“nofollow” Still Considered Harmful

Published on January 6, 2007 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

nofollow is crap.

The “No nofollow” website’s explanation of all the disadvantages of the unstandardized nofollow value for HTML’s rel attribute is pretty comprehensive. Please read it, if you haven’t before, especially when you run a system that hammers out nofollow rel attributes.

Put simply, nofollow disrespects the nature of the Web and it disrespects users. If anyone, it only benefits search engines. We need to think about other ways to avoid spam. We need to stop using nofollow.

Ultimately, the entire nofollow thing reminds of camera surveillance. Everyone appears to think it helps against crime and terrorism, but it doesn’t.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On January 10, 2007, 17:16 CET, Robert Wellock said:

    I’d have to agree the nofollow is a harmful implementation and serves little useful purpose.

    After all, most spam is typically robot generated anyway and they couldn’t care a hoot whether or not they are dropping nonsense links on a website with that attribute or not.

  2. On January 23, 2007, 16:39 CET, Jon Henshaw said:

    rel=”nofollow” is free speech and it’s up to search engines to do with it as they like. As far as the concern of it not being semantic and standards based, I agree with that and I see “nofollow” as a temporary stopgap until a much better solution is found. I seriously doubt we’ll see the use of “nofollow” in the next five years—something else will replace it that makes more sense.

    Beyond that, the main argument is both ideological and philosophical. For every argument that you can make against it, I can make for it. It doesn’t make either of us correct—just our opinions different on how communication over the Internet should work. Personally, I prefer the control that “nofollow” gives me.

  3. On January 23, 2007, 18:13 CET, Edward Clarke said:

    Jon, is this the control over the constant spamming it gives you or the control over the content and its semantics? I’m not sure I follow you.

    You can read my thoughts on rel=nofollow but to summarise, it’s pointless from a publishers point of view.

  4. On January 24, 2007, 2:08 CET, Paul Annesley said:

    If rel=nofollow can encourage high ranking sites to open themselves up to user-submitted content with less risk of turning themselves into PageRank-link-farms, then there must be some value in it.

    I think it can be implemented in a non-harmful way, for example applying nofollow to user-submitted links until they have been moderated or approved in some way…?

  5. On February 15, 2007, 9:07 CET, Casey Woods said:

    Agreed. nofollow doesn’t work at all and that is why I have removed it from my blog comments and trackbacks. Of course, I’ve implement 2 layers of anti-spam measures and I carefully read all comments that make it past Akismet and my captcha. Anything lame gets the link taken off of it and/or deleted.

    “nofollow” is a great solution for blogs that get abandoned. However, it is unnecessary for active and moderated blogs.

  6. On July 26, 2007, 7:58 CEST, No Follow Sucks said:

    I wouldn’t say No Follow is ‘harmful’, it does not really harm anybody. It may reduce interaction from vistors, that’s all.

    Rather, I’d say the tag is pointless as anti-spam measures do a good job of stopping spam.

  7. On August 21, 2007, 15:09 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Moved note: Consider too that Yahoo appears to ignore nofollow.

  8. On September 5, 2007, 15:09 CEST, Anikrichard said:

    hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments ,
    I can help you with this problem . I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site. The link will be small and your visitors will hardly notice it , its just done for higher rankings in search engines. Contact me icq 454528835 or write me tedirectory(at)yahoo.com , i will give you my site url and you will give me yours if you are interested. thank you

  9. On September 8, 2007, 20:13 CEST, Jesper Rønn-Jensen said:

    Right to the point, Jens.

    For a long time, I have considered manually removing the nofollow attribute on comments from people I know, in order to boost my friends pagerank.

    I’d love if there could be a setting built into wordpress, that could handle that for me.

  10. On September 10, 2007, 9:11 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Jesper, right, that sounds useful. Yet one might argue that nofollow “hurts” more than it helps 😔

  11. On October 21, 2007, 22:38 CEST, Martin said:

    You could argue it’s not harmful for the website or search engines, but you cannot argue that it benefits the commentor.

    If someone leaves a useful or insightful comment then they should be rewarded. In this case, they get a link to a destination of their choosing. A small price to pay if you ask me.

  12. On May 30, 2008, 19:12 CEST, malcolm coles said:

    The situation with nofollow seems to be getting worse - even authority sites that don’t use it are now using internal redirects to avoid linking out. At this rate, only wikipedia and myspace will appear in google’s results ….

  13. On June 1, 2008, 13:10 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Martin, personally, I think this is a harmful concept in general as nofollow (and how it is usually implemented) focuses on mistrust, not trust.

    Malcolm (and again personally spoken), I am worried about this development as well. If people run sites and fear spam, they should either take care of (check, edit, and eventually remove) every link posted—or not publish any unmoderated links at all.

    I go for the latter and accept the risk that I might overlook links to untrustworty, spammy sites, in order to emphasize trust, and to “reward”—or at least not penalize—contributing readers. This is more work as I regularly check comments, but for someone allowing to post links, it has to be done.

  14. On August 21, 2008, 0:46 CEST, lazar said:

    Bigger problem of nofollow being unstandardized element is that most webmasters are not aware of it, but mainly people interested in SEO. This means that there is no nofollow reciprocity as it is not implemented equally throughout the web. Luckily, this will change in HTML 5, when nofollow will become a part of the standard, and people will learn about it the same way they learn about target “_blank” value and other common HTML elements.

  15. On September 1, 2008, 13:56 CEST, Messy Designer said:

    Agreed, its just a tactic applied by Google, for its advantage. Ive also discussed in my blog as Why and How to remove nofollow from your Wordpress blog.


  16. On February 23, 2009, 11:18 CET, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Update: There’s an interesting development as the overuse of nofollow seems to lead to the situation that “some nofollow links should be followed.”

  17. On April 21, 2010, 9:13 CEST, Mike Jason said:

    I do belive too that nofollow if it benefits anyone then it will be search engines algorithms.
    However we cannot ignore the fact that they did reduce the spam of blogs not entirely may be but it did reduce it.

    But it is quite obvious that the only 100% proven way to beat spam is by human moderating the comments so this way you know which comment or trackback is quality and which is junk spam.

    Mike J.
    SEO Manager SEO Software