Beginner’s Guide to SEO: rel = ‘no-follow’

Posted on September 14, 2010

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I’ve recently created a website for Debbie’s Cake’ole and, as usual, I offered minimal Search Engine Optimisation services with the site. Now I’m far from an expert in SEO but I assumed a well made, valid HTML website with reasonable URL structure, headings, titles, links and description would be more than enough to get Google to take notice.

In addition to internal matters I ensured that well known sites where Debbie’s Cake’ole already had a presence linked to the new address. With a Facebook fan page, a Flickr account (with a large number of Photos) and a listing on Yell.com I thought the site would be well placed for quick indexing and, hopefully, high rankings.

Not so, after a month or so of using .htacces 301 redirects to send traffic from the old address to the new address the site still wasn’t appearing in Google search results. Odd. Although I saw no reason for it I considered the possibility that as the old address still existed to forward to the new URL could be causing the problem. As such I completely deleted the old site that was still appearing in the results, expecting this to remove the old URL from results and that the new URL would subsequently be added…

I was half right. The old site did disappear from Google but the new site didn’t take its place…ah, the business effectively had no presence in search results (the Flickr page would come up, as would a few others but not the site itself). This was disconcerting at best and I decided to investigate further. It was at this point that I noticed my big assumption that was causing problems.

Flickr, Facebook, Yell.com and I suspect many other big name sites all have the rel attribute of external links set to ‘no-follow’.

I’ll repeat that, some of the biggest sites businesses use for networking tell Google to ignore external links when working out their importance and relevance.

Now, I can understand taking this approach for user submitted content such as comments or a Facebook ‘Wall’. These situations would make it too easy for spammers and the like to abuse the facility in order to improve their rankings. However, for vetted sites (such as Yell.com) or profile/fan pages (such as Flickr and Facebook) does it really make sense to not allow a single, named account to gain prominence by using the service?

Either way, I doubt these companies are going to change their policies any time soon so remember: networking and directory sites provide many advantages to a business and should not be ignored as a way to connect with users but do not rely on them to help you get listed on Google or to improve your ranking. You’ll have to look elsewhere for these purposes.

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