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PageRank Sculpting is Dead, Long Live PageRank Sculpting

Update: This is a RePost after our Database Lost Some Recent Posts. Our suspicions have been verified. PageRank Sculpting still works, just not with nofollow. This is in accordance with the original intent of nofollow, which was to tag untrustworthy links. The links you create and control on your own site to pages you create yourself are inherently trustworthy.

The search marketing world is all abuzz with the latest from Matt Cutts that PageRank sculpting no longer works via the SMX Advanced conference.

What Has Changed

I think what is actually occurring is a far more simple, straightforward and, frankly, obvious update on behalf of the Google search team. This is the question I immediately asked myself upon hearing the news: why should the NUMBER of internal dofollowed links on a page impact the volume of PageRank that can be passed to one of those links?.

Let me try to be more clear. The assumption with PageRank sculpting has always been that the number and order of links on a page impacts amount of PageRank that flows through each one of those links. The 2nd link on a page with 5 links should pass more PageRank than the 5th link on that page. Adding a 6th link to the page would decrease the PageRank flow of all of the links. However, this assumption did not create a distinction between how Google would treat outbound links versus internal links. It appears that Google has now decided to drop the number and order of links on a page as determinants in PagaeRank flow for internal links.

This actually makes a lot of sense. It would be counter intuitive for Google’s algorithm to discourage thorough internal linking. The previous model encouraged webmasters to actively hide and devalue content via PageRank sculpting, but Google relied on those internal links to find those deep pages which are rarely linked to from external sites. The new model still allows webmasters to flow more link juice to certain pages, but removes the incentive to sacrifice one page in favor of another.

Google’s change here seems fairly simplistic and understandable – determine a set PageRank value that can be passed via an internal link on a page and apply that value to all followed links – whether that number is 5 or 50. This would also seem to indicate that other methods of hiding links from Google would also not increase the availability of PageRank for exposed links.

What Hasn’t Changed

It is important that we realize what these changes don’t represent – everyone needn’t go around stripping nofollow tags off their site.

  1. Nofollow still stops the flow of PageRank.
    The only difference here is that you aren’t adding more PageRank into the pot by doing so. You should nofollow a link because you don’t want it to rank, not because you want other pages to rank.
  2. PageRank Sculpting can still work in terms of increasing the number of links across your site pointing to important pages.
    You can still add more links across your site to pages that you want to have more PageRank. This will still work, but your new limitation will be on what you think is acceptable to your Users, not some crazy PageRank calculus where you are trying to optimize the PageRank flow by sacrificing other links.

What You Should Do

  1. Nothing.
    For the overwhelming majority of sites, these changes are not actionable. If anything, they will save you a buck or two from overhauling your link structure in the next year. In fact, the only sites that are affected are those which were playing favorites with internal pages, willfully sacrificing some long tail traffic to artificially benefit a few more important pages.
  2. Use Nofollow Appropriately
    Use nofollow to flag untrustworthy links. In some cases, you can use it to devalue content. But don’t think that in doing so you will increase the relative value of other content on your site
  3. Stop Freaking Out
    If you have a good site with good links, stop worrying.
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