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Does Google have the ability to crawl the nofollow links is one hell of a question being discussed by the leading SEO experts around the globe. The search giant has some policy norms with regard to its usage and here’s where the main issue creeps up.

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Google, as per its monogamous approach, has been promoting it across its long search handle. This was done basically to stop Google PageRank or link juice to pass on to web pages. On the contrary, the tag was utilized by many online entities to save on their online budget and prioritize their highly ranked landing pages. This according to Moz’s Rand Fishkin is against the standard SEO practices to stop Google from crawling back. Here’s a recent post from Rand.

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With that said, tests were carried out right away by SearchLaboratory, to come up with the conclusions as below.

TESTING THE THEORY

These tests were carried out in highly conducive search environment, where research was carried out on different SEO parameters. Finally, the results were there to see, which was only made possible with some research-based solution to the problem whether Google is able to crawl nofollow links or not.

TEST REQUIREMENTS

  • Two untested domains
  • Unused set of server backups for each domain

TEST PROCESS

  • As a safety measure, it was ensured that during the test run, the search engine crawler was blocked by both sites using the robots.txt file. It was done so as to ensure that the search bots don’t hamper the study results
  • Only three pages were setup on each domain – The main web page, 2nd page (call it Page X) and 3rd page (call it Page Y)
  • Link the Page X from the main web page and add the nofollow tag
  • Now, link Page Y from the main web page without the nofollow tag. This was done to ensure that Google isn’t ignoring it but crawling down the page.
  • Further, they used the Google Search Consoles, “Fetch as Google” feature and select “Crawl only this URL” option to make sure Google organically crawls the nofollow links and not by any external means.

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  • Finally, observe Googlebot’s movement in raw access log files

TEST RESULTS

These experimental tests were carried out a month ago in July this year and observed the movement of search engine crawl. It was observed on both sites as below.

SITE 1:

URL Crawl instances 
robots.txt 57 
Main web page         20 
/page-x/
/page-y/  4


SITE 2:

URL Crawl instances 
robots.txt            40
Main web page 10
/page-x/ 0
/page-y/ 3

Based on the above stats, there were doubts that whether the link to page Y may have gone unnoticed during the crawl. Hence, the second option i.e. “Crawl this URL and its direct links” was used to further evaluate the results.

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And the most recent data (taken 24th August 2015) shows the following crawl activity by Googlebot:

SITE 1:

URL Crawl instances 
robots.txt 5113 
The main web page          69 
/page-x/
/page-y/  8

 SITE 2:

URL Crawl instances 
robots.txt 75
The main web page          39 
/page-x/
/page-y/  4

Still absolutely no crawl activity by Google on the no follow link! Despite Google finding the test site 113 times and 75 times respectively, crawling the homepage 69 times and 39 times, and even following the link to /page-y/ a handful of times on each site, we saw zero hits on /page-x/, which was only accessible through that no follow link on our homepage.

TEST CONCLUSION

Although this whole experimental activity was carried out on a small scale, there are some observations that were drawn that the search giant obeyed its rule of not crawling the tag links and even not visiting the linked pages therein. Henceforth, it can be brought to the final conclusion that the search giant doesn’t crawl the links tagged as nofollow as such and these shreds of evidences can further be used as a measure to save the crawl budget and indexation of your web pages.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

About The Author

Dave Thompson works at AgencyPlatform.com, a White Label Software + Services provider for online marketing agencies.

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