Ever since the nofollow attribute was added to the roster of usable tags, it’s caused no end of problems. Should you nofollow this, nofollow that? It seems like the only clear advice is to nofollow that creepy guy into the woods.
We’ve written about nofollow before. When it’s used on links coming in to your site, that’s fine; PageRank isn’t as important as the presence of the link anyway. When it’s used on a link going outwards from your site, it’s up to you how you use it. A good idea, generally, is to nofollow any link to a destination site you wouldn’t want to recommend in conversation. If you don’t want to encourage anyone to visit it, don’t use a followed link and give the site additional benefit. And, of course, there’s no real reason to nofollow internal links at all.
In general, if you’re linking to a spam site, you might be better off not actually making it a hyperlink. Sure, you might refer some traffic over via seeming organic search, but you don’t show the backlink as coming from your site.
The specific question here is in regards to blog comment links. Should you follow or nofollow them? On one hand, if you’re following them, you’re passing PageRank to who knows what sites. Anyone could come along and lay a comment down linking to their site, and you’d automatically pass some of your PageRank to that site.
Is this the right way of thinking? Should you automatically nofollow all blog comment links and leave it at that?
The Argument for Nofollowed Comment Links
The purpose of nofollow is to keep your links safe. You don’t want to share your PageRank in a way that can harm your site. This means you don’t want to link to sites of less than stellar quality, let’s say.
In a world without the nofollow attribute, you’re going to run into a lot of issues with spam. When every link, no matter the site, brings in beneficial PageRank, you’re going to want to build those backlinks in any way possible. This includes directory submissions, blog comments and press releases, among other things.
Even Wikipedia suffered for the lack of nofollow. People would scan every possible related article, and often articles that weren’t relevant at all, looking for ways they could add a link to their site. A link from a high authority site like Wikipedia could be incredibly valuable, but the fact that it was easy to edit by just about any user made it difficult to patrol.
Nofollow, therefore, is a perfect solution. You can nofollow any link to a site you don’t trust. You can link to sites, even competitors, and know that you’re not providing them with any benefit. Wikipedia makes everything nofollow by default, and there’s no longer a good reason to vandalize it with your page links.
Referring specifically to blog comment links, it’s kind of a fire and forget situation. If you nofollow links in those fields by default, you removed half the reason anyone is going to leave links you don’t want.
The Argument Against Nofollow Comment Links
Links are the backbone of the Internet. They’re how users and search engines find their way around. They’re also how spammers operate, but spammers aren’t as big a deal as you might think.
Where might you use a nofollow attribute? Links on your pages to other internal pages don’t need to be nofollowed, there’s no benefit to doing so and no drawback for not doing so. Links from your pages to other pages on the Internet? You can police those yourself. If you don’t want a site to gain benefit from linking to them, don’t link to them, one way or the other. Links build awareness, and links transfer click traffic, regardless of whether or not they’re followed. PageRank is only one of many aspects of a link that matter.
Sites like Wikipedia suffer if there’s a lack of nofollow ability, that’s true. That’s because those sites live on user contributions. They can’t cut off user contributions, nor can they require every contribution be vetted by an admin before approval, because the amount of work required would exceed the reasonable ability of a decently sized staff to accommodate. The Wikipedia admins would drink themselves into oblivion every night and possibly during days too.
For small sites, it probably doesn’t even matter that much whether they nofollow links to bad domains. It might help the bad domain a little bit, but it isn’t going to really hurt the originating site, not unless they’re doing it constantly and start to look like a part of the spam network themselves.
So what about comment links? If you don’t nofollow the links there, anyone is free to post spam links and you end up with the Wikipedia problem in miniature, right?
Fortunately, there are other answers to this problem. You could:
- Use the Facebook comments plugin or Disqus, something that has automatic spam filtering or a good reason not to spam, like the social pressure from Facebook.
- Use a spam filtering plugin like Akismet for WordPress.
- Require every comment meet admin approval before becoming public.
- Moderate comments after they’re posted and remove any links you don’t agree with.
If you do take one of these options, you’re making your comments a more valuable place to be for those whose sites you approve of. If a user posts their link and you don’t remove it, you’re rewarding that site. If you don’t agree with the content of the link, you can remove it without penalty.
Of course, these methods typically only work for small or medium sites. A site as large as the New York Times, Huffington Post, Forbes or Moz has to be much more careful with their comments. There’s no easy way to moderate all of the comments a site like that must generate every day. Once again, the admin in charge would be driven to drink.