Google’s No-Follow Changes Explained

    June 16, 2009

Last Tuesday, we discussed the idea of Google potentially making some changes to PageRank and it’s relationship to no-follow – particularly in the context of PageRank sculpting.

As a quick refresher, PageRank sculpting is the practice whereby you add no-follow attributes to less important links in order to emphasize links you deem more important.  We used an analogy of a bucket withe holes in it. The holes represented your outbound links.  Your website’s PageRank (link juice) flowed thru the holes.  The fewer holes you had, higher the percentage of your link juice went thru the remaining holes (links). That’s PageRank Sculpting in a nutshell.  Dividing your link authority by a smaller number of links in order to maximize the authority you pass on.

Matt CuttsAt the end of our article, we mentioned that no official word on how Google was going to change the dynamic between no-follow and PageRank, but as of last night, we now know a little more.  Matt Cutts made a post on his blog about the way Google has decided to deal with the issue.  The biggest surprise in the post was actually Matt’s claim that this change went into effect “over a year ago” but nobody noticed.

Beyond that, Matt’s explanation of PR Sculpting fit pretty nicely into our analogy.  Matt said “nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page”.  Which basically means, if you plugged some of the holes in your bucket, the remaining holes received a higher percentage of your link authority.  This statement is also significant because it pretty much (by definition) says unequivocally that Pagerank sculpting ‘worked’ conceptually at least.  But that’s ‘worked’ with an emphasis on the past tense.

The change Google implemented ‘over a year ago’ according to Cutts.  Made Google count the outbound links regardless of the no-follow attribute.  To paraphrase Matt in his post, if you have 10 PageRank points on a page with 10 outbound links and you put no-follow on 5 of the links, each of your 5 remaining links would pass just 1 point of PageRank now.  Prior to the change, each of your 5 links without no-follow would pass 2 points apiece.  Now, your PR passing ability is spread out or divided by all of your links – regardless of their no-follow status.

Matt does a pretty good job of anticipating several questions that will doubtlessly arise from his post.  I’ll Highlight a couple of the more important points below, but would also urge you to go check out the real thing (like you haven’t already…)

  • Whenever you are linking within your site, don’t use no-follow?
  • Q: Since PR is divided amongst outbound links, no-follow or not, should I turn off comments on my blog? ?“A: I wouldn’t recommend closing comments in an attempt to “hoard” your PageRank. In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites.”?

So, there you go.  The debate that arose during SMX Advanced as to whether or not Google was changing how they handled no-follow in terms of PR sculpting has now been answered.  The big surprise in all of this is that they apparently changed it all a while back, but at the end of the day it was pretty much the change we were anticipating anyway.  Namely, no-follow links do not pass PR, no-follow links do not pass anchor text value, but no-follow links DO count toward your total of outbound links. 

The obvious question this creates I suppose then is: why, then, should we no-follow anything?