The other day a reader sent me an email asking me about this whole “follow” and “nofollow” in blog links business. It was a great question, and if it was on her mind, chances are it might be on your mind, too. There are hidden and technical things you may not know about but which may affect you.
Nobody likes to be the victim of unseen and unknown forces, so let’s see if I can explain link follow and nofollow.
When Google crawls a page in order to include it in the search index or update its entry in the index, it naturally follows at least the first link to a specific destination to see where it goes (repeated links to the same destination often do not get followed because, well, that would be redundant).
Put simply, Google is going to make an assumption about the relationship between the page that has the link and the page the link goes to. This is where PageRank comes in: a measure of authority is passed from the originating page to the destination page.
For example, I wrote a blog post about blog packs and other web pages linked to it. My blog post gained authority and search rankings around the keyword “blog pack,” so that it’s on the second page of results for that keyword. The first page of results for that keyword is full of other people who have taken my blog pack idea and made it even more popular than I have.
When another page links back to your page, we call that a backlink. Get it? As you can see, we’re operating at “genius” level, here.
Enter The Spam Man
Yes, I know, that subhead is atrocious. Anyways, so get this: knowing that links pass authority, and wanting to gain as much authority as possible for a web page, people want as many backlinks to that page as possible. And in order to get those backlinks it’s possible some of them may be crossing some ethical lines by paying others to create those links.
If this were allowed to run rampant, it would completely ruin Google’s attempts to have useful, valuable web pages rank highly in search results because everyone would be trying to game the system (well, not everyone, just the spammy-pants).
But in fact this is exactly what happened: rampant spamming of blog comments and other unsavory things.
So Google decided to do something about it.
Enter Google: We ARE the Standard and You’ll Like It
Before I explain this nofollow thing you need to understand something about web pages: they’re made of HTML.
You’re shocked, I can tell.
HTML is made up of tags and those tags can have attributes which modify how the tags function. For example, below is the HTML for a link:
<a href="http://remarkablogger.com" title="Remarkablogger">Blog Consulting</a>
That link would look like this on the page: Blog Consulting. That link would be followed automatically by Google and Google would assume the destination page has to do with blog consulting. The “title” part is an attribute. The “href” part is an attribute. The actual tag itself is the single letter “a.” A is for “anchor,” as in, we’re anchoring a link here.
Yeah, I know. Kinda weird.
What HTML is… and is not… is decided by a governing body called the W3C. Google, in their attempt to curtail spam links in blog comments and other places, created their own attribute value for the “rel” attribute of the anchor tag. It’s not part of the standard, but everybody uses it and Google claims to honor it (how nice of them to obey their own custom code).
What a Nofollow Link Looks Like
A link with the nofollow attribute value looks like this:
<a href="http://remarkablogger.com" rel="nofollow">Blog Consulting</a>
The “rel=’nofollow’” part is what tells Google to not “see” that link. Therefore that link passes no search authority to its destination.
What Your WordPress Blog Does Naturally
- All the links you place in blog post content, page content, navigation, sidebars and footers on your WordPress are followed links.
- Any link of any kind in a blog comment body is nofollowed.
- The commentor’s own name link is followed.
Even though links in the comment text itself are automatically nofollowed (that is, WordPress will automatically add in that attribute to any links), the commentor’s name is still followed and this is why you get comments from Paint Stripper and Patio Furniture.
Unnatural Things Your WordPress Blog Can Do
Sounds kinky! By using plugins and some themes, you can exercise control over nofollow for your WordPress-powered website. You can deliberately allow all comment links to be followed if you want (I would never recommend such a thing). You can make all links on a page nofollow if it suits you. If all the links on a page are affiliate links, for example, Google wants them to be nofollowed. So it would be nice if your theme or a plugin allowed for that (Headway does).
The very popular CommentLuv plugin (used on this site) can be set to follow links to a commentor’s latest blog post (I don’t have that setting active).
The Spam Continues
Google’s “addition” to the HTML specification hasn’t really put much of a dent in spam, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. If you want to allow comment links to be followed on your blog you’ll have to deliberately take steps with a plugin or theme. That’s up to you but I don’t recommend it. You want people commenting on your blog posts for reasons other than the commentor’s own marketing. Which, ironically, is the best kind of marketing, so go figure.