I heard the word “nofollow” on my very first day as a link builder, and the word was spit out with the same vitriol people use to describe Crocs or people who keep the stickers on the brim of their baseball caps. Although I no longer do much link building, I’ve been in the internet marketing industry for almost two years now, and there’s never been a day where I haven’t encountered the word “nofollow.”
Before yesterday, “nofollow” was just a word and a concept, but now “nofollow” and I know each other. We’ve been intimate.
I’m the community manager for Linkarati, so any and all outside requests go through me first. Yesterday I got my first nofollow request.
As you can see, the person on the other end of the email was polite and pretty well-informed, so I set about implementing the nofollow code.
Now, I’m not a newcomer to HTML, but I’d never implemented a rel=”nofollow” before. Not once. No one has ever asked me to nofollow a link, and I’ve never been in a situation where I thought it was prudent to nofollow my own.
My first try was unsuccessful, so I had to Google it. Guess who had the most gung-ho, easy to understand nofollow instructions?
Here’s a hint:
It took me about 30 seconds to get the code right and send an email confirming that I’d nofollowed the link. Seems simple enough, right? I thought so too, but then I realized that I was having FEELINGS (illegal in 10 states and the UK).
That’s right, it bummed me right the fuck out. That person should not have had to send that email to a non-spammy site for a relevant link.
Like everyone else with a functioning heart and brain, I’m bummed out about what happened to My Blog Guest. I’m bummed about what happened to Doc Sheldon. I’m bummed that I read text-based diarrhea shitting all over links, link building, guest posts and anything that’s not “sitting back and letting your cronies share/link to your content all day.”
It all just sort of came to a head yesterday.
The Super Official History of Nofollow
Back when I was building links for clients, the common idea was that nofollow=bad. Sometimes it happened, though. There’s always a human being on the other side of every link, and sometimes that human being decided that a little rel=”nofollow” was the way to go and there was no way around it.
Arguments would arise, and I’d always take the position that a nofollow wasn’t the end of the world. Someone might actually click that link, right? Especially if it was placed in a non-obnoxious way that made sense. Especially if the content around it was compelling. Especially if it was on a relevant website.
That’s the deal with links now, and I think that’s one of the best ideas that’s risen out of the gigantic mess the SEO industry is currently in. Links are meant to be clicked on, and we should always have that in mind. But god dammit, links still work for search engine rankings too, and that’s a fact I don’t want to pretend to ignore to look cool in front on my inbound marketing friends.
“I heard you got a good link yesterday, Dustin. I bet a bunch of people clicked it.”
“I actually have no idea, but it’ll probably help boost some rankings.”
“Turn in your badge and Moz login, you’re off the force!”
In reality, I don’t know if any of those nofollow links ever received a click and I don’t know if they helped anyone’s search rankings, but they definitely didn’t hurt anything.
That’s as far as my nofollow experience went until yesterday. Up until then, I thought it was a totally benign practice that would never affect me. I was wrong. Nofollow’s coming for all of us, and it makes absolutely no sense (other than AdSense, if you get my meaning).
You’re not my Dad, Google!
The part that bums me out isn’t the request itself. It’s that someone is scared enough to make the request in the first place; and that they have good reason to be scared.
FUD (or as I like to call it, FOAD) is everywhere and it sucks.
Daddy got mad and now all of the kids refuse to use any anchor text that isn’t ‘click here’ or ‘website,’ and then they have to wash their mouths out with nofollow for being such naughty children. That makes me mad in ways I don’t even understand.
I totally get changing the algorithm to filter out more spam and abuse, but this is ridiculous. Little Billy abused the scissors and poked someone’s eye out, so now no one is allowed to have scissors, look at scissors or even think about scissors. Thanks, Dad.
The thing is, though, Google’s not my dad. Unless you’re some sort of hyper-sentient future-algorithmic AI that’s terrorizing cyberspace and killing Google Glass users like something out of a bad Shadowrun campaign, Google’s isn’t your dad either.
But there’s reason to be afraid.
Even so, it’s like sneaking out after curfew, taking two of daddy’s warm beers from the garage or smoking a cigarette behind the oak tree in the back yard—I’m going to do what I please, regardless of the consequences.
I’ll use whatever I want to for my anchor text. It’s my anchor text. I’ll follow every single god damn link. If someone politely asks me to nofollow it, then I certainly will—I’m not going to force my questionable decisions upon others.
On my website I’ll do whatever I please. I’ll link to it from other websites however I please (with permission from the webmaster, of course) and I’ll link to anything useful, funny or horrifying, however I please.
If you’re working for clients or you’re worried about a business site you’ve carefully cultivated, it’s understandable that you’re careful. I feel you. I think it totally sucks that you need to worry about this at all, because it’s totally not natural. It’s ridiculous.
But as for me? I’ll use links however I want, manual penalties be damned. I never want to nofollow a link again because I put real thought into every link I make. I’m not ashamed of my links and they don’t need to be nofollowed.
I’m going to carry on in a way that makes sense, penalties be damned. I’m not doing anything wrong, and you’re probably not doing anything wrong either.
Let’s pour one out for Ann, Doc and all of the poor people who are scrambling to nofollow everything good they’ve ever done and every link they’ve ever built or earned.
None of you deserve this headache. This one’s for you.