Archived posts from the 'Microformats' Category

Google going to revamp the rel=nofollow microformat?

I’ve asked Adam Lasnik, Google’s search evangelist:

Adam, what is Google’s take on extending the nofollow functionality by working out a microformat that covers the existing mechanism w/o being that unclear and confusing, and which takes care of similar needs like section targeting on element level and qualified votes as well?

and he answered

Sebastian, nothing’s set in stone. Stuff is likely to evolve :)

That’s an elating signal, thank you Adam. And it leads to a bunch of questions.

Will Google continue to cook nofollow in its secret sauce, revealing morphed semantics (affiliate links), unpopular areas of application (paid links) and changed functionality (no longer fetching the linked resource) every now and then? From my interpretation of Google’s ongoing move to candidness I guess not.

Will Google gather a couple search companies to work out a new standard? I hope not, it would be a mistake not to involve content providers, webmasters, publishers, CMS vendors, even SEOs and opinion makers again.

Will Google ask for input? Will the process of defining a standard for micro crawler directives be an open and public discussion? Are we talking about an extended microformat, limited to the A element’s rel and rev attributes, or does Google think of a broader approach covering for example section targeting and other crawler directives in class attributes on block level too? Will a new or more powerful interfere other norms like , , , or drafts like the not yet that comprehensive microformat (also badly named because it covers inclusion too)? By the way, the links above lead you to interesting thoughts on reach, functionality and implementation of an extended norm replacing nofollow, and I, like many of you, have a couple more ideas and concepts in mind.

I take Adam’s tidbit as call for participation. Dear no-to-nofollow-sayers and nofollow-supporters out there, join the crowd at the white board! Throw in your thoughts, concepts, wishes and ideas.

In the meantime make use of this catalogue of do-follow plugins.

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Dear search engines, please bury the rel=nofollow-fiasko

The misuse of the rel=nofollow initiative is getting out of control. Invented to fight comment spam, nowadays it is applied to commercial links, biased editorial links, navigational links, links to worst enemies (funny example: Matt Cutts links to a SEO-Blackhat with rel=nofollow) and whatever else. Gazillions of publishers and site owners add it to their links for the wrong reasons, simply because they don’t understand its intention, its mechanism, and especially not the ongoing morphing of its semantics. Even professional webmasters and search engine experts have a hard time to follow the nofollow-beast semantically. As more its initial usage gets diluted, as more folks suspect search engines cook their secret sauce with indigestibly nofollow-ingredients.

Not only rel=nofollow wasn’t able to stop blog-spam-bots, it came with a build-in flaw: confusion.

Good news is that currently the nofollow-debate gets stoked again. Threadwatch hosts a thread titled Nofollow’s Historical Changes and Associated Hypocrisy, folks are ranting on the questionable Wikipedia decision to nofollow all outbound links, Google video folks manipulated the PageRank algo by plastering most of their links with rel=nofollow by mistake, and even Yahoo’s top gun Jeremy Zawodny is not that happy with the nofollow-debacle for a while now.

Say NO to NOFOLLOW - copyright jlh-design.comI say that it is possible to replace the unsuccessful nofollow-mechanism with an understandable and reasonable functionality to allow search engine crawler directives on link level. It can be done although there are shitloads of rel=nofollow links out there. Here is why, and how:

The value “nofollow” in the link’s REL attribute creates misunderstandings, recently even in the inventor’s company, because it is, hmmm, hapless.

In fact, back then it meant “passnoreputation” and nothing more. That is search engines shall follow those links, and they shall index the destination page, and they shall show those links in reversed citation results. They just must not pass any reputation or topical relevancy with that link.

There were micro formats better suitable to achieve the goal, for example Technorati’s votelinks, but unfortunately the united search geeks have chosen a value adapted from the robots exclusion standard, which is plain misleading because it has absolutely nothing to do with its (intended) core functionality.

