Anyone plugged into the Web these days has heard about how Google has supposedly changed the way it deals with nofollow attributes. According to a number of speculative reports, Google will no longer apply unused nofollow PageRank to other links on the page. So, let’s say that you have some sites that have been PageRank “sculpted” by way of strategically applied nofollow tags. For example, you may have nofollowed all of your comment, footer, or sidebar links. Ever since Google pushed nofollow down our throats back in 2005, their policy has been such that:
- Nofollowed links are not followed
- PageRank does not flow through nofollowed links
- Incoming PageRank is allocated to all remaining dofollow links
With this policy, if your page has 100 links, and 50 of them are nofollow, all of the PageRank pouring into that page will go to the 50 dofollow links (i.e., links that are not nofollowed). Many PR-sculpted sites use this technique to funnel Rank to key pages, money pages, single posts, and so on. Instead of “wasting” link juice on unimportant pages, nofollow once enabled you to serve all of that tasty juice to your targeted links instead . But not any more.
Now, with Google’s new nofollow policy, those 50 targeted dofollow links on your page will no longer get the extra juice leftover from the 50 nofollow links. Instead of re-allocating PageRank from nofollow links to dofollow links, your leftover juice just disappears! As far as I understand it at this time (at which Google has yet to clarify or explain their “new” nofollow policy), any juice saved from nofollow links is not re-applied to your money links, and it doesn’t stay with the page that contains the links either. It just vanishes.
So, if you have been using nofollow to retain some of your incoming rank juice and keep it on your money pages, forget about it. Google is changing the game. Got a post with tons of nofollow comment links? Goodbye PageRank. Got a sidebar full of superfluous internal links? Goodbye PageRank. You might as well make them all dofollow, because they are sucking the juice just the same and effectively pouring it right down the drain. I mean, this sucks, right?
Dealing with it.
For some of us with heavily sculpted sites, this is extremely bad news. Think your SEO clients will notice when their PageRank falls through the floor? What about when their money pages begin to choke? Fortunately, there are several ways to deal with Google’s new nofollow policy, although I’ll be the first to admit that most of them are pretty undesirable, especially where usability and accessibility are concerned. Nonetheless, if Google insists on changing the game halfway through, we should at least be knowledgeable of our alternatives. Let’s have a look..
I know, I know, “iframes” is a dirty word in most circles, but they can be very effective at preventing Google from seeing an entire sidebar full of inconsequential links or a few hundred comments for your single post pages. All of your bipedal, standards-compliant friends will mock you for using them, but for some, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Another frequently overlooked mechanism of hoarding PageRank from your comment area is to use WordPress’ built-in paged-comments functionality. Maybe show a few comments on the post page, and then meta-noindex/nofollow the rest of them on their own dedicated comment pages. Oh, and you may want to check out this plugin to help with any unintended duplicate content issues.
Keep in mind that these methods are designed to help with on-page link sculpting when nofollow attributes cease to operate as originally intended (thanks Google). There are of course many other ways to optimize your pages and control the flow of PageRank throughout your site (e.g., robots.txt, meta directives, strategic linking and so on), but the focus of this article is aimed specifically at nofollow and how to deal with Google’s new policy. Hopefully you have a better idea of how things might be changing and some good ideas for dealing with it.
 For a good explanation of how this works, see Mr. Fishkin’s excellent description.