Full disclosure: this post was written late at night under the influence of a free streaming music site with healthy doses of Them, Leonard Cohen, Kruder & Dorfmeister, & Portishead. No volcano vaporizer was harmed in the making of this post.
The effectiveness of nofollow tags has been the subject of epic debate on the SEO blog of record as well as on the other ten million and growing SEO blogs of record. I guess if Google were using them that might put the argument to rest right? Well, feast your eyes on the YouTube home page (the pink highlights=nofollow):
The YouTube HomePage Does Not Promote Individual Videos
Upon closer inspection you will notice that YouTube is tagging all video title links off its homepage as nofollow. Conventional SEO wisdom says that if you tag a link as nofollow the link does not pass pagerank. So why would YouTube not want to pass pagerank to videos featured on the homepage, perhaps the most important content on the most powerful page SEO-wise on the site? My first reaction was, as noted above, that YouTube’s SEO guy had scored some Bopper.
Or had he? Maybe he was on to something with his bizarre bot herding tactics. And maybe it was I, your trusted companion in looking through the glass onion that is Google, who had perhaps taken it one toke over the line?
I noticed the homepage links that are “dofollow” are the member channel names (e.g. “The Amazing Atheist“) and the main navigation links. So?
The Video Detail Page
Click on a video title link and the method to the madness starts to unfurl a bit. As you can see below on YouTube’s video detail page, all video title links continue to be nofollowed, as do the member name links in the comments. The only non-navigation links that are not nofollowed are the member channel names.
The Member Channel Page
Click on a member channel page and you’ll notice that almost every link is nofollowed again with a few glaring exceptions:
- The “see all” links to the page that shows all of the member channel videos.
- Member name links on comments
- Comment pagination links
and perhaps most significantly:
- Video title links to the most recent video on the channel
- Video title links to videos that have been recently rated (in the “My Recent Ratings” section)
What gives YouTube Guy?
If you click over to one of those commenter pages like JesusBroughtMeAKitty, you’ll see the same pattern basically as the member channel page.
If you head up to the main navigation and hit the “video” link in the nav you get the video browse page which appears to be passing pagerank to member channel pages and not to site channel category pages (e.g. “Comedy“) – these are blocked in YouTube’s robots.txt file. The same pattern is used on the member browse page as well. Interestingly, the “Community” page has no nofollow tags. It consists primarily of links to member channel pages.
There are a number of other pages on the site but this covers the big ones.
So what have we learned from our long strange trip down the nofollow rabbit hole?
- YouTube apparently thinks it’s worth using the nofollow tag – and then some
- YouTube seems to think that member names are a big deal
- YouTube seems to think that it’s worth trying to improve pagerank for only the most recent videos and recent commenters
So why is that?
Here’s what I think:
- The YouTube SEO guy is playing such a 3D chessboard kind of game here that perhaps he is not on crack after all. This is starting to look more like an acid trip to me.
- Seems like YT is banking that good videos will get all of the pagerank they need from inbound links from other sites. More than almost any other site YouTube enjoys perhaps the most linkable content – Yahoo says they have 239,000,000 inbound links – so who cares about internal pagerank flow from the homepage when you’ve got a firehose coming in through the side door?
- The focus on the member channel pages seems like a play to become the defacto homepage for these people/brands. I guess if I am YouTube, I would rather outrank your MySpace page, your blog, your Linkedin page, etc. for searches for you. And given the insane amount of power YouTube has in Google, I am guessing that it is pretty easy for this strategy to get them to the top or close to it for many of its members. A data point of one, but if you look at this results page for The Amazing Atheist you’ll see this effect at work.
- The lifting of nofollow tags from the most recent videos and commenters on certain pages seems like a way to prime the pump on new content. Despite YouTube’s massive SEO power, it still has to prioritize content for the search engine bots. I am guessing that they want this new stuff in the index and ranked as fast as possible, perhaps to take advantage of topical searches, but more likely just to give this new stuff a head start in the index.
So there you have it. This is YouTube:
This is YouTube on nofollow:
A tip of the crack pipe to Mark for turning me on to this particular stash of nofollow tags.