I can think of cases where a real nofollow-directive for spiders on link level makes perfect sense. It could tell the spider not to fetch a particular link destination, even if the page’s robots tag says “follow”, for example printer friendly pages. I’d use an “ignore this link” directive for example in crawlable horizontal popup menus to avoid theme dilution when every page of a section (or site) links to every other page. Actually, there is more need for spider directives on HTML element level, not only in links, for example to tag templated and/or navigational page areas like with Google’s section targeting.

There is nothing wrong with a mechanism to neutralize links in user input. Just the value “nofollow” in the type-of-forward-relationship attribute is not suitable to label unchecked or not (yet) trusted links. If it is really necessary to adopt a well known value from the robots exclusion standard (and don’t misunderstand me, reusing familiar terms in the right context is a good idea in general), the “noindex” value would have been be a better choice (although not perfect). “Noindex” describes way better what happens in a SE ranking algo: it doesn’t index (in its technical meaning) a vote for the target. Period.

It is not too late to replace the rel=nofollow-fiasco with a better solution which could take care of some similar use cases too. Folks at Technorati, the W3C and whereever have done the initial work already, so it’s just a tiny task left: extending an existing norm to enable a reasonable granularity of crawler directives on link level, or better for HTML elements at all. Rel=nofollow would get deprecated, replaced by suitable and standardized values, and for a couple years the engines could interpret rel=nofollow in its primordial meaning.

Since the rel=nofollow thingy exists, it has confused gazillions of non-geeky site owners, publishers and editors on the net. Last year I’ve got a new client who added rel=nofollow to all his internal links because he saw nofollowed links on a popular and well ranked site in his industry and thought rel=nofollow could perhaps improve his own rankings. That’s just one example of many where I’ve seen intended as well as mistakenly misuse of the way too geeky nofollow-value. As Jill Whalen points out to Matt Cutts, that’s just the beginning of net-wide nofollow-insane.

Ok, we’ve learned that the “nofollow” value is a notional monster, so can we please have it removed from the search engine algos in favour of a well thought out solution, preferably asap? Thanks.

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Yahoo’s handling of the link condom

Folks are wondering why nofollow-links are shown in Yahoo’s backlink searches, site explorer results etc., and I’m wondering why the heck they’re wondering.

First, that’s not a new thing, the link condom has nothing to do with the ability to locate backlinks, so Yahoo always listed castrated citations and votes in link: and linkdomain: searches.

Second, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Yahoo’s handling of rel=nofollow links. The value “nofollow” of the REL attribute creates misunderstandings, because it is, hmmm, hapless.

In fact, it means “passnoreputation” and nothing more. That is search engines shall follow those links, and they shall index the destination page, and they shall show those links in reversed citation results.

There were micro formats better suitable to achieve the goal, for example Technorati’s votelinks, but unfortunately the search geeks have chosen a value adapted from the robots exclusion standard, which is plain misleading because it has absolutely nothing to do with its functionality.

So, since we now know that the “nofollow” value is a notional monster, can we please have it removed from the search engine algos asap? Thanks.

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Is the spam condom efficient and ethical?

Jim Boykin from WeBuildPages raises a few very good questions in his 2-part-essay on link condoms in blog comments. Jim finally asks “Is the rel=nofollow our friend or our enemy?” and I’ve no definite answer.

If Blogger would allow me to opt out of the comment condom thingy I would do it with this blog. When I don’t delete a comment containing a link, then the poster has something to say, and an embedded link doesn’t deserve castration regardless whether I agree or not. Well, perhaps I’d unlink overdone URL drops in some cases.

If I would run a popular blog, I’d like a white-list approach best. That is every link in comments gets sterilized by default and all posts are pre-moderated, captchas in place. Trusted users could post instantly without link condom, and I could pull the condom from particular comments. I’m not aware of any blog software handling it this way, unfortunately.

Is the spam condom efficient? Nope. Comment moderation, captchas, spam filters, perhaps even registering users is enough to prevent a blog from comment spam. Also, many blogs run outdated, never updated pre-nofollow software, that is savvy spammers can still inject crappy links at enough places to keep it profitable.

Is the spam condom ethical? Nope. At least not when the blogger can’t opt out. Not every comment is spam. Comments add content to a blog. Why penalize the content vendors?

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