Are you “nofollowing” yourself?

March 30, 2007

Topics: Search Marketing.

Loren Baker writes today on the damage you can do your site by applying the “nofollow” microformat to your own pages. He breaks it down to one core element: what are you saying if you don’t trust your own pages?

Using nofollow on yourself seems to be one pretty obvious way of sending the wrong signals — it may or may not be directly read as a “bad thing,” but it absolutely suggests something manipulative or untrustworthy about your site.

By using a NoFollow attribute to link to these [about, contact, privacy, etc.] pages, you’re basically telling Google that you do not trust yourself, you are not real, and you do not honor user privacy. Hence, the drop in ranking.

Loren Baker

There are plenty of ways you can leverage search engines. Why make use of a tactic which obviously sends a message of manipulation? It seems pretty straightforward to me: your code should reflect your intentions. Nofollow suggests that you don’t have faith in a page; that you don’t actually WANT to help people find it. If you’re using it to point to your own contact page, you are effectively saying that you don’t WANT to be contacted. (Or maybe you just don’t trust that lousy contact form you’re using?)

You have little chance of making your business a success if you are unwilling to trust yourself. You may not have intended to send that message; but it is definitely one signal which can be picked up from the use of nofollow.

The idea behind using nofollow on your own pages was, I believe, to focus attention on your other pages: your content bearing, keyword rich pages. It’s the myth of “conserving PageRank” — I don’t know where it started, but it’s been talked about many times. This particular idea about nofollow is described by one publication as follows:

The other side of the nofollow tag, is that you can take advantage of it inside your own web sites. Think about all the low value, or no money pages on your site… pages like about us, where to find us, contact us. Every link leaving your home page “bleeds” PageRank to those pages and you’ll want to stop that!

Instead of using normal static hyperlinks you can use nofollow links instead. This lets the “human mouse clicking visitor” find the pages on their own, but totally blocks the search engine from finding them.

So not only can you provide visitors with a rich user experience, you can conserve your PageRank and link popularity within your home page.

“Bleeds PageRank,” eh? Simple point: PageRank doesn’t “leak.” If you link out to a page, that page gains a small portion of your PR — that portion is not, however, subtracted from your page’s rank. Even if PageRank were a meaningful metric, this argument would be patently absurd. (And I’m not getting into that argument right now….)

Every page on your site is important. Do you think that your “About Us” page isn’t significant because it doesn’t have any products listed on it? It’s not a call to action? Well, think again. You’re not just selling your product: you’re also selling trust in your company. People will buy from a company which they think will deliver on their promises. These “no money” pages convey important information to give your potential customers faith in your company. Don’t try and sell them short.

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