Links of Note, July 2009: SEO and Search Engine Marketing ~ Google’s No Follow Change

ere are SEO and Search Engine Marketing links of note I recently compiled, which rocked the advanced SEO world back in June, related to how Google assigns PageRank within your site and its current recommendation against using the rel=nofollow attribute for page sculpting. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, page sculpting refers to the practice of “trying to change how PageRank flows within your site, using methods such as the nofollow attribute.”

The SEO world is still reeling from Matt Cutt’s announcement, because it contradicts Google’s previous encouragement to use the nofollow attribute for page sculpting. For bloggers, the change also raises issues about whether under Google’s new policy, comment links now have the potential to drain PageRank from the other links within your site, prompting discussions (see Andy Beard’s post), on the value of moving comments to Javascript-based comment systems like Disqus, where the links to the comment authors won’t be inside your pages. In a recent SEOmoz postRand Fish goes so far as to advise that as a result of Google’s change, SEO consultants should now recommend “that comments (in all forms of User Generated Content) no longer accept links.”

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan points out that it is still possible to pursue page sculpting as an advanced SEO tactic. He reinforces Fish’s recommendation to use iframes, as an alternative to the nofollow attribute. Sullivan also advises being more selective about choosing links, especially from your homepage, as another way to page sculpt, through your site’s own architecture.

Sullivan reminds readers that though page scultping remains a viable SEO tactic, “fixing bad page titles, obtaining quality external links, and creating quality content” is still a better way to improve PageRank.”

For more information, see the following links and related notes, including the Blind Five Year Old post on usability, which asserts Google’s nofollow change is really a “not-so-subtle push to encourage sites to simplify.”

PageRank Sculpting from Matt Cutts’ blog on Gadgets, Google, and SEO:

Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, surprised the advanced SEO world in June, revealing that more than a year ago, Google changed the way PageRank flows within your site, and now recommends against using the  rel=nofollow attribute for page sculpting. Here is Cutts’ widely discussed revelation:

“Nofollow is method (introduced in 2005 and supported by multiple search engines) to annotate a link to tell search engines “I can’t or don’t want to vouch for this link.” In Google, nofollow links don’t pass PageRank and don’t pass anchortext [*].”

“So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRankpoints” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Let’s leave aside the decay factor to focus on the core part of the question. 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.”

Instead of Page Sculpting to improve page rank, Cutts advises focusing on content and site navigation:

“In general, except for ‘a miniscule number of pages (such as links to a shopping cart or to a login page,’ I would let PageRank flow freely within your site,” Cutts advises. 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.”

Google No Follow Changes Explained by Mike McDonald at WebProNews:

Mike McDonald provides an excellent lay person’s translation of Google’s No-Follow changes. In particular, he calls out these points:

  • “Whenever you are linking within your site, don’t use no-follow.”
  • Q: Since PageRank is divided amongst outbound links, no-follow or not, should I turn off comments on my blog? ?“A: I wouldn’t recommend closing comments in an attempt to “hoard” your PageRank. In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites.”

Google Changes to No-Follow on the Horizon? by WebProNews’ Mike McDonald:

Mike McDonald translates PR sculpting into everyday terms: “Now, the PR sculpting theory holds that the more holes you have in your bucket, the more your link juice is spread around or diluted. This is at least in part supported by the search engine accepted and approved concept of Crawl Efficiency (see the Vanessa Fox video or article for more on that). Search engines aren’t going to spend forever crawling and indexing every link on every page, so the concept of crawl efficiency basically means you prioritize the important stuff for them.” Before Google’s change to how PageRank flows within your site, the way you ranked the important links in your site was by applying the nofollow attribute to to less significant links within your site. “Google, doesn’t like to have situations where people can ‘control’ the value of links – especially for the purposes of ranking better in Google,” McDonald explains. He also notes potential difficulties with the change, for article [or blog] commenting:

…let’s say you have a popular article that gets 500 comments. Most everybody that leaves a comment also leaves a link.  Generally these links are no-followed.  If more links = some sort of diminished or diluted authority of a page, that would seem to suggest your fantastic article that got 500 comments was maybe not as good as an article that only got maybe 5 comments.

McDonald notes that Google might justify this change as necessary to protect the integrity of its index. However, he counters, “I think it gets to a point when maybe they need to do something about their index’s over-reliance on inbound links as a ranking factor.”

Google Changed How It Handles Nofollow (And How It Might Affect Blogs) by Daily Blog Tips’ Daniel Scocco:

Daniel Scocco explains that as a result of Google’s change to the way it handles Nofollow, “now all the links on your comment section are reducing the PageRank that would otherwise flow to your internal pages.” Scocco notes, “Google might do something to fix this problem, but we still got to hear about it.” In the meantime, Scocco offers a solution:

…you can either close your comments completely (but I wouldn’t recommend that), or use an iframe or Javascript to host your comments, so that the links to the comment authors won’t be inside your pages. Andy Beard wrote a post on the topic titled Disqus – Why 95% Of Bloggers Should Switch.

