PR sculpting seems to be “all the rage” at the moment. Tracking the conversation back seems to get me to an article by Dan Thies of september 4th last year, pointing back to an interview with Matt on SEOmoz. It’s been a whole load of buzz lately, coming up at SES again a few times too much, and I think it’s about time we do a recap of what PageRank sculpting actually is, which principle it’s based on, and how you should use it.
In the interview that started the whole discussion again, Matt said:
The nofollow attribute is just a mechanism that gives webmasters the ability to modify PageRank flow at link-level granularity. Plenty of other mechanisms would also work (e.g. a link through a page that is robot.txt’ed out), but nofollow on individual links is simpler for some folks to use. 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. By the way, the nofollow meta tag does that same thing, but at a page level.
This inspired Dan Thies to write his article, which is, in my opinion, both very good and also a bit flawed. Dan says: “That’s the key point. Getting more of your important pages indexed.” And I simply, do not agree, most of the other stuff is very true and valuable though. Let’s get back to the basic theory of how you should create a site structure and theme it correctly: siloing.
photo credit: twob
One of the oldest articles I found on siloing is on Bruce Clay’s site, in an article from 2005.
The idea (and yes I’m oversimplifying a bit now) is that you only link to pages on your site with the same theme, to make it easier to rank for keywords and keyword groups. A quote:
Siloing resolves this problem by allowing you to achieve high search engine placement both for general and targeted keyword phrases through themed vertical page linking and/or construction.
This article talks about only linking to pages that you really should be linking to. Of course, this is still the best practice, and if you totally lived by that, you wouldn’t need to nofollow any links. However if you, for any reason whatsoever (like management that doesn’t get it, weird laws / lawyers, or conversion / up-selling reasons), have to link to another, unrelated, page, nofollow is the tool you could use to still abide by those siloing laws.
Nofollow != untrusted
In the beginning of this nofollow discussion, some people I really like and respect, like Greg Boser, Todd Friesen and Dave Naylor, were saying that you should really not use nofollow internally, using the argument: “why would you want to tell search engines that you don’t trust certain pages on your site?”
Well, it’s not about trust (anymore), as Greg admitted in an interview with Mike McDonald at SES recently, now that Matt has come out and said that. Others are still whining though, in part I think because either they don’t get it, or they don’t think other people will get it and want people to focus on different things that are more important, like site structure. In part, I agree. PageRank sculpting like that is not something for the faint of heart, or the SEO rookie. It IS however a valuable tool when you actually know what you’re doing and have a lot of juice to play around with.
So what is it about then?
A quote from Matt at DaveN’s blog is very important here:
Nofollowing your internals (PageRank sculpting – JdV) can affect your ranking in Google, but it’s a 2nd order effect.
PageRank sculpting is more then Nofollow
You really need to know that at some point, you’ll need more then nofollow. You’ll need page per page control of the robots meta tag, and you will probably be using it to noindex, follow category / tag / archive pages, in favor of single pages. That, combined with not giving too much linklove to these pages, is the essence of third level push.
It’s also very important to be honest with yourself: “Do I really need this page / this set of pages in the index right now?” It might be wiser to make sure you have a smaller amount of pages in the index, throwing the deeper pages out and allowing yourself to actually rank with the pages higher up in your site’s structure.
Those two uses of nofollow, together with the use in siloing of nofollowing links to unrelated pages, make it a very powerful tool. You can be a good SEO without using it, and a lot of times you can probably make more money by focussing on other things, but anyone saying that it’s bad advice or nonsense, doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, and should think twice before writing openly that people should not follow that advice.