Why NoFollow Was A Failure

A year and a half ago, i wrote a long post explaining why nofollow would not work, so it’s no great surprise to be proved right. This hasn’t just happened, it’s not suddenly stopped working: It never worked, and has only had the predicted detrimental effect on the web and the way we link.

Jeremy, a top bod in Yahoo! Search, who also supported this ludicrous idea, points to this post that lays the blame solidly at Google’s door. Im pretty sure I said so at the time, but if not, let me repeat my thoughts here: NoFollow was a “this will shut them up”, ill thought out, knee-jerk bandaid hurredly implemented to get bloggers and blog vendors off of Google/Yahoo’s back.

It could never work. As dylan points out, the economics of blog spam are that it is CHEAP to spam comments, and spammers don’t care if some of their efforts are in vain because it costs virtually nothing.

Since its enthusiastic adoption a year and a half ago, by Google, Six Apart, WordPress, and of course the eminent Dave Winer, I think we can all agree that nofollow has done … nothing. Comment spam? Thicker than ever. It’s had absolutely no effect on the volume of spam. That’s probably because comment spammers don’t give a crap, because the marginal cost of spamming is so low.

Spot on.

Jeremy actually has the best advice I’ve seen regarding linking, particularly in the context of nofollow from a Search rep:

Look. Linking is part of what makes the web work. If you’re actually concerned about every link you make being counted in some global database of site endorsements, you’re probably over-thinking just a bit. Life’s too short for that, ya know? Link and be linked to. Let the search engines sort it out.

Really, that’s a breath of fresh air.

Google, and Yahoo, Knew this Wouldn’t Work

Remember I called this a bandaid? More precisely it was a PR bandaid, hastily slapped on during a crisis when no real answers were forthcoming (not ones that would be popular anyway). I find it impossible to believe that Search reps like Google’s Matt Cutts, NoFollows most ardent supporter, and Yahoo’s Jeremy Zawodny really believed this would work.

When Search pundits like Danny Sullivan point out that it’s a non solution, aswell as a host of other Search bloggers (some of whom are linked from this thread), why is it that GOOG/YHOO were the only ones who couldn’t see it?

Note that the people saying this wouldn’t work are as enthusiastic, and as knowlegable about Search as most Search reps.

The only people that believed this was a solution other than the engines, (who as i’ve said, were only paying lip service) were a bunch of folks who didn’t understand Search or the economics of blog spam.

Can we have some real debate on solutions now? Is it time yet? Or do we need to hear a few more fairy tales first?

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10 thoughts on “Why NoFollow Was A Failure

  1. “Remember I called this a bandaid?”

    No follow did not help blog owners, but appeared to help the search engines slightly. I do agree no follow seems lame, and if I am in a on topic discussion on a blog, it is nice to get a link back.

    When a better answer will be found is impossible to say. We just have to keep rolling with the new ways of doing things to the best of our ability.

  2. “NoFollow was a “this will shut them up”, ill thought out, knee-jerk bandaid hurredly implemented to get bloggers and blog vendors off of Google/Yahoo’s back. ”

    If this is true, then I’m glad it flopped. 😛

  3. Nick
    I agree that it seemed more like a PR move then a real solution. Spammers make enough from the clickthroughs alone that they would hit that many places and they will always find enough that are not protected to have an impact.

    I also think that it does encourage the psychology of hoarding rather then free exchange. If a person participates on another person’s blog, and that comment is valuable to the discussion, they should receive some payback for adding value to the blog. Automatically deeming every comment as “untrustworthy” seems a bit silly, especially when you can easily moderate comments and not allow bulk spam to be posted.

  4. nothing works better than not having that comment spam in your index in the first place,

    Sorry Jed, i was not clear: There are better ways of not indexing it.

    And nofollow did indeed acheive something: It made a whole bunch of poeple that were happily linking away and concentrating on writing start getting all paranoid and greedy over linke…

  5. I dont see any evidence of better results…

    Well, I agree with you. What I mean’t was search results wouldn’t get better, just not get worse thanks to blog comment spam.

    ..and I know for a fact there are better ways of discounting comment spam in search algorithms.

    I would have to disagree here. While I’m sure there are kick-ass algorithms for discounting comment spam, nothing works better than not having that comment spam in your index in the first place, something I believe nofollow was trying to achieve.

    Again, I totally agree nofollow sucks and didn’t do what they hyped it would do (it’s a totally flawed idea), I just thought it was a bit harsh to say it didn’t achieve ‘anything’ when I think it has and was a good idea only to make an SE’s life easier (and anyone else who index’s blog links and relationships)

    Just my 2 pence which is probably worth less 😉

  6. better results?
    helped search engines?

    I dont see any evidence of better results, and I know for a fact there are better ways of discounting comment spam in search algorithms.

    This was trumped up as a way to thwart comment spam by taking away incentive. It didn’t work.

    Google are pretty smart, if they wanted to discount links from comments it would not be too tough a job, with no need to get bloggers to “help” them. All this did was a) not work, and b) backfire

    Now we have people trying to hoarde pagerank by selectively using nofollow, and people using it as an excuse not to take responsibility for what’s posted on their websites.

    It was/is a farce.

  7. Jed is right. It didn’t help the blog owners’ spam problems. Even a partial adoption would help the SE’s spam problems caused by blog/comment spam though. I never bought into rel=nofollow myself. Seems like a wasted effort from a site owner’s perspective. Your actual spam problem should be more of a concern than how it is helping the spammers in the SEs. I just strip HTML and don’t autolink in my sites’ comments sections to deter this sort of spamming.

    It’s absurd to think that a nofollow link would stop the comment spam itself. People are still spamming in email and it doesn’t get them any pagerank. I just shook my head at the sheep jumped on the bandwagon trying to reason why this would actually deincentivize comment spam enough to make a dent in it. If you can still spam comments/sites all the same and get the clicks albeit without the page rank, it’s still worth it to the spammers.

  8. While I agree that it never worked to ‘reduce’ spam, it sure as hell made Google, Yahoo and other search engine’s life easier now that they don’t have to worry about all these blog spam links polluting their search results.

    Unless there is something I don’t understand about how it works, I think it was a good win for everyone as keeping Search engines from processing those links, in return we get better search results (or another way to put it, they won’t get worse by being affected).

    As for the spam issue, that to me seems like a whole other ball game. While nofollow took one reason to spam away, it wasn’t a complete solution. But to say it wasn’t a solution at all? I would disagree.

  9. Nick, thanks for linking to my post.

    When you say that I “lay the blame solidly at Google’s door” I should point out that, as far as I can tell, the idea for nofollow originated with Google. I’m not entirely sure that they came up with it on their own though — the nofollow announcement on the Google blog may well have been preceded by discussions w/ Yahoo, Six Apart, and others.

    Lots of smart people signed on to this bandwagon, btw, among them Jeremy Zawodny as well as Matt Mullenweg, the Six Apart folks, and more. Goes to show you that even enthusiastic endorsement by a lot of truly intelligent people doesn’t necessarily mean an idea is a good one!

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