NOFOLLOW: A good try, poorly executed

Posted by Travis Smith on 01/18 at 10:43 PM • Blogging Tools

The newest tool in stopping blog comment spam was discussed and debated and praised today after being announced by Google and Six Apart (though not before bloggers got the scoop).

The idea is that by including “rel=nofollow” in an HREF tag, like so:
<a href=“http://www.hopstudios.com/” rel=“nofollow”>
Google, and soon other search engines, will ignore that link for the purposes of pagerank. The idea is, any comment or trackback or other user-submitted content would pick up a “nofollow” and thus it makes no sense for spammers to try to stuff their URLs into the blogs of others.

Many writers of blogs are thrilled at the idea of another tool against comment spam.  I can understand why: I spend a few minutes every day, and a lot of minutes some days, erasing spam from my blog.  It’s wasted effort for me and the spammers both.

But this fix falls short in a number of areas, even once it’s widely adopted.

For one: links are links, and if spammers spam, people will still click.  Page rank won’t grow as much for the destination URLs, but they’ll still get traffic.  And for spammers who are trying to simply deface or plaster their message around, this does nothing.

For two: A lot of the current power anf benefit of blogs is in their linking, and in their user-generated content.  If you remove all search-influencing mojo (and I’m avoiding the phrase Page Rank because this applies to more than just the Google search engine) from non-moderated links, you remove the ability of bloggers as a community, to direct the focus of search engines to pages that are important.

Links provided in comments by non-spammers have fairly high value that search engines ought to note.  On an indivudal level, bloggers who often comment and ping other blogs are usually high value bloggers who deserve the search engine status that comes from their participation in the blogosphere.  It’s a virtuous circle, and bloggers are the baby getting tossed with this bathwater.

Finally, from a picky naming point of view, “nofollow” already has a meaning: in the robots meta tag of a page or in http headers, it means, don’t FOLLOW any links on this page.  But now, in the context of an HREF, it appears to mean, don’t VALUE this link (but follow it if you want).  So why didn’t they call it “novalue” or “norank” or “nocount”?

While most bloggers posting on this have given their support to the idea, the folks at the Search Engine Watch discussion boards seem less thrilled, and you can count me in with them.