Here’s part II of what I’ll be talking about at SMX Local in a few minutes.

So you’re a business and you have a local website or websites you like (or don’t like but have been successful at not dealing with that issue). Your business info is listed all over the Web. You’re on a lot of the Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) sites. They even link to your website from their page about you (I call it the Business Profile Page or BPP). One of the core principles of SEO is that getting reputable sites to link to your site is a good thing. But guess what? DID YOU KNOW THAT SOME OF THE LARGEST YELLOW PAGES SITES ARE TRYING TO PREVENT YOU FROM BEING FOUND IN THE SEARCH ENGINES? (caps used for emphasis)

“Whatchoo talking bout Willis?” you say?

In the search engines’ eyes when a site links to another they pass part of their reputation to that site. That reputation can help the linked-to site rank well in the search engines for certain search terms, unless the linking site does not want to pass their reputation on. By adding a line of code known as “NoFollow” to the link, the linking site is preventing their reputation from being passed. Now look at your BPP on the following IYPs and you’ll see that all of them have NoFollows on their links to your site. (You’ll need to view the page source and find the link in the code):

<!–[if !supportLists]–> <!–[endif]–>Citysearch

<!–[if !supportLists]–> <!–[endif]–>DexKnows

<!–[if !supportLists]–> <!–[endif]–>Yelp

<!–[if !supportLists]–> <!–[endif]–>Insiderpages

They are preventing their reputations from passing to you because they want to rank higher than you for searches for your business so they can sell you more traffic that you could have gotten yourself.

Now this is a perfectly legitimate business practice. Nothing illegal going on here. In fact it is necessary to put NoFollows on links to sites with questionable reputations so that their bad juju doesn’t rub off on your site in the search engine’s eyes. This is why NoFollows are sometimes referred to as “LINK CONDOMS” (caps used for eye-catching salacious terms). But what kills me is that the IYPs are achieving their rankings in the search engines based on the information about your business that you give to them. Oh wait a minute, actually it’s based on the information about your business that some of you PAY to give to them.

So what’s a girl to do?

If I were you and I advertised on one of these sites, I would call my sales rep and ask them why they are not linking to your site correctly and insist that they remove the NoFollow. I’d ask why they are impugning my reputation by using a LINK CONDOM on my BPP (and don’t forget to use the caps)? Then I’d ask how much money am I losing by not having a clean link and what percent of my ad spend with you does that equal? It’s not infeasible that 100% of the traffic to your BPP on these sites comes from SEO.

Maybe it’s time to start a revolution or a class action lawsuit or something. I think it’s time for a campaign to “Say No to No Follow” on the IYPs. Please add your name to the comments section of this page to show your support. If we can rally around this enough I will get it to the CEOs of all the major IYPs and see if we can’t get them to publicly sign it. Or maybe they’ll just have me whacked. Whatever the result stay tuned…

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19 Response Comments

  • Josh Garner  October 1, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    I’m with you Andrew,

    If I’m to pay a fee to get my clients into a directory, and I do, then my client should reap the link benefit. Why are we little guys giving to the big guys? In this industry, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

  • Andrew Shotland  October 1, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Absolutely Josh. One caveat – I spoke with the Dex guys and it sounds like it’s not an intentional move on their part – they noindexed, nofollowed the entire page because they had a duplicate content issue they were trying to solve.

    Still adds up to they are nofollowing the business’ websites.

    There’s definitely a big place for the IYPs in the marketing mix, but they shouldn’t be keeping the small guys down whether it’s intentional or not.

  • Michael Dorausch  October 1, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Nice way to make friends with the big yellows, bet they’ll be offering to buy you drinks, NOT!

    Had no idea this was a practice but did suspect it. Thanks for continuing to bring info from the event!

  • Chris McMahon  October 1, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Another example of Google not thinking things through…

  • Andrew Shotland  October 1, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Michael, most of the IYPs don’t use this technique but all it takes is one aggressive SEO guy to add the tag and it’s the kind of thing that the CEO’s would not understand. I’ll see if I can work the Superpages guys out of a beer and report back 🙂

    Chris, interesting point. Should Google be responsible for knowing that this isn’t kosher?

  • Neil Street  October 2, 2007 at 6:03 am

    Great post Andrew. It’s my understanding that not only are the IYPs pulling this stunt (in order to not give away link juice) but almost every vertical directory THAT CHARGES A FEE does so also. And you know what? The BIGGER the directory, the more likely it is that that link has a condom on it.

    I believe this is because the bigger directories have the best SEO staff, who know what they’re doing, and aren’t about to pass link juice to poor shmucks who are paying for their links, but wouldn’t know link juice from orange juice.

    An example? Look at (Home page page rank is 7). Almost the first thing you see on their home page is the link at top right for “local vendors.” Click all the way through, for example, to Caterers, Connecticut. There is so much link juice on this site, it’s still a page rank 4 interior page. Now look at the listings. Are those website links to the caterers passing juice? No, it’s a total redirect. No SEO benefit at all to the small business. But everything about the way it’s set up is of huge SEO benefit to And the businesses are paying for it.

