Today, we get an interesting Webmaster Help video from Google and Matt Cutts discussing nofollow links, and whether or not using them can impact your site's rankings.
The question Cutts responds to comes from somebody going by the name Tubby Timmy:
I'm building links, not for SEO but to try and generate direct traffic, if these links are no-follow am I safe from getting any Google penalties? Asked another way, can no-follow links hurt my site?
Cutts begins, "No, typically nofollow links cannot hurt your site, so upfront, very quick answer on that point. That said, let me just mention one weird corner case, which is if you are like leaving comment on every blog in the world, even if those links might be nofollow, if you are doing it so much that people notice you, and they're really annoyed by you, and people spam report about you, we might take some manual spam action on you, for example."
"I remember for a long time on TechCrunch anytime that people showed up, there was this guy anon.tc would show up, and make some nonsensical comment, and it was clear that he was just trying to piggyback on the traffic from people reading the article to whatever he was promoting," he continues. "So even if those links were nofollow, if we see enough mass-scale action that we consider deceptive or manipulative, we do reserve the right to take action, so you know, we carve out a little bit of an exception if we see truly huge scale abuse, but for the most part, nofollow links are dropped out of our link graph as we're crawling the web, and so those links that are nofollowed should not affect you from an algorithmic point of view."
"I always give myself just the smallest out just in case we find somebody who's doing a really creative attack or mass abuse or something like that, but in general, as long as you're doing regular direct traffic building, and you're not annoying the entire web or something like that, you should be in good shape," he concludes.
This is perhaps a more interesting discussion than it seems on the surface in light of other recent advice from Cutts, like that to nofollow links on infographics, which can arguably provide legitimate content and come naturally via editorial decision.
It also comes at a time when there are a lot questions about the value of links and what links Google is going to be okay with, and which it is not. Things are complicated even further in instances when Google is making mistakes on apparently legitimate links, and telling webmasters that they're bad.