Google Changes to No-Follow on the Horizon?

PR Sculpting and Link Juice and No-Follow - Oh My

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We made a video at SMX Advanced with Stephen Spencer recently where we discussed (among other things) some changes expected(?) to be coming to Google in terms of the no-follow attribute.  These no-follow changes have some pretty significant implications for lots of things, first and foremost though it seems these changes are specifically geared to mitigate, to some degree, the effectiveness of PR sculpting.

Ever tried PR Sculpting?  Did you find it effective?  Let us know in the comments section.

Now, PR sculpting is a fairly advanced concept a lot of folks may not fully understand.  So, I figured I would try to provide some explanation of at least the general ideas involved.  That seems like the best way to go about explaining why Google is looking to make some sort of change in their treatment of no-follow.  If you understand PageRank sculpting, on other words, you will get why Google might not like it so much.

I expect I will have at least 5 people ‘way smarter than me’ hop in the comments or rip me in Twitter for leaving out ‘this’ or ‘that’ in terms of the subtle nuances of PR sculpting. My response to this would be; for the purposes of this article, the subtleties are immaterial.  So simmer down.  I would be remiss however if I didn’t add a little warning in here for people to thoroughly read up and make sure you understand PR sculpting before you start slapping no-follows all over your site.  You really can screw your site up if you do it wrong.

So what the heck is it anyway? I’m so glad you asked. We’ll start with the concept of your Page Rank ‘power’ or ‘authority’.  This is the overall ‘value’ of a given page in terms of how much ‘authority’ that page has to pass along via it’s outbound links.  You have no doubt heard people talk about ‘link juice’, that’s what link juice is.  The more important (in Google’s eyes) a page is, the more link juice it possesses.

Now think of your website as a bucket (or maybe an elegant punchbowl or some kind of fine china bowl if a bucket is too base of a mental image for you). Your bucket contains all of your link juice.  Now think of your outbound links as tiny holes in your bucket.  Your link juice flows through the holes and passes on your page’s authority.

Now, the PR sculpting theory holds that the more holes you have in your bucket, the more your link juice is spread around or diluted.  This is at least in part supported by the search engine accepted and approved concept of Crawl Efficiency (see the Vanessa Fox video or article for more on that).  Search engines aren’t going to spend forever crawling and indexing every link on every page, so the concept of crawl efficiency basically means you prioritize the important stuff for them.

How do you do this?  Well you stick no-follow attributes on non-important links.  PR sculpting theory takes this one step further and says that ALL outbound links count as a hole in your bucket, so you would then want to make more liberal use of no-follow to help direct the flow of the link juice.  For example; if you had navigation links at the top of your page, in the side bar and again in your footer, PR sculpting would say you add no-follow attributes to all but one set of them.  Less holes = more juice flowing through the holes that are left.  Get the idea?  Good.


Now, the hullaballoo at SMX Advanced had to do with some rumors or suggestions that Google may be going to change how they look at no-follow in relation to how the link juice is passed along.  So if you had, for example, 10 outbound links on a page and no-followed all but 2 of them, effective PR sculpting would funnel all of your juice through those 2 and not dilute it over all 10.  Google, being… well, Google, doesn’t like to have situations where people can ‘control’ the value of links – especially for the purposes of ranking better in Google.

Does Google need to make changes to manage the effectiveness of PR Sculpting?  What do you think?

So much buzzing and grumbling ensued when it was suggested that Google might not look at no-follow in quite the same way moving forward.  If you have 10 links and no-follow 8 of them in other words, they were still going to count you as having 10 holes in your bucket instead of sending more love to the 2 regular links you didn’t add no-follow to.

By the end of the show, there still hadn’t been much at all in the way of an official word from Google on the subject.  However, I very strongly suspect we will have one soon.  The implications for counting no-follow links ‘against’ you in terms of authority passing ability raises all sorts of difficulties. 

Stephan Spencer For one, let’s say you have a popular article that gets 500 comments.  Most everybody that leaves a comment also leaves a link.  Generally these links are no-followed.  If more links = some sort of diminished or diluted authority of a page, that would seem to suggest your fantastic article that got 500 comments was maybe not as good as an article that only got maybe 5 comments. 

Second, the whole no-follow thing was Google’s idea to begin with.  It’s very existence is arguably not much more than a Google helper to assist them in managing the whole link economy they created out of their heavy reliance on links as a ranking factor. 

