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Should You Sculpt Your Google PageRank Via Internal “No Follow” Links?

We manage large scale paid search for retailers. We help retailers improve site conversion. We’re not a SEO shop. We don’t have SEO clients. So it is with the curiosity and ignorance of an outsider that I’m listening in on the debate about pagerank sculpting .

Michelangelos David

Pagerank sculpting?

In a nutshell, pagerank sculpting is placing no follow tags on internal links on your own site. The idea is to funnel Google page rank away from unimportant pages (for example, your privacy policy, linked from each page) and to reduce the number of superfluous links on each page (for example, the image SKU link right next to the product name SKU link), so more PR goodness ends up on important pages, like SKU pages, which you want to rank well in natural search results.

Good idea or bad idea?

In the “dangerous and a waste of time” corner, we find Shari Thurow, who today on SEL advises you’d be wise to avoid sculpting. Her arguments are (1) spiders should experience exactly the same site as humans, (2) the nofollow attribute is a dangerous substitute for proper information architecture, and (3) SEOs will likely abuse sculpting so Google will likely soon ignore it anyway.

In the “OK but low importance” zone in middle of the ring, we have Adam Lasik from Google, who says sculpting is OK but advises the benefit isn’t worth much time (see Lee Odden’s video interview with Adam Lasik, question is at 5:32). Also there is Google’s Matt Cutts, who according to SEMOZ, describes on-site no-follow as way for

webmasters to modify PageRank flow at link-level granularity… other mechanisms also work (e.g. a link through a page that is robot.txt’ed out)… There’s no stigma to using nofollow, even on your own internal links; for Google, nofollow’ed links are dropped out of our link graph; we don’t even use such links for discovery… The nofollow meta tag does that same thing, but at a page level.

In the “you betcha!” corner, we have Stephan Spencer rebutting Shari in a Sphinn comment today by noting his team has used the technique successfully for clients.

According to our tests, there are plenty of occasions where [sculpting] can be a valuable tool… If you have an ecommerce site and the category pages contain 3 links to every single product page — the product name as a text link, the product image thumbnail as an image link, and the words “View Product” as a text link — you could nofollow the image and “View Product” links and funnel more PageRank through the much more contextually-relevant product-name-based text links.

GrayWolf makes the interesting observation that if the engines really knew to skip boilerplate links, then Apple and CNN wouldn’t rank so highly for “contact us”.

I’m not a SEO guy, and I am not speaking from data, but Stephan’s arguments resonate, and the Google guys aren’t blackhatting the method. For kicks, we may try some sculpting on this blog. SEO-savvy retailers might want to consider this approach. Let us know what you learn!

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  • Alan Rimm-Kaufman
    Alan Rimm-Kaufman founded the Rimm-Kaufman Group...
  • Comments
    9 Responses to “Should You Sculpt Your Google PageRank Via Internal “No Follow” Links?”
    1. John Kaduwanema says:

      Surely what is the point of creating a link and then putting a no-follow attribute immediately afterwards. At best it seems like a waste of time and at worst it seems like an attempt at “cloaking”. If the links are not required then surely it is much better not to raise them in the first place. One of my areas of campaigning at the moment is medical equipment and to some extent I sympathise with the view that sometimes too many links can reduce the individual link value. However the response out to be the reduction of links rather than “no-follow” tags.

    2. However the response out to be the reduction of links rather than “no-follow” tags.

      As you wish, John: gratuitous links removed from your comment.

    3. Links with vague anchor text such as “read more..” and “view products” can only dilute the relevance of other link text elsewhere.

      Logical site navigation, structure and good user experience is the first step in an SEO work but in this case it goes against the PR algos. Focussing PR instead of spraying it around at random is a good tool in the current system.

      Without “no follow” we would be back to link hiding with Javascript. 1990′s anyone?

      The search engines make the system, we just have to work with it.

      Until it changes again…..

    4. Spohn says:

      I disagree with Shari who says that link scalping may be ignored by Google. They have in the past and continue to advocated the use of “nofollow”. Also in your post it mentions Adam Lasik has confirmed that Google does not look down upon the use of nofollow on internal links. To me, it just seems link another way to block pages from being indexed, just like the use of robots.txt.

    5. esoos says:

      I agree with you on this one, Alan.

      I initially shied away from using nofollow extensively, following the logic that only SEOs really knew about nofollow. Thus, a site heavily using nofollow would appear “optimized” and a little suspicious to search engines.

      I installed this greasemonkey nofollow script a while back, and have been seeing strategic use of nofollow pop up on more and more sites. I think PageRank sculpting has sufficiently reached the mainstream, to the point where one doesn’t need to be too paranoid about it anymore.

      At the same time, it’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot with this technique if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

    6. John Illnes says:

      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…

    7. Thomas Schulz says:

      For those blogs that have lots of “social” links etc, I think it makes sense to nofollow them. E.g. if a blog post contains 10 links to social bookmark, subscribe etc. services. I am also no-following most of my links to “contact” etc.

    8. Claudia says:

      I am always listening that Google penalizes you if you don´t put nofollow in links and now I see this discussion.
      I am really confused.

    9. steve says:

      Just use your common sense when using the “no-follow” or robots file, if the spiders see the no-follow plastered over the site in no logical way, then you probably stand a chance of the bot not linking you.
      Be fluid with you links and use the no-follow where it is sensible to do so. The bots are learning all the time, trick them at your peril.