Earlier this year, I speculated on how the search engines treat NoFollow links. For those who might be a little green, NoFollow links are not totally ignored by the search engines. For those who really, really green, NoFollow links are believed to be totally ignored by the search engines (because they have the rel=”nofollow” attribute in the link code).
So we ran a little experiment.
A client of ours had a fully developed website that has never been used. Not a single link points to this website, so in the eyes of the search engines, it should not exist.
It was not indexed at Yahoo. It should go without saying that Yahoo displayed no backlinks.
The site was indexed at Google. (How, why and whether Google should index orphan sites that have not been released to the public is a topic for another post.) Google showed no backlinks, but the site did rank #8 at Google for one very important search, based primarily on the name of the domain. It did not show up in the top 100 for a few other key searches. All searches are for local terms specific to a certain city, so they are moderately low competition.
For three weeks, we posted comments on NoFollow blogs (yes, intelligent comments reflecting the specific content of the blog posts) to create a steady stream of NoFollow links, without creating any DoFollow or “normal” hyperlinks.
Were the NoFollow links followed?
At the end of week 4, we found Yahoo had indexed the website and showed 51 backlinks. All of these are NoFollow links. The more important searches were all showing in the top 20, one as high as position #6. Remember that these are moderately low-competition, local searches, but this is all on the strength of a few weeks of exclusively NoFollow links.
Google showed no backlinks after 4 weeks. No surprise there; Google is very sporadic with if, when, how and which sampling of backlinks it chooses to display. The ranking at position #8 had not changed, but a couple other search terms were now ranking at Google, one of them as high as position #11. Again, this is exclusively on the strength of NoFollow blog comments.
What can we conclude about NoFollow links?
NoFollow links still obviously count at Yahoo. Do they count as much as DoFollow links? A more complicated experiment might help answer that question. Anyone feel like taking up the challenge?
NoFollow links also appear to count at Google. Or perhaps some do and others don’t, depending on other factors Google might use to rate links from specific domains. However, we can be sure that Google does follow at least some NoFollow links.
The conclusion I would draw from this is that people really should not focus on the NoFollow/DoFollow issue. Build links that are officially followable when you can, but don’t let a NoFollow attribute in a page’s links dissuade you from creating a link you would otherwise pursue.Written by David Leonhardt
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