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What is social bookmarking?

Social bookmarking is a way that users can store and retrieve links to resources online. The traditional way of saving links to web addresses that interested you was to save them as favourites on your own laptop or PC. Limitations to this function were that you couldn’t retrieve these links when you were web browsing at an internet kiosk or somewhere else. This also made it somewhat difficult to share these resources, you had to manually email them to anyone you thought may be interested.

The advent of social bookmarking allows you to store those links within programs such as Digg and Yahoo Bookmarks amongst many others. The actual resources aren’t shared, just the link or shortcut. You are able to organise these favourites in a way that is understandable to you and your social group, tagging items using natural language. This way, other users can understand what is in these links or data packs without having to actually download them.

Due to the nature of social bookmarking, these links often spread virally to many websites with little effort, and as the links are categorised by tags, topics and keywords, the traffic they bring to a site is extremely targeted which can generate more qualified customers and repeat visits.
All the tagging, organisation and descriptions of these bookmarks are classed as external meta tags and these are very useful for search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking purposes. This is even more important when you have a large number of users tagging these sites.

This highlights the other side to social bookmarking, the ability to rate and comment on the content of these online resources is also a highly regarded SEO tool. Additionally, the more users commenting and rating the site, the more visible the site is to search engines.

What is nofollow?

In the past, search engines started using links and the popularity of those links to help determine where a page would rank in the search engine indexes. Unscrupulous spammers utilised this fact by spamming anywhere there was user generated content such as blog comments. This blanketed these sites with spam content that included multitudinous links back to the spammers’ websites, thus influencing the ranking of their own websites whilst diminishing the value of the website they were spamming.

Subsequently, Google, Yahoo and others got together to create an attribute which would limit the ability of spammers to operate in this arena. They created the rel= “nofollow” attribute. Basically Nofollow is an HTML attribute value which tells search engines that a link should not be used to pass on page rank, thus eliminating the positive benefit to spammers.

How does nofollow work?

When the search engine sees a nofollow attribute, it knows to:

  • Not follow a link to its site
  • Not transfer PageRank or anchor text across the nofollow link
  • Not index the linked-to page unless it was already indexed for other reasons (such as a link which did not have a nofollow attribute, or the URLs were submitted to the search engine in a sitemap.
  • Not use the link tags as keywords for scoring relevancy
  • Not use this link for popularity scoring for rankings

How does social bookmarking and nofollow work together?

Most social sites use nofollow because comments can be hijacked by spambots to deposit useless comments with links to the spammers’ sites to gain traffic and link credibility to artificially increase their rankings with search engines. Using nofollow can help discourage spammers.

However, if you are working on your business and wish to receive backlinks from bookmarking sites, you will generally find that your website will receive no positive effect in search engines from sites which have nofollow. Therefore on the surface it would seem that there is no advantage to being a part of sites which use nofollow. This is not necessarily true. You can use social bookmarking sites with the nofollow attribute to your advantage to:

  • Create awareness of your product, site or philosophy on these sites giving your audience a chance to understand you and then manually find you
  • Increase your industry image by putting relevant, useful and professional content on these sites, the more useful copy you show to your target groups, the more authority you will gain.
  • Ask for links back to your site from those you assist and network with.
  • Creating content rich articles to garner interest and provide quality information. This has been called ‘link-baiting’ in the past, trying to garner links through headlines, but I prefer to think of this as being what good content writing is all about. To gain more connections, you can put in a lot of effort to create amazing content, write an eye catching or controversial headline, or maybe just be funny. All of these techniques are used regularly in other media forms to great success for both the provider and the reader.

What are the benefits to utilising bookmarking sites which do not use nofollow?

For sites which do not utilise the attribute nofollow, they take advantage of spam filters on the site, to reduce spamming in the first instance without having to resort to nofollow. These sites include

  • Digg
  • Slashdot
  • Searchles
  • Lifehack
  • Diigo
  • Yahoo bookmarks
  • Flickr

The benefit to utilising these sites includes being able to use natural language to write comments, organise and store bookmarks and research online. This then enables connections to your site with highly targeted language and thus very authentic and desirable for the traffic who follow the links to you. Your readers find you because you are speaking in a way that is attractive to them, just by being you.

Similarly, the more users on bookmarking sites (which don’t use nofollow) giving positive ratings and comments increase site credibility which will improve rankings by search engines.

Bookmarking sites are a bonus to all web users and utilising them with or without nofollow are legitimate tools for search engine optimisation provided you always keep the end in mind- good white hat content is always king for your readers.