Google hates paid links because paid links have the potential to impact search results and if you can buy links you can essentially raise your result in Google.  The problem is, paid links have been around longer than Google….  we used to just call them ads.  So, Google decided if you slap a no-follow attribute on a link, it meant you were not trying to pass your page authority on to that link and therefore weren’t being paid to elevate said link in their index.

Now, it seems like Google is starting to see people using no-follow to emphasize links via the PR sculpting thing and they want to do something about it.  A cynical person might say they sound like they are trying to have their cake and eat it too…  but a Google person would just say they are just trying to protect the integrity of their index.  Personally, I’m all for Google protecting the integrity of their index…  but I think it gets to a point when maybe they need to do something about their index’s over-reliance on inbound links as a ranking factor. Maybe then they wouldn’t have to sweat this sort of thing quite so much and/or dump the burden of link formatting and management off on the webmasters and the SEOs of the world.  Those guys have enough on their plate as it is.

Do you expect Google will make changes to the way they handle no-follow? Comment below

Google Changes to No-Follow on the Horizon?
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  • http://www.iswebdesign.co.uk Spiral

    Yes the system is a mess. If Google were to abandon its over-reliance on inbound links then much of the world’s spam would disappear overnight. As a website maintainer quite a lot of my time is spent removing spam, and devising ways to prevent spammy posts while not discouraging genuine contributions – and it is Google’s fault.

    Also their disapproval of paid links is hypocritical – since much of their revenue comes from people paying them for links. What their objection boils down to it is an objection to people other than them making money from advertising.

  • http://www.fashion-in-bag.com/ Replica Designer Handbags

    It sounds to me like Google might be watching for those trying to “bottle” link juice. I’m guessing they’ll be looking for overuse considering they can still see what links are on a page and what percentage of those are no-followed.

  • http://www.rutlandguttersupply.com Rutland

    This whole PR sculpting thing is a travesty. Search engines have kowtowed too much to inbound links measuring a website’s importance and web marketeers have exploited that to no end, leaving search results highly manipulated. That is not what web searchers are looking for. I am all for search engines taking the high road and trying to eliminate all the loopholes and marketing tricks to manipulate rank. That said, search engines emphasizing inbound links and weight will not give true search result placements based on merit and content.

  • http://googlepayday-review.blogspot.com/2009/01/google-payday.html Google Payday

    Solid Link strategy is required to Market the website. What about Bing, the new search engine?

  • http://www.infinitetattoos.com jerryford2009

    I totally agree with you that the whole ranking based on links is the problem. The whole system is a mess.

  • http://interestigjunk.net Ken

    With the change of ranking algorithm, there will be a lot of rubbish webpage that will not be shown at the front page of the search result.

    However, there are always some loop hole in the new algorithm. It depends on how google figure out how to make the search result more useful for the internet user.

  • http://www.cabudapest.com Apartment Budapest

    I will use it anyway.

  • http://www.LongIslandFundraisingIdeas.com Guest

    I’m new to all this and it really does hurt my brain when even thinking about how to outsmart Google. I do, however, agree with Sebastyne’s comment ( above )that I copied and pasted below. It should be based on content and NOT be “let out of the bag.” There are too many SEO “experts” out there and I feel that many if not all, are just taking a “educated guess” as to what works and has worked for them. Much like a doctor does.

    I think Google should just hush up and NOT reveal how they rank the pages. If nobody knew how pages are ranked, it wouldn’t be so easy to manipulate the system. Of COURSE they’re going to get false ranks when people start changing their habits and processes to do SEO, and then Google HAS TO make changes to stop the manipulation of their system. Google should do their best to reflect the real value of a page, not make it a competition of who has the best SEO-expert on board.

  • http://www.masterwebsoftware.com Vic Carrara

    Another case of Google trying to dominate the internet!

  • http://poweressence.com Stuart

    This is just insane. It’s like those paying social networking sites. The incentive creates corruption. Oh hang on, that’s the entire problem with the monetary system. What the world would be like if we just had a resource based economy…

  • http://www.piano-keyboard-reviews.com Dan

    Despite the manipulation of inbound links, there are other elements of ranking that are playing more of a major role in ranking such as quality of your site content which can be determined by several factors including avg pages per visit, avg time on site, bounce rate etc. Quality score plays an important role in terms of ad placement in Adsense and hence that also translates on the natural/organic search.

    I believe a combination of quality score (which is already in use comprised of latent semantic indexed keywords for on page and inbound links) is shaping the way that site SERPs are determined.

