and as it should be. Discouraging these comments can lead to a lack of interaction and even a lack of quality backlinks.
Additionally – and more importantly – if these links are topic-specific (a comment on an SEO blog leading to a different SEO blog) can improve site indexing, as it increases the blog’s authority. Moderating comments is a much better from an SEO-perspective. There are also WordPress plug-ins to filter spam effectively – it gets rid of the really vile spam (adult, Viagra, etc.) without compromising the comments that add to the conversation.
Dangers of No Follow
Some inexperienced site owners may overdo No Follow and actually create a No Follow vacuum where none of the links on a site will be followed: including interlinking on the site itself. One thing that beginning SEO marketers do not realize is that SEO is based not only on the links coming in, but the links going out as well. A bunch of unrelated links going out on a site can damage the site’s authority. Likewise, if No Follow is too widespread and encompasses links throughout the site, it will limit the site’s authority on a particular topic.
If you put a No Follow tag on a reciprocal link page, it will tell a spider that you don’t trust the incoming link. It also totally negates the reciprocal quality of the link, meaning you won’t benefit from the site’s incoming link with the same strength, as your own link is worthless. What this means, of course, is that you have to determine if a link partner uses, or overuses, the No Follow tag before agreeing on a trade.
No Follow and Sponsored Links
The biggest controversy about No Follow tags is with sponsored links. Google does not give weight to those links – giving sponsored links the No Follow treatment. In one way, this makes sense: a sponsor is not necessarily the same as a link partner, so it shouldn’t be trusted in the same regard. The opposite argument could be made, however, that any long-term sponsor is going to be topic-specific so the site should be trusted. Google’s view is that sponsorship shouldn’t affect page rank. Personally, I think it should affect ranking because that is the expressed purpose of advertising: to increase visibility, and page rank should be a factor. Yahoo is in favor of advertisement page ranks, so this is an enduring debate.
The Verdict on No Follow
Basically, No Follow is a failure: a way to deal with the barrage of spam that arose with the blogosphere. It is an ineffective method to curb comment spam and can actually hurt SEO in the long run. Not to mention, No Follow doesn’t always work: certain search engines have been known to follow No Follow links, regardless. The verdict: perhaps a valiant effort to deal with spam, but it kind of fell on its face.
If you’re up to your neck in comment spam or pingback spam, there are plenty of plug-ins and software to help with the problem that have narrower filters than the all encompassing No Follow tag. To the people who say that people promoting their like-minded sites is also clogging up comment boards, I say, “So what?” That’s what the blogosphere is for, and even if the intention is promotion, these promotional comments can add to the discussion and even improve page rank.