January 22, 2005

WordPress and the Google Link Attribute

As you likely know, blogs get spammed with comments containing links to all kinds of dubious sites. Google is now attempting to “help” bloggers by providing a new link attribute that would cause it not to follow any link to which it’s applied. From the Google Blog:

From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.

Yahoo and MSN are joining in on this as well. But just who is really being helped is the question.

WordPress — I’ve now read at the WordPress forums that the new blog-link attribute has been added to the current WordPress version under development: nofollow support added?:

The CVS says that support for the rel=”nofollow” tag, that Google and others now support for comment links as a counter-spam-measure, has been added to WP.

["CVS" means "concurrent versioning system": a program that allows software developers to save and retrieve different versions of a piece of software.]

First of all, to clear up a little confusion: PageRank is not how a page ranks. PageRank is named after Google founder Larry Page; it’s about the “importance” of the page linking to yours, and it’s only a part of the overall Google ranking algorithm; you’ll find many lower-PageRank pages ranking higher than those with higher PageRank. Had Mr. Page had any other last name, this fact might be clearer. Fact of the matter is that the *links* themselves are more important in many respects than the PageRank factor.

I have been designing and optimizing (for search engine rankings) websites since 1998 and was involved in one of the earliest search engine optimization communities since before the term was coined. I do understand that “link popularity” — that is, counting a link to a page as a “vote” for that page and therefore giving it a boost in ranking — has helped search engines to provide better search results. At the same time, I have to say that including “link pop” as a part of search engine ranking formulas has changed the face of the Web: for years now, one has had to link less to other sites in order to preserve one’s rankings and, most especially, one has been forced to ensure that one did not link to sites that Google deemed “bad neighborhoods” in order to prevent one’s site from being penalized and/or banned.

At the cre8asiteforums where I help moderate, we have had to implement a scenario in which all links point to a “jump” script before going to the target page, and the links themselves can’t be read (they’re backwards) but still work, all so that members can discuss anything without fear of penalization of the forums.

And now this. This is not pretty. On the one had, search engines have made links more valuable than they ever were, to the point of ridiculousness. Now they want blogs (not all sites, mind you, just blogs) to purposely devalue their links. Fact is, this is a clear admission by Google, Yahoo and MSN that there is a problem, and that they can’t control it. So they would like us to control it for them by hampering our own work. And, yes, I understand that the links will still work, but that the target page will not get the link pop boost.

I love the Web. It’s given me plenty. And, although I have always spent a good deal of time “giving back”, sometimes a little link to a small site with a great service or product is my way of helping. If we’re going to be counting links, why shouldn’t my link count?

Bottom line: had search engines not made links such a major part of their algorithms, neither we nor they would be having this problem, now would we? This is a problem of their creation, and we are supposed to hamper our efforts in order to solve their problem.

Will using the rel=”nofollow” attribute stop attempts at blog spamming? I highly doubt it. Blog/comment spammers will likely try anyway, and possibly go at it harder, in order to find those blogs not implementing the attribute. After all, like their colleagues the email spammers, it’s probably just a press of a button for them.

Oh. Here’s a little little-known history: Google also has a “nocache” tag for the <header> — use it, Google said, and we won’t cache your page. Then penalized sites that used it. Apparently by the thousands.

SO, here’s my WordPress vote: I would like my links to count, unless I don’t want them to. I’m assuming that all of my clients for whom I have installed WordPress would like the same. So I vote for making the new tag be optional in WordPress. Otherwise, I would like to know what exactly needs to be changed in order to undo this enforced blog-link hampering thing.

And I am going to hang on to current versions of WordPress, just in case.

More WP forums: nofollow should be an option

8 Comments to "WordPress and the Google Link Attribute"

  1. A peek at WordPress 1.5 and nofollow says:

    [...] WordPress February 2, 2005 A peek at WordPress 1.5 and nofollow Following up on my WordPress and the Google Link Attribute, I found [...]

  2. Google on Nofollow says:

    [...] e response was telling, and Scottie’s remarks pretty much follow my January 22 analysis of WordPress and the Google Link Attribute. They we [...]

  3. WordPress Nofollow Remover Plugin says:

    [...] lend their support to the developers’ efforts. My thoughts to the contrary (posted here in WordPress and the Google Link Attribute were much [...]

  4. DianeV says:

    From the Yow, Who Knew? Department

    Bit of heated discussion in the WordPress forums’ nofollow support added? thread. Apparently my choice of words wasn’t appreciated. Or at least not by some. Or at least not by one.

    But the real interesting point is that it appears that WPforums now has a troll posting as “Anonymous”. Personally, I’m torn:

    - Is this an angry but well-meaning blogger who is fed up with comment spam but doesn’t understand what effects the nofollow tag will have on the blogosphere?
    - Is this a frustrated SEO who couldn’t outrank blogs?
    - Or <grin> is it … corporate personnel?

    Wouldn’t be the first time. Jury’s still out.

  5. DianeV says:

    Dave Taylor blogs about the nofollow attribute.

    Okay. Maybe it’ll work: maybe it’ll stop comment spammers dead in their tracks. Maybe they’ll take their spambot software and go home.

    Or maybe it’ll be as effective as installing anti-spam software on your computer: it doesn’t stop the spam attempts; it just changes your method of dealing with it.

    Question: if comment and trackback spam did not exist, would these folks still recommend using the nofollow attribute?

    It’s a curious question, but one with a purpose: while the majority of bloggers may not be particularly interested in promoting their blogs (fair enough), I wonder how many are familiar with Google’s new domain ranking delay or the oft-debated “sandbox” effect whereby it appears that new websites are not given credit for their links for months on end (6-8 months and counting, for some). The point: links are one of the major factors in getting websites well-ranked and, it appears, one of the only methods most bloggers know about.

    S-o-o-o … if bloggers employ the nofollow attribute, then blogs will have less ability to rank well in search engines. Very especially new blogs. The heavy-duty linking blog networks of today have less ability to make each other visible in search engines. And maybe that is the point.

    We are in a new era of Search Engine Wars. Heck, they’re trying to out-do each other at every turn. Have you ever seen uber-competitors Google, Yahoo and MSN.com agree to anything quite so breathlessly quickly?

    For all I know, bloggers who do want to promote their sites will spend less time commenting on other blogs, and will use that time more productively and profitably by doing what the rest of us have done for years: promoting the usual way. Or — gasp! — paying for rankings. When you can’t get the job done, (Google) Adwords and (Yahoo’s) Overture and paid advertisements are your friend.

    No, I’m not a spammer, and have zero good words for them. As some of them know.

    I’m just a marketer and a consummate curious person. I tend to look at actions and trends. Follow the logic. Follow the money trail, and all that.

    (P.S. Please don’t mention meta tags; they haven’t carried much weight in any major search engine in years.)

  6. DianeV says:

    Discussion of Blogs, WordPress and the nofollow attribute at Cre8asite forums.

  7. Tom Raftery says:

    Blogger have updated their comment system so that people without Blogger accounts can leave comments – previously, to do this on a Blogger blog you had to comment anonymously, now it is possible to leave a name and uri.

    This overhaul of their comment system was long awaited – but also, possibly, opens Blogger blogs to the scourge of comment spam.

    Curiously though, Blogger failed to rollout an implementation of the nofollow attribute which Google themselves proposed recently to help combat comment spam.

    If I was a conspiracy theorist…

  8. DianeV says:

    That *is* mighty interesting. It’s either a huge goof, or …

    As an aside, I don’t think one has to be a conspiracy theorist for things to be true. :-)

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