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July 1, 2009

Google PageRank Sculpting is Dead

For those of you using advanced SEO techniques such as PageRank sculpting, you might want to listen up.

Head of Google’s crime spam fighting team, Matt Cutts, put the cat amongst the pigeons last month when he answered an audience question at the SMX Advanced conference about the value of using rel=”no follow” for PageRank sculpting purposes. When asked if it was a good idea to use nofollow when linking around within your site, Matt said no.

NoFollow is a method to annotate a link to say to search engines “I don’t want to vouch for this link.” In Google, nofollow links don’t pass PageRank.

According to Matt, more than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that links WITHOUT nofollow would flow lesser points of PageRank than before and that links WITH the nofollow attribute would count toward how PageRank is divided up amongst all links on a page.

Seems SEOs and webmasters were getting a little bit trigger happy with their use of rel=”no follow” for Google crawl prioritization and were accidently blocking Googlebot from indexing important parts of their site.

Matt later clarified the issue with his blog post PageRank Sculpting:

“[We] noticed some sites that attempted to change how PageRank flowed within their sites, but those sites ended up excluding sections of their site that had high-quality information (e.g. user forums)… I wouldn’t recommend [PageRank sculpting], because it isn’t the most effective way to utilize your PageRank. In general, I would let PageRank flow freely within your site. The notion of “PageRank sculpting” has always been a second- or third-order recommendation for us. I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike. For example, it makes a much bigger difference to make sure that people (and bots) can reach the pages on your site by clicking links than it ever did to sculpt PageRank. “

Danny Sullivan has a great follow up post that goes into more detail here.

So the short story is this: PageRank sculpting is no longer effective as a SEO technique (if it ever was). For the most part, the more links on a page, the less PageRank each link gets. Keep that in mind whenever you’re optimizing your site and when you build new pages.