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June 26, 2009

Page Rank Sculpting – Dead or Alive?

At SMX Advanced a few weeks ago there was a huge hullabaloo about Matt Cutt’s saying that PageRank Sculpting using nofollow tags is no longer effective and it should no longer be used. I haven’t posted anything about this until now because frankly there were enough people making a stink about this topic. That said, I now am ready to weigh in on the subject mainly because Matt Cutts posted his own take on PageRank Sculpting last week and it gave me some food for thought.

So what is the deal? What did Matt say? Let’s examine the details based on his post:

Matt’s Post: “So what happens when you have a page with ‘ten PageRank points’ and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? … Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.

Essentially Google claims to have rendered nofollow sculpting useless because each nofollowed link would still use up a point of PageRank instead of saving that PageRank for other (better) links on the page. So what happens to that used up point of PageRank if it does not benefit the site being linked to? Well that was part of what generated the energized discussions at SMX Advanced; Matt said the PageRank evaporated. In his recent post, however, in response to that very question Matt alluded that the seemingly vaporized PageRank still had a life but nothing that he could comment on:

“…it’s a bit complicated, esp. since Google doesn’t view pages exactly in the framework as “classic PageRank” any more. You can think of that PageRank going into the reset vector without being too far off.”

Heh, “reset vector” is bafflegab if I have ever seen it (at least to those not mathmatically inclined – like yours truly). Anyway, my take on that explanation is that the PageRank is still in play but likely in a severely reduced capacity when nofollow is used. The question I have  is whether the weakened PR point has any benefit to the page? Or is it stored as a separate algorithmic value used when calculating overall website reputation? I am sure there are many brighter minds than mine on the job and I look forward to hearing more. Overall though, it is just academic because PageRank Sculpting using nofollows was a tool best used only when some advanced techniques were needed to make a website in a competitive marketplace move that last few positions in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

Is NoFollow Going to Hurt My Website?

If you are one of the multitudes of website owners that have used nofollows for sculpting don’t worry! There is absolutely no indication that using nofollow will harm your website rankings or your site’s online reputation. If you are still worried then consider the fact that this change happened a year ago so in actuality nothing has changed recently – just our perception of Google’s process. More importantly Google does not consider PageRank Sculpting or the use of nofollow unethical so penalties are not even a consideration at this point. That said, if you have used nofollow fanatically all throughout your site you may want to review the usage with a qualified SEO to make sure a better strategy is not being missed. There are a lot of options out there for increasing website visibility and nofollow PageRank Sculpting is only one of them.

So Does this All Mean PageRank Sculpting is Dead?

No, nothing so dramatic. Even Matt said that PageRank Sculpting is still effective when a site’s structure is conceptualized with PageRank in mind. And if such foreplanning was not possible I believe a similar form of PageRank Sculpting can still be done using links driven by external Javascript (one form of Javascript that Google is still not indexing – for now).

Ross Dunn is the CEO at StepForth Web Marketing Inc.; based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You can read more of Ross’s articles and those of the veteran StepForth team at or contact us at