More Outrageous Use of rel=”nofollow”

Stop the nofollow attributeA 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.

17 thoughts on “More Outrageous Use of rel=”nofollow”

  1. OK, I’m slow, so I didn’t get it the first time you explained it to me. Now I’m starting to. If you mean the HTML code, which I can hardly decipher, but I can look for the phrase “no follow” in it. As far as I can tell there’s none of that on the SB blog I use. At least it’s not in the text editor when you put it in HTML view (I sometimes do just to erase extraneous line spaces, about the only thing in HTML I have figured out.) Maybe SB adds it to the final published version, though.

    Ahh, I just figured out to see the published version in HTML. Talk about confusing! You have to scroll for miles to the right to see it all. Ahh, just figured out how to make the text wrap. Learning stuff!

    Yes, a lot of stuff gets added. Looks like the text I typed stays about how it looked in the SB text editor’s HTML view. Most of the “no follows” come on the SB wesbite’s navigation links at the page bottom. So then I went to that Slacktivist page and sho’nuff, there the “no follows” are. Right next to the links.

    This is really interesting. I didn’t get it at first because, duh, of course your browser “follows” a link, that’s how it takes you to the page! I didn’t realize it was about blocking search engine tracking.

    For curiosity I looked at Taibbi’s last (cuz he uses a lot of links) and I didn’t see “no follows” there. Am I looking the right way?

    So, let me see if I get this straight. If a blog allows search engines to track the link to your article, but bans them from tracking comments if they don’t have time to moderate them all (or don’t have comments, period) then there’s basically no reason for the “no follow” at all, right? Unless you hate the linked page, like you mention in the other “no follow” post.

    If so, that’s definitely worth pointing out to something as link-heavy as that Slacktivist page.

    Computers are complicated beasts that confuse me, but I fear if I say anything nasty about them all my stuff will crash. So nice computer. I love you. I just don’t UNDERSTAND you.

    • There are reasons for nofollow. For example, advertising links. Most blogs add them to links in comments. That was originally done to stop spam, but it didn’t work at all. And now we have much better systems. I almost never get spam making its way through the filters here. Few websites make all their outgoing links nofollow. It doesn’t make any sense. On Patheos, it is probably because they have a lot of bloggers who are only loosely associated with them, and they don’t want blogs to turn into link farms. I think that’s a stupid and lazy way to deal with the problem. But there you are. The biggest problem is that people don’t know what they are doing. Blogs are set up to make comment links nofollow and so they are. No one bothers to change it. It would be nice to lead a movement against nofollow. I wish someone would. I’m not the type.

  2. The problem it seems to me is that people don’t perceive a way to use nofollow judiciously. I’d assume that the folks that linked to you found your writing worthwhile, worthy of recommendation. So you’d suppose they would want to help you be found through other means also (and it’s a mutual thing). They should be able to easily group links by nofollow (when citing Glenn Beck) or don’t (you, etc.).

    I’m not an IT guy. Is this a difficult thing? Is it horribly inefficient or inconvenient? It seems like we’ve torn down the old author courtesy privileges, rules and customs without replacing them with anything.

    Wikipedia would be a war zone within days without nofollow. It’s mildly, if darkly, amusing to imagine.

    • RT — I’m not an IT guy either, which is why I didn’t get this at first (Mr. Curious tried explaining it to me at length.)

      Almost every blogger uses an interface that allows them to type, include links, embed videos, whatever, without bothering with HTML code. So most have no idea what that HTML code looks like. The blog interface does it for you.

      It seems like a lot of blog interfaces add “nofollow” by default. Do all these interfaces allow bloggers to see and edit HTML? I have no clue. The one I’ve used does allow that, you can switch back/forth from HTML or “normal” view when typing. About the only thing I use in HTML is adjusting extra between-paragraph line spaces I want/don’t. And even so I don’t understand it, I just monkey around and yell at the screen until it comes out right.

      So the issue would seem to be:

      If your blog interface by default adds “nofollow” to your links, and you can access HTML view while writing, delete that.

      But it shouldn’t be the default! The whole point of blog interface writing tools is you don’t have to be an IT gal to make your post look the way you want! And most of the time when you’re linking to something, you’re trying to give props to that link!

      Basically, on some of these blog interface writing tools, the default “nofollow” shouldn’t be there. And there should be lots of users complaining about this.

