Google, “nofollow” and Comment Spam

January 19, 2005

The ‘net is all a-buzz with word of a new initiative by the Google, MSN and Yahoo search teams to “eliminate” comment spam from blogs.  What does this mean to you?

As discussed in our links tutorial, links to your site, particularly from other relevant sites, have a strong influence on where your site is positioned in search results.  Lots of links, lots of relevance, the closer to that first result you will be.  This is why getting inbound links from relevant sites is so important in your site’s marketing and traffic strategies.

Of course, this means that it’s important in spammer strategies too — spammers don’t just come in e-mail varieties.  Some of them put up websites, and attempt to get inbound links to those sites by any possible means.  Many of these links will not be terribly relevant, but what they don’t get in quality they make up for in sheer volume.  As their number of inbound links increase, their search engine traffic will increase as well.

Many of these spammers use blog comment systems to get links — they send around automated robots to post hundreds and thousands of comments wherever they can, all with links to their sites.  This is referred to as “comment spam”, and most current blogging systems have several “defense” alternatives to prevent or limit this.

Still, it’s a pain, and there are many who have been claiming that the problem would go away if the search engines gave them a way to tell the search engine’s robots that go out and index sites to ignore certain links.  Yesterday, the search engines announced that they would do just that.

The new trick is called “nofollow”, and it’s an attribute that can be placed on a link to tell the search engine to ignore the link.  Thus the site linked gets no credit for it.  The idea is that blogging software would place this on links in comments, and thus eliminate the motive for comment spam.

What does this mean to you?

Not much, actually. 

It won’t stop the comment spammers any time soon, because many blogs (like the ones that haven’t been posted to in six months)  won’t be updated to do this for a long time, if ever.  It’s a safe bet that most comment spammers will simply turn up their volume of spams in order to make up for any loss.  Their spam links can still be clicked on and get traffic that way, regardless of whether nofollow is set or not.

Should you stop making comments on other blogs relevant to yours, and including your link?  Absolutely not.  While the search engine boost may have been nice to get, a very important reason for commenting (other than to contribute to the discussion) is to make other bloggers and blog readers aware of your site.  This can still get you some very nice targeted traffic to your site, and if you have good content, it may well get other blog authors to post links to your site — links that won’t have “nofollow” set on them.

Will a link to your site that has “nofollow” on it hurt you in search engine results?  No, it just won’t help.

Over the long haul, there is some potential for this to be abused by other means, and it may mean that you have to be a little more careful about how you get involved in link trading, but time will tell how that will all pan out.

Does it mean that you should stop using comment spam controls on your weblog?  Nope.  If anything, they’ll become more important over the short term.  There is likewise no harm in adding “nofollow” systems as your weblog software makes them available, but I’ll suggest to you that if you’re not getting more comment spam than you can keep up with, it might not be worth doing — why not let people making legitimate comments get more value for the link for the time being?

Despite all of the buzz, for the moment “nofollow” is probably quite safe for you to ignore.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, SE Roundtable has gathered a number of representative links here.

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