Abusing “rel=nofollow”?

A few weeks ago, Google announced that it would begin to recognize the addition of the rel=nofollow attribute to anchor tags. Bloggers and forum posters everywhere rejoiced at this, since it meant that comment posters wouldn’t be posting solely for the sake of the PageRank points.

(If you’ve ever been on an Internet forum and seen one guy that posted nothing but “Yeah!”, “Cool”, “I don’t,” or other short, useless posts, then you’ve seen a forum spammer. Forum spammers spam forums and blogs in order to attain PageRank — or what Google uses to determine the importance of a site — for their site.)

There was a short article on this on ProBlogger.net in which I compared the abuse of the rel=nofollow attribute to theft. (In a comment, not in the article. I didn’t write the article.) The ethical considerations here seem to clash directly with business interests. If a website owner links to someone else, but puts the attribute in there, despite of the fact that it’s not spam, is that considered theft? I mean, the website owner is using the other site’s name (and possibly some small amount of content) for boosting their own site. In the Google economy, the PR the link gives out is equivalent to a royalty charge. “You use my name for your purposes, therefore you give me a little token of appreciation.” Instead, abusing this is like saying “I’ll use your link, but I don’t think you deserve any payment (PR) for it.” Is that considered theft or is it merely shrewd but smart business practice? (Load your PR up by having people link to you with PR for free, but only linking with PR to people that pay you.)

This could have a huge, long term effect on the Google economy.

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