Disqus – Why 95% Of Bloggers Should Switch:

In a post that examines the pros and cons about Disqus, Andy Beard believes that despite some reservations, 95% of bloggers should switch to Disqus for blog commenting. Beard’s recommendation is based mainly on Google’s recent change to how it handles the no follow attribute and how page rank flows within your site:

Matt Cutts today confirmed that nofollow links can reduce the amount of PageRank that flow to internal pages. The easiest current solution to solve this problem is to use Javascript for comments. It is an external javascript file, which Google can’t really handle currently, and even if they did, the chances are it might only count as a single link to your disqus discussion.

For more information on problems facing comment links, Beard refers readers to Blogstorm‘s post “PageRank Sculpting & Blog Comments.”

Google Says: Yes, You Can Still Sculpt PageRank. No You Can’t Do It With Nofollow:

According to SEOmoz’s Rand Fish,the change to Google’s nofollow policy is going to make it difficult to justify linking out. He believes that SEOs and websites are going to revert to “old-school” PageRank sculpting – “the kind prevalent prior to the existence of nofollow”:

  • “Option A: An embedded iFrame on the page containing the links you don’t want the engines to follow. (Remember not to link to the iFrame URL, and potentially block it using robots.txt).”
  • “Option B: Links that call a Javascript redirect script with access blocked for search engine bots (as Google is also now crawling basic javascript and counting links through it).”
  • “Option C: An embed in Flash, Java or some other non-parseable plug-in that contains the desired links.”
  • “Option D: Settings that turn off links for non-cookied or non-logged-in visitors.”

As far as blog comments, Rand Fish notes that as a result of Google’s change, SEO consultants should now recommend “that comments (in all forms of UGC) no longer accept links.” Rand Fish explains his position:

“While Google has said that linking out to “good places” provides some value, that merely suggests that webmasters and site owners should select good resources editorially and link to them with live, followed links. Comments that contain links, unfortunately, will actively detract from a site’s ability to get pages indexed (as they’ll pull away link juice from the places that need it). It’s likely that a plug-in for WordPress that sends comment links out through uncrawlable Javascript or uses iFrames will emerge in the very near future.”

PageRank Sculpting Is Dead! Long Live PageRank Sculpting!:

Search Engine Land’s Editor-in-Chief Danny Sullivan weighs in on Google’s announced change to the way it handles the nofollow attribute.  Sullivan does not believe there is a need to strip out all the nofollow attributes. The reported change “simply means that regular links no longer get to cash in on extra PageRank. It doesn’t mean that they get penalized.” He also notes that some SEO consultants still believe that using nofollow does work. These conspiracy theorists believe that “PageRank sculpting with nofollow, in fact, works so well that Google’s now simply saying that nofollow links get counted again even when they don’t.” He offers, “Ultimately, each person will have to decide for themselves what they want to believe.”

While he is taking nofollow off the table, Sullivan points out that Google’s Matt Cutts still talks about other methods of sculpting. In a video interview, Cutts mentioned that choosing which things to link to from your home page is a more effective form of PageRank sculpting:

…imagine that you have two different pages. You’ve got one product that earns you a lot of money every time someone buys, and you’ve got another product where you make, you know, 10 cents. You probably want to highlight this page [the one that earns a lot], you want to make sure it gets enough PageRank so it can rank well. So this is more likely to be a page you want to link to from your home page. So when people talk about PageRank sculpting, they tend to think nofollow and all that sort of stuff, but in some sense, the ways that you choose to create your site, your site architecture and how you link between your pages is a type of PageRank sculpting.

According to Sullivan, “fixing bad page titles, obtaining quality external links, and creating quality content” is a better way to improve PageRank.” However, if as an advanced SEO tactic, people still want to pursue sculpting, then Sullivan predicts “I think we’ll see both a combination of folks being more selective about the links they put out on their pages and/or pursuing other methods of showing links but not having them count.” Citing Rand Fish’s recent post, Sullivan reinforces the use of iframes as an alternative to nofollow:

A leading contender is the use of iframes. Using an iframe, someone could have comments appear within a blog post and yet not have any links in those comments get counted into the overall PageRank allocations.

Nofollow Change is about Usability:

From a usability perspective, A.J. Kohn states that the problem with the nofollow attribute “was that it didn’t allow the search engine to look at the page like a human being. If you nofollowed 20 links out of 25 on a page you were essentially telling Google that only 5 links existed. But to a human being, all 25 links exist.”  The post further cites Google’s recommended guideline for “keeping links on a given page to a reasonable number (fewer than 100).”

The nofollow change essentially means that they’re counting your nofollow links against that 100 link benchmark. Translation. Stop putting so many links on a page!

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