PageRank Sculpting Dead? (Not Exactly)
With all the chatter over the last week and half over “rel=nofollow” and Matt Cutts’ statement about the link attribute, I think it’s time to weigh in on it. There are a few great post that should be considered required reading before reading this post:
- Rand Fishkin’s latest: Google Says: Yes, You Can Still Sculpt PageRank. No You Can’t Do It With Nofollow
- The Gypsy’s (David Harry) latest: SEOs Are Not Criminals
Is “nofollow” Worth Using Anymore?
After listening and reading hours of material from everyone and anyone, my consensus is no. Additionally, I’ve also started to notice that “nofollow” has stopped it LinkJuice drafting ways on numerous sites I work on. Not to mention Matt sounds quite serious about the levying penalties for sites employing nofollow to sculpt and/or restrict content as a means to “manipulate” PageRank. And, remember, you are an “enemy” to engines.
What Matt Cutts Has To Say About Nofollow
Q: Does this mean “PageRank sculpting” (trying to change how PageRank flows within your site using e.g. nofollow) is a bad idea?
A: I wouldn’t recommend it, 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.
There may be a minuscule number of pages (such as links to a shopping cart or to a login page) that I might add nofollow on, just because those pages are different for every user and they aren’t that helpful to show up in search engines. But in general, I wouldn’t recommend PageRank sculpting.
Additionally, there’s this nifty NEW tag that Google created a while back called the “rel=canonical”, which should help the majority of sites out there with duplicate content issues.
How To Sculpt Without Nofollow:
Rand posted some good methods for sculpting, which work, but it feels unnecessarily sneaky to me. A better way is to allow, as Matt Cutts suggests, to allow your PageRank to flow freely. Interconnectivity (internal site link structure) is a key element here. You want your site to have a “flat architecture”, and even though it may not be. It’s really a play off the Bruce Clay method of siloing, but ensuring that major sections of the site become visible through an internal linking structure. This allows those pages to, if the practice holds, to share and share-alike the PageRank while only giving minimal amounts to other site areas.
And, yes, removing the nofollows will be a pain in the ass, but it’s one that worth it. And, yes, I really don’t like that Google went back on their word with this attribute. But to put it in perspective: “It’s Google’s World. I just live in it.” And, that’s the fact. I’m an enemy combatant.
Matt McGee’s post on Search Engine Land last Wednesday “Google’s New Referrer String Includes Ranking Data (At Least For Now)” made me think about a lot of the SEOs I know. It’s a great post, with a lot of valuable information. Not to mention the great comment from WebShare, with detailed instructions how to set up an advanced GA (Google Analytics) filter to track the Rank Data in the referrer string. (I’m testing out the filter with a couple of heavily trafficked clients to see if it lives up to its claims.)
How many SEOs Really Check Their Web Logs?
The problem is, that most SEOs and SEMs I know:
a) have no idea how to check their web logs, and have probably never checked that raw data. Ever.
b) have installed Google Webmaster Tools, if for no other reason, to submit a complete XML sitemap to Google.
The short answer is that not many do. Perhaps Matt’s post will motivate a few more to open up that data, or at the very least find it. And if you still don’t have any desire to open up the Web Logs, then I offer another solution.
Use Google Webmaster Tools “Top Search Queries” to Get Rank Data
It’s all there, you just have to take the time to sort it out (literally) in Excel.
1) Find the “Top Search Queries” link in Webmaster Tools:
2) The Raw Webmaster Tools Data File (Un-Sorted)
Looks nearly unusable, right? And, to be truthful, it can be a bit intimidating unless you know what you’re looking for in that rat’s nest of data.
3) Get Your Sort On
4) Finding Percentage of Clicks and the Position in the SERPs
While it’s much more “manageable” now, that’s still leaves a DaVinci-esque code to be broken. What does all that data mean, and more importantly, how do I know?
Here’s a sample string from the spreadsheet above (marked to distinguish):
[water brake dyno (a), 2% (b), 6 (c)]
a ) is the keyword term search and/or clicked on by the user
b) Still on the fence for this stat. Could be the percentage the term is searched (which doesn’t seem likely). Or it is the popularity of the term in conjunction with the other keywords in the grouping. And, you’ll notice that all the percentages add up to 100%, which leads me to believe that my latter assertion is more than likely correct.
c) is the position in SERPs. Yes it’s true. Test for yourself. Open up the data in webmaster tools and, without being logged into your Google account, search for the term in question. You’ll find, 9 times out of 10, this is exactly where the term is*.
*My only caveat to “C” is that is seems to be taken at a “snapshot”. On the terms I’ve looked at, the position is up or down one. But other than that, it’s fairly accurate.
So, if you don’t feel comfortable checking web logs, or just don’t want to go through the hassle, Google Webmaster Tools will also provide the same data.