A few days back, I saw that I was getting a lot of people clicking onto an article I wrote last month, We’ve Abandoned the Poor in This Country. So I checked where it was coming from, and it was from the Slacktivist blog on one of the best websites around, Patheos. That was thrilling. It’s always thrilling when people link to me — regardless of the size of the site. But it’s especially nice when it is someone who is established. It makes me think that I just may be okay at this writing and ranting thing.
But for some reason, I looked at the source code for the page, and I saw that the link to me used the nofollow relation. At first, I thought this was some reflection on me. But no. That was the case for all of the links on that page — and every other page. It is, as far as I can tell, the default for every link on the Patheos website. What that means is that Patheos does not take part in the single most important aspect of search engine rankings. As far as Google and Bing are concerned, if Patheos links to you, it might as well have not.
What’s the point of this? The nofollow relation was created to stop spam. It was a raging failure. But it has made pretty much all blogging and CMS software default to using this relation. I understand why one might want to use this for comments. Of course, I don’t do it, because I think commenters add value to my site and the least I can go is give them a little boost in their Google ranking. And this creates an interesting disconnect. When TheoLib commented about the link at Slacktivist with the link, that link gives Slacktivist page ranking credit that it doesn’t provide me, even though my link was in the text of that article.
It is just outrageous to put nofollow on all outgoing links. And if a website as established and professional as Patheos is doing this, I think it is time to do something. I think we need to lose nofollow. It doesn’t do what it was originally intended to do. But as a result of a lot of bad conventions, it now distorts the rankings of pages in Google. What’s more, it goes entirely against the idea that Google’s algorithm was originally designed to eliminate: gaming search engine results (although in this case by omission rather than commission).
The vast majority of people who complain about nofollow do so about Wikipedia’s policy. But I don’t blame Wikipedia at all. For one thing, it is kind of like a public utility of the internet. It’s allowed to have special rules. But more to the point, if people knew they could get their Page Rank increased by stuffing links into Wikipedia, it would be open season on that site. It would destroy it as by far the most useful tool on the internet.
The situation with Patheos (and many other sites as well) is that we aren’t talking about content that just anyone can create. This was created by Fred Clark — Mr Slacktivist himself. He’s not going to spam himself. So what is the point of adding nofollow to all his links? To me, it is very much like people who choose not to vote. It is an act of internet citizen neglect. But in this case, I would be shocked if Clark or any of the other writers at Patheos are even aware of the practice.