  • http://jaspert.free.fr jaspert

    But isn’t it a great race ? It’s really a mattter of how much you work like every other job. I love it, although I shouldn’t, I should do my own job..

  • http://www.poconolakehomes.info Sandra P Dunne

    The whole system is not based on links but popularity. That is why unique domain names are important.

    This evolving Google does is to define the pace. They are probably faster than the market. That is why so many people moan when the rules are changed. This is the name of the game in a competitive market system.

    There are SEO’s and webmasters who get a niche and then Google catches up because they begin to manipulate the system. I look at it like the movie “Catch Me If You Can”.

    I like the fact Google consistently changes because back in the day, 1990’s to 2000, the internet was a totalatarian isolated island system where SYSOP was god. No one else knew enough to dispute them. Do you want one computer person (no one could dispute under any circumstances) deciding what is useful, what is SPAM, what is advertising and what is useful content?

    How can we compete globally if we do not continually better ourselves? Even engaging in mistakes we better ourselves.

    I am happy Google evolves…oh my

  • http://www.intospain.com/ intospain

    Anything to clear out the SERP’s of spam is more than welcome. Especially Google at the moment.

  • Kathy

    Im confused. Im hearing two or three different things.

    One … So wait, I understand PR is determined by inbound links. So, if you “no-follow” and inbound link, you are PR Sculpting out paid links? Ok.

    Two … So, 500 comments on a page (with outbound links) passes link juice. So, it is simply tiring the spiders crawl and passing the link juice (PR value of a page) to other pages?

    Three … Stephen talked about “no-follow” internal links in pagenation to keep the “index” page of a category more valuable. Ok. I get that.

    But all three were intermixed as if they were all one concept. Could someone clarify for me? I get the whole deal about MC and the Google changes, etc. and the confusion. But someone just took what I thought I knew and made a one 80 on me and it wasn’t MC.

    Also, if we all “no-follow” each other’s links, then what’s the point of Blogging or Stumbeling or whatever, when jo and mary and tom are going to “no-follow” your link anyway?

    Thank you!!!

    • http://www.wefight4you.com Riverside Lawyer

      I tend to no follow some of my own pages, such as the contact form, disclaimer and terms of service. I do this because I don’t want what PR I have wasted on pages that have nothing to do with the content of my website.

      I don’t do it to manipulate the results, but to help my visitors find my useful information. I don’t understand why this is a big deal to Google. One thing I would like fixed is the confusion of their results. FYI go Bing. Sorry I just had to. But I’m noticing it’s getting harder and harder to find the useful information. It used to be directories, then came along Google which made everyone money. Now they need to clean their results.

    • http://www.cpasitesolutions.com Kenny

      Link Sculpting is only useful in your internal link structure.

      And yes… a lot of bloggers and social sites apply nofollow tags, and no… there is no SEO benefit from participating in them. It’s fairly easy to tell who’s who. Just view the page source next time you leave a comment. If you see a nofollow tag in your link it’s time to stop wasting your time on Jo and Tom’s blogs, and spend some more time with Mary who’s not afraid to share a little link love.

  • http://www.cpasitesolutions.com Kenny

    Google would be making a mistake if they tried to fiddle with the way they handle no-follows. What good does it do them to have SERPs full of disclaimer pages and privacy policies? That’s a LOT spammier looking than letting the webmasters use link sculpting to set up relevant pages.

    Besides. It won’t work. It’s fairly easy to obfuscate links to privacy policy pages and what not. There’s Java, there’s redirects. I’m sure there’s a few other ways that I don’t know about (yet).

  • http://www.controldatainc.com Agency collection

    This is nothing more than google using alternative methods to combat losing customers to Bing. I believe its more of a marketing compaign than has anything to do with improving its search engine.

  • http://www.aaa-handbag.com aaa-handbags

    I love google, because of its powerful features

  • http://www.barrywheeler.ca Barry Wheeler

    This will have some very interesting effects on some sites.

  • http://www.brain-waves-technology.com/ Brain Waves Technology

    Very nice and informative article.

    Thank You

  • http://www.davidjenyns.com David Jenyns

    There has been a lot of talk about this and with all the changes on how the Big G wants to treat links I should say that I don

  • http://www.aaareplicabag.com high replica

    Like google, hope it will provide more better service for us.

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  • http://www.dok.ogladajwtv.pl Billie Kiesser

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog. An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

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