If you routinely follow SEO blogs and research, many of the findings in the 2011 edition of SEOMoz’s Ranking Factors report are not surprising. But one element concerning the beneficial use of nofollow was downright shocking, and we can’t wait to start experimenting with it.
As explained in a previous post over on the SEO for Salesforce blog, “nofollow” is a code attribute developed by Google’s webspam team to combat spam in blog comment fields. Surrounding a link with nofollow is code for “I can’t or don’t want to vouch for this link.” Nofollow allowed site publishers to insert nofollow code on links to sites that they did not necessarily trust, such as those placed in the comments of blog sites. Presumably, a nofollow link would prevent Google from counting a link in its ranking algorithm, and would thus deter spammers from targeting blog comments.
For a while, changes to the Google algorithm seemed to indicate that nofollow code no longer mattered. For example, it’s well established that links from Twitter – which uses nofollow almost exclusively – are positive ranking factors. And in 2009, Google confirmed that using nofollow for some internal links was no longer a viable way to direct PageRank from one page to another.
But SEOMoz’s study seems to indicate that there is strong evidence that Google rewards sites that gain a mix of follow and nofollow links. Seems silly, but pages that acquire a mix of follow and nofollow links seem to do better in search rankings than pages that only have follow links.
Of course, this seems to create a paradox. If every link is a “vote,” why would Google encourage web publishers to link to things that they can’t endorse? Perhaps it’s just more evidence that links from social channels, which often contain nofollow links, are valued more than traditional links.