Rel="nofollow" default


(Jack James) #1

In the settings page, the following option resides:

That’s it in its default state. I’ve been thinking about it this morning and wondering whether that’s correct.

There are indeed good reasons for that option, at least from a historical perspective:

  1. It’s designed to reduce spam. By tagging links with nofollow, so the theory goes, there’s no incentive for spammers to target your site, as it doesn’t increase their pagerank.

That’s the only reason I can think of. In my opinion, this is a contributing factor that makes Google’s results not as “organic” as perhaps they ought to be. Google search results (at least the organic variety) tend to favour sites that have better SEO, which seems pretty self-serving. Bigger, more established sites will link to bigger, more established sites, creating a virtuous circle. And yet in recent months, many of the more interesting webpages I’ve read were linked from posts on Stack Exchange, or specialist forums. All of which had rel=“nofollow”. I now follow more links than Google. On sites that I run, I see (spikes from big sites aside) more traffic referrals via links with nofollow (I do not really employ any SEO on any of my sites though).

Here we are in the year 2013, and I wonder if this practice is even relevant. Spammers have largely moved on, preferring to use tactics such as “guest posting” boilerplate articles tangentially related (and of course, linking to) the site they are trying to boost the page rank. Is rel=“nofollow” now an example of elephant repellent?

Part of the problem of course, is that as someone running a website, why should I really care if other sites get page rank “credit”? Better to prevent one spam post than boost the search traffic of a site I have no vested interest in. If you have no opinion one way or another, the default setting for your CMS will win out. And thus, to my mind, search results lose relevance. The site owner wins in the short term, but the internet loses.

The reason I bring this up is because I honestly think Discourse has a chance to overturn this practice. Don’t punish smaller sites in lost search traffic, don’t support the system of sites that happened to be popular prior to 2005 continuing to be listed as most relevant. Build better tools and empower users to fight real actual spam, rather than just putting up a big wall. Make this option unchecked by default, and encourage better ways to solve the problem.


(Jeff Atwood) #2

This is still the correct default.

Note that at trust level 3 and beyond, links you post will be followed.


(Louis St Amour) #3

Google in “Penguin” updates has focused on giving less SEO-optimized websites a chance, while penalizing the advertorial approaches you mention. What’s funny is that nofollow actually benefits spammers now, just not in Google juice but instead in the lack of penalty “juice”: Can No Follow Links Hurt You? - SEO Chat


(Jack James) #4

What’s also funny is that Google have actually got website owners to do their job for them. Why does my site dictate to Google what it should index (or not)?


(Jeff Atwood) #5

It does seem that Google has weaponized followed links, like so:

In early 2011, Google issued an update to its search algorithm—they called it “Panda”—that elevated social media and news sites. Sites both big and small, usually spammy and sometimes not, saw major decline in their Google traffic. Companies like About and Mahalo and eHow cratered. Google said they wanted for “the ‘good guys’ making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded.”

In spring of 2012, Google moved on from Panda to Penguin, which further refined that goal, though still the updates sometimes had a negative effect on non-spam sites, cutting traffic to older and larger sites.

But it was the Penguin 2.1, released in October 2012, that sent spammers to the bitter edge; now they can’t repent fast enough for their spammy sins.

http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2013/11/15/seo-spammer-link-removal-request

http://www.theawl.com/2013/12/the-new-spammer-panic

Details on Pengiun:

Penguin’s job, in the most basic sense, is to devalue manipulative links. It does this to penalize websites that use one or more of the following tactics that Google has stated are against the Webmaster Guidelines.

Examples of Penguin bait include:

  • paid backlinks
  • low quality backlinks (typically generated using automated tools)
  • large numbers of links with optimized anchor text
  • excessive link exchanges
  • text advertisements that pass PageRank
  • other types of links listed on the link schemes webpage

(Stephanie Daugherty) #6

What about gradually removing the rel-nofollow based on activity in the topic? if a topic is still generating a lot of interest, the nofollow could be automatically removed in a matter of hours or days, provided the topic remains active/ and the post doesn’t get flagged.or edited.

