Two years ago today, we released WordPress version 1.5. This was a pretty major release that introduced several new features that are still major staples of the current 2.1 branch: the Dashboard, Themes, and Pages. It also added a minor new change which was mildly controversial to some: comments were automatically flagged with the ‘nofollow’ attribute.
rel="nofollow" idea had good intentions: to give content producers a way to link to another site without implying that they approve of it. The way it works is that if Google, or Yahoo!, or any other service that uses this standard sees a
rel="nofollow" attribute on a link, they will ignore it. They don’t follow the link, and they don’t count the link in the destination site’s ranking calculations. One of the main use cases (as in WordPress’ case), was to reduce the effectiveness of comment spam, because the spammers would not get any “Google Juice” out of the links. Hurray for our side! We just stuck our finger in the spammer’s eye!
Unfortunately, we also tweaked the eyes of our regular readers, most of whom could probably use a little of that Juice. “Oh well,” we said. “That’s just the price we have to pay for a little peace of mind.” Well, most of us said that. Some were adamantly opposed to the nofollow idea. Many of us knew that it was just a bandaid, and that it wouldn’t really deter spammers from trying, it would just reduce their ability to get high rankings in search engines.
At the time, comment spam was a pretty major problem on many blogs, and there weren’t many effective remedies. It seemed like all of us spent the beginning of each day going through our comment queue, manually deleting the garbage that made it through the gauntlet of whatever defenses we did have in place. So, nofollow was the last-ditch attempt to deny satisfaction to the spammers when our other measures failed. But it did not discriminate. It had no way to know whether it was de-juicing a good guy or a bad guy. (Eric Meyer had some good thoughts on this subject, BTW.)
These days, many sites have better anti-spam measure in place. Akismet has been very effective, and many WordPress users swear by Spam Karma 2. With measures like these in place, hardly any spams ever make it through to be displayed on your blog. And if they do, hopefully you delete them pretty quickly after they appear. So, that’s even better than just telling search engines not to index their links. They can’t index something that they never see in the first place, right?
With that in mind, I’ve installed Kimmo Suominen‘s dofollow plugin here, and configured it to remove the rel=”nofollow” attribute from comment links after two days. The two day limitation is to account for the occasional hiccup where spam might make it through over a weekend, and I don’t get to delete it immediately. The important thing is that I’ll be giving back the Juice to the comments that get to stay here. If you’ve got a WordPress blog, and you feel like comment spam is under control on your site, I encourage you to do the same.