    It’s the same with other major verticals that are of interest and value to local businesses. It would be great to see some pressure brought on these players to give the small businesses the link juice they are paying for. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope that the big guys will fold, whether IYPs or verticals. Bottom line: it’s actually a major part of their business model. (I don’t believe for one second that Dex does not know exactly what they are doing).

  • Andrew Shotland  October 2, 2007 at 7:17 am

    Neil, thanks for the example. This practice is running rampant all over the Web and most businesses that are affected by it don’t understand it. The only way it’s going to change is by exposing it and getting the knowledge spread all over the Web.

    Re Dex, not to be their apologists, but I had a pretty detailed discussion with them about why this is occurring. Like most big co’s they built their site on a platform that wasn’t optimized for SEO and ran into the problem of having multiple versions of a business profile page so they opted to noindex,nofollow the page entirely and use their “storefront” advertiser pages as the ones that get indexed. I told them that they could just remove the nofollow from the pages or at the least put the pages in robots.txt but they didn’t seem to grasp why that would make a difference. I honestly don’t think there is anything underhanded going on here but then again, you never know.

  • Jonas Almgren  October 2, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Redirects are very different from the nofollow links discussed above. A redirect does in fact pass along page rank (SEO benefit), unless the link also has a nofollow attribute.

    Sites usually use redirects on external links to track link clicks, not to prevent SEO sharing.

    See Neil’s point below arguing that this in fact not the case. My experience is that at best redirects in links are a poor way of passing pagerank. – Andrew

  • Ask Bjørn Hansen  October 4, 2007 at 4:16 am

    Hear hear!

    This actually was one of our reasons for making YellowBot! There’s just way too much crap like this going on.

    On YellowBot we make a point out of never doing the nofollow thing on the “official” URL for a business. Our goal is to make it easier for people to find things, and in the big scheme of things adding nofollow makes it harder – not easier.

    I guess we could get some marginal SEO benefit out of using nofollow, but come on — life is too short!

    – Ask

  • Andrew Shotland  October 4, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Hey Ask Bjorn,

    When I was researching this post I was surprised to find that you guys were not nofollowing these links since you guys are clearly ninth level SEO ninjas. Glad to hear you guys are putting the business and users first.

    Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to following your SEO exploits.

  • Neil Street  October 5, 2007 at 7:04 am

    “Redirects are very different from the nofollow links discussed above. A redirect does in fact pass along page rank (SEO benefit), unless the link also has a nofollow attribute.” – Jonas

    Everyone else agree with this? I thought redirects did not pass along page rank, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • Neil Street  October 5, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    “Redirects are very different from the nofollow links discussed above. A redirect does in fact pass along page rank (SEO benefit), unless the link also has a nofollow attribute.” – Jonas

    The folk at would beg to differ. I submitted this question to them, and they felt, as I did, that redirected links, as in redirected to count clicks, etc, do not pass link juice.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 5, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Nice research Neil. Thanks keeping everyone on their toes over here.

  • Craig Mullins  November 6, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Well, what about if the link is a 301 redirect. Then it does pass PR juice, correct? All others I believe do not.

    Yea it really sucks. All this sneaky krap going on. Having to look in the robots file, make sure they are not using java script on the links, etc.

    We are linin in sneaky times, unless of course they tell you they are doing it in there FAQ or terms of service.

  • John Illnes  April 10, 2008 at 1:53 am

    The official claim is that links with the rel=nofollow attribute do not influence the search engine rankings of the target page. In addition to Google, Yahoo and MSN also support the rel=nofollow attribute.

    i think it helps indexing

  • Andrew Shotland  April 10, 2008 at 8:47 am

    That’s correct John. The issue is that by tagging a link to a customer’s website as nofollow you are intentionally not helping it SEO-wise.

  • Terry Van Horne  July 10, 2008 at 6:03 am

    302 redirects do not pass any PR benefit that’s why Google wants you to use them if you’re not using “nofollow” on paid links.

    No one knows what or how “nofollow” is really implemented. It could very well be that since YellowPages are providing backfill results on Google Local that “nofollow” may not benefit a site at the page/PR level but could provide authority/trust to the site especially in local listings and possibly the organic/editorial. Afterall we are talking about a silo on the Universal Search Farm.

    This is obviously advertising and should be “nofollowed”, what’s the big deal? It’s not like YP’s are some useless directory you pay just to manipulate the Google link algo. These actually provide targeted traffic and conversions. Besides, the idearc PPC seems cheaper and you don’t loose sleep over a link scheme gone bad.

    By the way I say No to “nofollow” because I don’t want a SE controlling an HTML attribute not because I can’t use paid links to manipulate rankings.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 10, 2008 at 7:53 am

    My point was that as an advertiser on a IYP site you should be aware that one of the benefits you can get is a clean link that helps you with SEO. If the IYP is tagging the link to your site as “nofollow” the value of advertising on the IYP is decreased.

  • Stuart S  May 24, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Thanks for the article. I believe that everything depends on the goals that you’ve set at the beginning. If you simply want to spread the word about your website or service or brand – then even NoFollow links will work for you. But if your goal is to increase traffic and PR of your resource online – then you’d definitely will need to treat all this in a more professional manner.