Google PageRank: Sullivan & Cutts discuss nofollow

Bad news for PageRank Sculpters

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PageRank sculpting is a pretty advanced SEO tactic, and it has been widely used by SEO pros since Google’s Matt Cutts described its use on YouTube, giving the strategy the official green light. At SMX Advanced in Seattle, the same harbinger of Google insider information offered a stunning revelation: Google changed the way it handled link structures intended for sculpting.

Coverage of SMX Advanced continues at WebProNews Videos.  Stay with WebProNews for more updates and videos from the event this week.

An Explanation of PageRank Sculpting (If you know already, skip to next heading.)

PageRank sculpting works for sites that already have a high PageRank and, as a result, have a lot of “juice” to pass around. Webmasters looking to have more control over which pages appear in Google’s search results would thus harness the trust (juice) Google gave their site to boost certain pages they consider important while blocking other unimportant or less useful pages.

For example, a webmaster may find that a sign-in page or contact page appears in the search results but a page more useful to the end user digging around the Net doesn’t, perhaps because the Googlebot hasn’t been able to locate it. The webmaster could help “sculpt” different pages’ rankings by adding a nofollow tag on links pointing to unimportant pages while linking to preferred pages.

In this sense, PageRank was seen as a finite amount of energy to divvy up among a certain number of pages. If you have 10 liters of PageRank juice to distribute, you could deprive one page of receiving any juice and evenly divide the rest among pages needing a boost. With six links, one is nofollowed, the rest normal, giving the Googlebot directions on where to crawl while passing on two liters of juice per page.

Google cleared this practice in 2007 by using it with YouTube. The video site links to random videos from the homepage, and as such, when the Googlebot came by, it would pass on the tremendous amount of juice YouTube carried to those random videos. Google used PageRank sculpting to keep it fair and prevent favoritism of certain videos in the search results.

That Was Then, This Is Now

Matt Cutts
Matt Cutts

Using the 10 liters of juice model, if a webmaster had ten links, blocks five, then five got two liters and five got none. If the webmaster unblocked five, then the juice was evenly redistributed. It also worked in reverse. If a webmaster had distributed the juice among the ten but decided to dam up five, then the juice would evenly redistribute two liters to the preferred five pages.


But, according to Matt Cutts, in a Q&A moderated by Danny Sullivan at SMX Advanced, that’s all changed. Now, if the webmaster dams up five, that half still receives nothing, but the remaining half remains at one liter each instead of being boosted up to two liters.

Now, instead of having a certain amount juice to distribute as a webmaster likes, Google allows only that select pages be deprived of juice. And where does that all that excess PageRank juice go? “You can almost think of it as just evaporating,” said Cutts, and one imagines the number of stomachs turning over at that moment.

It’s important to note that Cutts said Google would not penalize a site for PageRank sculpting, but Cutts did suggest the practice wasn’t a great use of a webmaster’s time unless using nofollow for sign-in pages, RSS subscribe links, et cetera.
Highlights From the Cutts Q&A Regarding PageRank Sculpting

Cutts on penalties

It’s not gonna get you a penalty. You’re not gonna get in trouble or anything. We’re not gonna say "oh all of these internal links are nofollowed" or anything like that. However, it’s not as effective, so it’s definitely a better use of your time to go and make new content.

Cutts on sculpting

If you’re using nofollow to change how PageRank flows around within your site, it’s almost like a band-aid. It’s better to make your site the way you want PageRank to flow from the beginning, and then it’s good for users, and it’s good for search engines.

So how you choose to link within your site is your own business, and I would tell people you can try to sculpt PageRank, but it’s not gonna be as useful. So I would urge people to make new content or think about how to link within your site. Put your best products right up on your root page, and things like that. And that’s gonna be a much better way to "sculpt" PageRank than using nofollow.

Cutts on site architecture

What we’ve been saying from the beginning is don’t spend as much of your time on the PR sculpting aspect of it. Spend your time making good site architecture so that PageRank just flows wherever you want. That’s why we’ve been saying use it sparingly. Don’t use it for links you can’t vouch for. Don’t use it for user-generated content that you don’t necessarily trust. And this is all up on the HTML documentation page made for rel="nofollow”.

Cutts on nofollow use:

If you are a power user and there’s a specific page you don’t want like a sign up page or a login page, that’s a fine way to use nofollow.

For example if you look at mattcutts.com, the only thing I have nofollow on (I believe) is my subscribe link and that’s because it goes to an RSS feed, which is really not all that useful for the main web index. So for me personally, I tend not to use nofollow on my own internal links

Chris Crum provided some notes for this article.

Google PageRank: Sullivan & Cutts discuss nofollow
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  • http://StepRep.MyFrontSteps.com Reputation Management Guy

    *Gulp* Time to revisit the information architecture…

  • http://www.dataflurry.com Website Marketing Joel

    Great break down. Many webmasters and website owners need to look at this. Understanding the flow of link juice and quality of links will save tons of time and make us more efficient in ranking our websites and creating a focus on important areas of your website.

  • http://makemoneyeasyhome.blogspot.com/ Adam

    i knew this only today.I thought nofollowing certain links will allow other pages get higher PR.

  • http://www.storbyferieguiden.dk/Storbyferie-Prag/Billige-Rejser-Prag.aspx Billige Rejser til Prag

    I wonder why they Google is doing it?

  • http://www.Warm-Mouse-Heated-Keyboard.com Warm Mouse Heated Keyboard

    “Now, instead of having a certain amount juice to distribute as a webmaster likes, Google allows only that select pages be deprived of juice. And where does that all that excess PageRank juice go?

  • http://www.homemadewaterfilter.net Homer

    Many webmasters will surely be interested in checking this out. Gives more efficient for high ranking websites.

  • http://www.tabletennisdb.com Arthur Lui

    Hmm, so those navigation footers with 15-30 links aren’t a good idea anymore…

  • http://www.diamondonnet.com Diamond

    Good tips, thanks for the info

  • http://www.easytourchina.com china tours

    Thanks for collecting the points together that Matt Cutts have regarding pagerank sculping, this is quite helpful for the webmasters.

  • http://inchoo.net Toni Anicic

    This changes lots of things in the world of SEO. If some SEO persons missed on this change they could be hurting their clients right now and not knowing it.

  • http://www.massmediadesign.co.uk/website-design/website-design-oxford-oxfordshire.aspx Gregor

    I was never a huge fan of sculpting anyway. Cutts always said never to put too much effort into it, but of course, people did because it’s something that they can do and it’s easier than link building or writing decent content!

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    Hi friend
    This is a best SEO article i ever read ,
    keep it up

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    Hi friend this i a best article i am reading on SEO,
    Keep it up i liked this very much.

  • http://www.playingcardsandmore.com Tom

    Keep up the good work. I learn something new every time I check out your posts.

  • http://www.comprosulting.de Guest

    Thanks. Very interessting Article. Good work.

  • http://lakecountytravelguide.com Scott Galvin

    OK where to begin…..

    I didn’t realized that nofollow was created to be used for pagerank sculpting your own site. Silly me I thought it was for….
    “nofollow is an HTML attribute value used to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of search engine spam, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring.”

    I’m glad to see that G changed their mind and endorsed it for use as a sculpting tactic….So people would redesign their websites that way….To only change that a year or so later and cheat people out of their hard earned ‘juice’.

    Just another example of G creating a system making everyone conform to it and then changing the rules.

    Guess that’s one of the perks when you are a monopoly.

  • http://www.seozip.com Web Marketing Search Engine Optimization

    If SEO persons missed on this change they could be hurting their clients..Thanks for this nice article

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