Or perhaps have trust flow from users to posts via likes? Enough users with trust give likes, and the rel=nofollow gets dropped.


(Lowell Heddings) #7

This makes the most sense as an option for removing the nofollow, but the thresholds need to be set really high, and it needs to be configurable as an option to disable entirely.

You could make that algorithm even more safe by requiring one or more of those likes to be from a moderator or level 4 user.

This is the safest and most logical idea. It benefits the right people (the high quality sites that are being mentioned), doesn’t give needless SEO power to individual users, and is a safe option for the forum owner to enable (even by default).


The question has to be asked, what’s the point? And who does it benefit to remove nofollow?

As a forum owner, otherwise known as the actual Discourse customer, there no benefit whatsoever to removing nofollow and it is only a headache to deal with or worry about, since the second the word gets out that you’re allowing followed links, you have a target on your face for scammers and spammers.

The only reason you’d remove nofollow is to benefit sites that you really like. And as a forum owner, you can already decide to allow follow for links to specific domains. So if you are trying to make the web a better place and give some link juice to trusted sites, you can already do that.

If you are a forum member, the only benefit to removing nofollow is if you are trying to promote a service. Those are generally going to be your worst members, and it’s definitely not the right selling point for getting people to join your community.

Giving the power to remove nofollow to individual users is a really bad thing.

What happens when an SEO firm decides to start contacting your most trusted users and offering to pay them to sneak some links in to their domain? Think it can’t happen? Maybe you haven’t heard how the Google Chrome extension store is completely full of spyware and adware now because those shady companies started contacting every extension developer.

And if you think your forum regulars don’t like money, you need to spend some time thinking about what those regulars actually do for a living that allows them time to be on your forum all day long every single day.

Remember that one weird old site called Digg.com? One of the biggest reasons it imploded on itself is because the top users were dominating the algorithm, and they were getting paid to push BS links to the front page, so they resisted any change to make the site better. It went from being a site meant to help everybody to find interesting news by working together as a community… into a disaster. All because of SEO / marketing type of people.


So we’ve established that removing nofollow doesn’t benefit Discourse customers (forum owners), and it is a really bad thing to give to the users themselves.

The only reason to remove nofollow is to help Google with their algorithm, and to help other trustworthy sites increase their ranking (loosely called making the web a better place).

And that’s why I support an algorithm that removes nofollow only on individual posts by trusted users that have been liked by a configurable number of trusted people.

It benefits the right people, for the right reason, in the right way, and does not attract spammers and scammers.


(Dave McClure) #8

Just wanted to point out a remaining vulnerability to consider if something like this is done. Posts can be edited after the fact, so a user could gather the necessary likes, then go back and edit in their SEO juice.


(Lowell Heddings) #9

Another example why following links from TL3 members across the board doesn’t make sense.

What happens when a TL3 person wants to post a link to something that’s a little sketchy as part of a conversation? Why should that link automatically get follow status?

Or does that mean that anybody who gets TL3 all of a sudden has to help manage the site’s google presence? Or do they need to stop posting links except to sites that they really trust? Doesn’t that censor them?

For instance, my most prolific (and knowledgeable) forum member posted this link to the same site that has some sketchy downloads on it after the OP was flagged for linking to a sketchy Excel macro download. The page he linked to doesn’t have anything wrong on it, but the site itself is questionable.

He has TL3 status (and deserves it), but it’s a good example of why enabling followed links across the board for a user is a really bad idea. Thankfully I disabled that feature, so I don’t have to worry.

For another example, there’s a Meta forum topic about voluntary nofollow being stripped from TL3 users. Clearly that part is a bug, but the real question is why would somebody be manually adding nofollow to a link?

If you go to the original forum and read the original post in question, you’ll see the reason why:

Because you can’t add a link to anything on the web without passing pagerank by default.

Which means you have to ask all your forum regulars to censor themselves.

This “feature” needs to be disabled and reworked before being introduced again. It’s a bad default.