How Does Google Really Treat Nofollow Links?

Last week Loren Baker asked the search engines how they treat links with the rel=”nofollow” attribute added to them. MSN didn’t respond and Ask said they don’t support nofollow and so treat those links the same as any other. Yahoo responded by saying they do follow the link and will index the page on the other side, but the link won’t pass any juice to the page being linked to. Google claimed they don’t follow the link at all and thus won’t index the page on the other side assuming no other links (internal or external) point to the page. But is that how Google really treats nofollow links?

I have a hard time believing Google’s claims. When I check links in Webmaster Tools I can tell you that they show backlinks to pages where the only inbound link has rel=”nofollow” applied. If Googlebot didn’t follow that link how could they show it as a backlink?

Today Neil Patel asked do nofollow links count and pointed to a post Ben Fisher wrote which was supposed to offer proof that Google ranked pages based on the anchor text coming from nofollow links alone. Jeremy Luebke showed how the proof was false in the comments to Neil’s post, but I still wonder.

Quadzilla followed up on Neil’s post with some ideas on what Google can do to verify nofollow links.

Because Google has so much market penetration with Analytics and the Google Toolbar, they can look at a link and verify it’s integrity (to some extent) by how many users actually click the link.

Now I have no way of knowing if Google is verifying links in that manner, but it’s an interesting idea, especially given Google’s move toward personalization.

At the moment my sense, albeit without any proof, is the same as what Halfdeck said in a comment on Neil’s post.

Nofollow leaks anchor text…
…The effect is probably minor but still, nofollow doesn’t block anchor text completely.

I’m curious if anyone has experimented with nofollow links and wanted to share their results. Maybe I’ll set up a simple experiment and see what I can find.

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