Marking a link as nofollow indicates to search engines that they shouldn't use this link to determine their rankings of search results. This is meant to prevent spam that artificially increases the search engine ranking of a specific site.

Links are nofollow by default on SE sites, but this attribute is removed under certain circumstances.

This makes certainly sense on our site for links in answers, they are supposed to be references to trustworthy sources. But links in questions here are often exactly the kind of site that shouldn't get any boost in their search ranking. If we link to sites peddling pseudoscience to establish the notability of a claim, that site shouldn't get a better ranking in search results due to that.

I propose that all links in questions should always remain as nofollow, no matter how high the user reputation or the post score is. This would not affect links in answers, they would remain as they are now.


I disagree. Link rank shows their notability, nothing else. In particular not their reliability.

I agree that it’s not necessarily beneficial that certain sites get boosts from linking to them here. Then again, there sites which do reap legitimate benefits from the boost. And furthermore we debunk the bad sites (hopefully) so even if they get a boost, we more than counter-balance that amount of misinformation.

In fact, I object fundamentally to the use of the nofollow attribute. It destroys the internet. The whole point of the internet is to have a highly interconnected web of links. nofollow destroys this to the benefit of a few large sites, who appoint themselves arbiters of what’s good and what isn’t (with the not unwanted side-effect of harming competition – it’s hugely anti-competitive). I’d go as far as saying that it’s the equivalent of price fixing in economy, and just as morally objectionable.

So while I agree that some sites that are linked to here should ideally not gain a higher link rank in search engines, I strongly object to the idea that we appoint ourselves arbiters of this decision – especially since this site is by its very nature not an uninterested third party. I also see a huge collateral damage due to not boosting the link rank of notable primary and secondary sources.

  • The whole "nofollow" stuff seems to be a giant mess, the first time SE removed the nofollow from certain links it crashed the traffic of Server Fault. Currently most links are "nofollow" here on Skeptics, only around 100 posts have their "nofollow" status removed. SE is already just guessing which links are trustworthy.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Jul 19 '12 at 19:52
  • 2
    @Fabian SE has no business guessing this. I can only repeat that I strongly disagree with this anti-competitive practice. In fact, the effect observed that you link to is a consequence of the vicious nofollow cycle. Jul 19 '12 at 19:53

I agree with the Fabian's post and I totally disagree with what Konrad says in his answer here. The purpose of being a skeptic is to improve the net quality of information people are exposed to.

Linking to pseudoscience, paranormal and other nonsense information gives that information a boost in Google and other search engines. This makes it more visible to the general public - precisely the opposite result of that goal. And because of the nature of search engines there is no guarantee that the boosted site will appear along side the corresponding question in the results. (i.e. We are boosting the original bad information, but there is no guarantee the people who see it will also come here and see the correction).

In fact, the problem is particularly bad with this site and with particularly fringe ideas. stackexchange.com has a pretty good PageRank. Many of these ideas are espoused on tiny websites that receive little or no other notice across the web. Linking to them from this domain can represent a tremendous boost to their visibility.

I do not see at all how nofollow "destroys the internet". I think comparing this to price fixing is patently ridiculous. A nofollowed link is still a link, a person can still click it, they can still see the original content. The original site can still derive ad revenue from those clicks and have a full opportunity to convince and solicit that user with ideas or sales.

I think it is precisely the opposite - the web has a flaw in it, and nofollow repairs that. The flaw is the way links are used by search engines - as a positive link only. Since a search engine can only consider a bare link as an endorsement, we have no way to indicate disapproval of content.

We do not owe other sites boosts in search engines. There is no obligation to us to help publicize the very material we are debunking. That obligation falls upon the people who want to push those ideas, and they are certainly free to get as many non-nofollowed links to their content (on other websites) as they wish to. It's not that hard, there are literally billions of websites that they can try to get to links on.

For more information: I have written about this multiple times on my blog and on randi.org.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .