NoFollow and Pink Boxes

Did you know that using social network buttons can hurt your search engine rankings?

Every single link on your page gives some weight to the pages it is linking to, whether internal or external.

  • It is nice to share that with the people who visit your website, post comments, or trackback
  • It is a good idea to share as much as possible with your own internal pages
  • When you link to people in your posts who provide good information, that is what the web and linking are all about.
  • It is a good idea to have 50 links on your page pointing to social network sites

Why did I cross out the last point on my list?

This isn’t a perfect world and can you really trust everything that appears on a social network site? At one time social network and bookmarking sites kindly reciprocated links, but the growing trend is that they retain all their pagerank internally by using “nofollow” in their links.

So obviously we should follow suit.

I have recently looked at a few people’s front pages that were showing full post content, and they had social bookmark buttons by every post, and maybe 5 posts on their front page.
If they used 10 buttons then that is

5 x 10 = 50 External (worthless) links

Honestly there were worse cases.

Now I don’t go exploring the html markup of every page I visit, in fact I rarely do that unless that are doing something interesting instead of… well I won’t say stupid, because 99% of websites are doing this, how about “ill informed”.

You see when I look at my own pages I see something like this:-

nofollow social buttons

Pink Boxes with CSS to Show Nofollow?

Matt Cutts originally posted a way to do this on his blog some time ago, and this was quickly adopted by the people who make the Search Status Firefox Plugin.
Note that is a real link, so if you were using Search Status NoFollow highlighting, it would appear normal without the pink.

You switch on the display of the CSS highlighting like this.

NoFollow CSS Highlighting

Lots of people are using the Sociable plugin, so I am going to show you how to modify that plugin so you don’t leak pagerank so much.
note: another real link that deserves a real link without nofollow

Sociable 1.2 Modified Code

Around line 250 I have added “nofollow” – note I also \ escaped the quotes \”

		$url = str_replace('BLOGNAME', $blogname, $url);

		$html .= "<a href=\"$url\" title=\"$sitename\" rel=\"nofollow\">";
		$html .= "<img src=\"$imagepath{$site['favicon']}\" alt=\"$sitename\" />";
		$html .= "</a></li>\n";

Next you have to… wait that is it, one little change, and some blogs might maintain

50% more pagerank internally

I say might, because if Google can really detect everything they suggest they can detect, they would have totally discounted links to social bookmarking sites ages ago.
But just because Google gives them a lower rating, doesn’t necessarily mean that they remove less Google Juice you could be supplying to other links on your page, to your visitors who leave a comment (hint), people who link to you via trackback, (larger hint), and your internal pages.

Obviously if you want to have no search engine traffic, you can deliberately leave the links to the social bookmark sites intact. In fact, if you add more of them, and increase the size of your blogroll (again followed links), eventually you can waste almost all of your Google Juice on links that highlight other people’s sites and not your own.

I have now released a hacked version of the Sociable plugin that includes these vital SEO changes, plus a few bug fixes. Download the Antisocial version of Sociable for WordPress

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  1. says

    Nice. Somewhere along the way I installed something that puts the pink boxes around nofollow links, but I wasn’t sure what the pink boxes were about. Just knew i saw them here and there. Nice to know what the deal is now.

    Also this goes to show that you can’t just assume anything. I had been using another plugin that created javascript links to the bookmarking sites, and assumed that sociable did the same thing, so I just loaded up on them. My blog must be a veritable wonderland of what not to do for seo for you, Andy.

  2. Andy Beard says

    The good news is it is very easy to clean these things up.

    Subscribeme has a similar problem, so you might think about hacking the code, or adding the subscription buttons manually.

    I would also stick your tags somewhere on the single posts, maybe at the bottom and make use of UTW related posts.

    You will still end up with quite a “ball” structure, but it is a lot of hard work currently doing anything about that.

    You are better at CSS and PHP than me, so I am sure you will have no problems.

  3. says

    Yeah, related posts is on my list of things to do, but I have to rip it all apart and reinstall it first. Right now the only thing UTW does is create the tag page links in the posts. Everything else is handled by the internal categories code from WP, and the tag cloaud is actually a category heat map plugin modified to point to category pages, modified to seem like tag pages.

    What a tangled web. ;)

    Back when I started using UTW it didn’t do nearly what it does now, and there was no way to make local tag pages, so I hacked away at things to get it to do it anyways, but I had to go to a completely tag formay and turn the categories into tags to make it work. Now, as a result, using some of the other features are unpredictable and quixotic.

  4. says

    Andy, thanks for the tips. I know there’s a lot of controversy out there regarding page rank leakage, but your explanation here makes sense. I’ve implemented the change you suggested in the sociable plugin on my own blog. Also, thanks for pointing to the search status firefox plugin. And, yes, I’ll be linking to this article.

  5. says

    Andy, I just recently came across this post. Great tip on sociable. I was able to hack it and now have nofollow on those links. Would you recommend the same for the digg plugin? With this plugin your link points to a form before your posts is submitted but later it points to the entry at Digg. What do you think about it?

  6. says

    The DiggThis type plugins all use javascript so no worries

    I still intend to use Sociable for at least some bookmark buttons on my redesign

  7. says

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the great tips. I have been looking for it for some time.
    Just wondering:

    if I am using the latest Sociable 2.0, where do I add the code? Do I add it in the Sociable.php?

    If you can be more clear on that, it will be great.

  8. says

    Hi Andy, top blog you have here! I see you came across Viralink at some point, it’s still an ongoing experiment and we’ll see how Google reacts to it in the coming months.
    I was looking for a contact email but couldn’t find one. I’m commenting to ask how you insert snippets of PHP code into your posts. I have tried a couple of plug-ins but the code still gets processed by php!

    Andy help would be much appreciated!


    • says

      I actually think the Viral list is one stage worse than the link exchanges people used to do with unrelated sites, with their 20 pages deep of “resource” directories – at least those had anchor test.

      So far it cost me around 10 emails explaining why it isn’t a very good solution, most of those emails from quite experienced bloggers and webmasters, who just wanted to confirm their opinion.

      As a viral idea it is also fairly hard to maintain especially for people who can’t or don’t know how to send trackbacks.

      I have a contact form linked to from the front page.

      For displaying code I use a combination of

      • says

        Yeah, i know you dont like the viralink idea but it has had some non SEO benefits. I’ve found some great blogs and people through it.

        Cheers :-)


  9. Mindy Koch says

    Just upgraded to the latest WP version and am getting a “function implode” error with this plugin. Got a quick fix idea for me, Andy?

  10. says


    I was thinking, can you add a ‘nofollow’ icon to your antisocial plugin linking to plugin homepage, so that blog readers can easily find it from any blog page. Also, if you do that, you can spread a word to your regular readers to switch to antisocial, and in time, hopefully, more and more blog owners will become aware of this nofollow nonsense. Currently, mostly only SEO community is aware of it.


  11. says

    Funny how when I started blogging the first thing that amazed me was this huge blogrolls on some blogs. Do a site: search and you find thousands of links pointing to really bad sites including some where not even active sites they would point to suspended pages. Never really understood that mentality. Yet just did a search of some blogs and sure enough they are still the same. Then you see there bitch post on how Google sends them no traffic lol.

  12. says

    Thank you so much. This is the first time I’ve heard about social network and bookmarking sites and blogroll links depleting my “Google Juice”. I had no idea and here I’ve been adding all these great blogs to my Blogroll. I will pair it down first thing tomorrow. I’ve only been bloging for a few months and boy do I have a lot to learn. Thanks again.


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