      • To show you how ingrained this all is, the nofollow in comments on WordPress blogs is there by default, and there is no way to shut it off. It requires a plugin to strip them all out. It isn’t a big deal, but it shows just how naturally committed the internet is to these things. Few people give it any thought.

        • Wow, a plugin. Which means you have you care enough about the issue to search for the plugin.

          Last year I wrote biweekly for a (now dead) basketball blog that used WordPress. And fully half my posts (I e-mailed them to the siterunners) went up without my name on them. Too hard to figure out how to make WordPress say “by James,” you see. Even once they figured it out, sometimes they didn’t give me credit. Default’s easier.

          The Internet idealists can be really silly. They’re more invested in whether or not they can download pirate copies of movies for free. That’s a big issue. Don’t Touch Freedom! But, you know, an everyday thing that wouldn’t be difficult at all to fix and could make some difference to people creating actual printed content . . . who cares.

          • The big problem with the plug in is that it wastes resources. It means that the system first puts the rel=”nofollow” in and then the plugin takes it out. There should be a switch to tell the base system just not to do it.

            I think my no nofollow campaign might catch on among some people. The problem is that people with tiny sites and people with huge sites don’t care about the issue. It is mostly just people in the mushy middle who would care. And most of them don’t follow this kind of stuff. But I can definitely see how a movement could develop.

    • Also, RJ (sorry I typed “RT” before):

      Here’s a set of instructions on how to see HTML, any time, on any page you’re viewing: http://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000746.htm

      It’s like looking into The Matrix. Quite creepy. Most of the time, just hit CTRL-U and poof, there it is. I had to adjust “wraparound” from the “View” bar in my browser, you might not.

    • It isn’t difficult. I try not to do it, because even if I’m talking about something I don’t like, it is worthy of being noted. Sometimes I will, like if it is something truly vile like explicit racism. But recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is better to provide a text representation that people can copy, and not provide an actual link.

      On Patheos, it is an automatic thing — just like on Wikipedia. As you note, it is justified at Wikipedia. Patheos is questionable.

  3. Well I suppose that bloggers and other websites usually want to promote what they link to, so just changing the default should be enough. Is this right?

    • That’s mostly right. It is a question of policy. Sadly, a lot of websites (Even big ones!) don’t really know what their policies are — they just use defaults. That’s why I’d like the internet community itself to start talking about this stuff.

      • It’s really kind of part of writing, should be part of writing – tending to your intentions in including links. Managing your links should be an integral part of your writing habits, a routine thing along the lines of effective paragraph use.
        As a guy disgusted with modern interfaces (and aggravated by assholes who hoot and holler about their coolness, their attractiveness, never their usability) my prior would be to understand if it’s a pain in the ass to manage this stuff. But if it is, we should have software where it is not a posterior ache.
        You say people just don’t know this. To the cost of those of us seeking a coherent information-sharing source. Well, I’m with you, for all that’s worth.
        Cdn election: my guys lost big time; all local representatives I like the best were defeated. Comprehensive loss; my bad luck charm. On the bright side, their reduced caucus may quit trying to drive socialists out of the party.

        • Part of the problem is that search engines still aren’t great. I constantly find myself taking forever to find some article I remember reading. Things are much better than they were, but in the future, people will look back on this period with shock. But overall, CMS software really does make creating content a whole lot easier than it used to be.

          I heard the left got hammers on the east coast. But I have yet to even read one in=-depth article on the election. But I will!

          • I wish they got hammers – and sickles!

            I’m too depressed to read on it – I wanted a coalition. Anyway, perhaps now is the time to get involved on a deeper level. ‘Hey guys, we turned the leftist rhetoric down to 1 – and we lost. Get it? Get it?’

            • That was one thing I heard: that the New Democrats pulled to the right (“responsible”) when it looked like they were doing well, and the Liberals turned left. That’s pretty typical. It seems this is nothing that elite leftists want so much as to be taken seriously by a media obsessed with the mushy center.

              • Is the Canadian news for-profit? Or, like our PBS, influenced strongly by trying to compete with for-profit viewers and eternally keep justifying its existence?

                • I don’t know. I do know that the CBC has gotten a lot worse just in the last couple of years. Is RJ still around? Do you have any insight into that?

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