The idea behind pagerank sculpting is to not waste pagerank on web pages that do not need it. Pagerank sculpting is technique used to manage how pagerank flows through your web site. You can use pagerank sculpting to get a little bit more pagerank to your most important content by taking some pagerank away from less important web pages.
This can help you in search engine ranking. Pagerank sculpting is a fine, granular, page-level method which is known to provide some benefits on large web sites.
What is pagerank sculpting?
We mentioned that pagerank sculpting is a method that web developers use to manage how page rank flows through their web site. When you look at any web site, you will find a large number of content web pages that are important and need to be indexed by search engines. In addition to that, every web site also includes some web pages or sections that are not as important (from the search engine perspective).
Login/sign in/register page, administration pages, gallery, shopping cart, contact us, disclaimer, privacy policies, terms & conditions, copyright ...
...depending on your web site, all or some of these pages are less important than the pages that primarily generate the traffic (i.e. your money pages), and you probably agree that they do not need much ranking if any or even to be indexed by search engines. If you have a web site about shoes, you probably want some web page about shoes to pop up in search engine results rather than your disclaimer. Although you probably want to display a link to your disclaimer on your every page, there is no reason why every one of your 10,000 web pages should give rank to your disclaimer page.
You have two options to manage how much importance search engines give to those less important web pages:
a) Information architecture (how your web site is designed)
b) SEO techniques, for example pagerank sculpting
Pagerank sculpting allows you to "cut" your less-important links out of the pagerank calculation without taking them away from your users. Now let's explain the effects of pagerank sculpting on small versus large web sites, and then we will take a look at how pagerank sculpting is done.
Should I use pagerank sculpting? Is pagerank sculpting for me?
These questions about pagerank sculpting can be approached from three angles.
Effects of pagerank sculpting...
First, you have to understand that pagerank sculpting is a very granular, fine, page-level game. You can adjust pagerank of some of your pages through pagerank sculpting, but the effect is generally very small. Pagerank sculpting is an on-site SEO technique and as such has smaller relevance than off-site SEO techniques.
Pagerank sculpting and small versus large web sites...
Second, pagerank sculpting is more effective on a web site with thousands of pages. Large web sites with thousands of web pages run relatively high risk that a search engine crawler gets lost somewhere in the maze of all the web pages. It is also unlikely that either a visitor or the crawler would want to visit all the pages. An architect has to assess priorities and make some pages more accessible at the expense of others. Small web sites are less susceptible to a crawler getting lost, and the probability that it wants to visit all the pages is higher, so the developer of a small web site does not need to focus on priorities as much.Imagine a web site with 100,000 of pages. Surely many of them are important and need to be indexed by search engines and it does matter what pagerank they have, but you also have many pages that do not need to be indexed -- maybe there are 30,000 of them?
If you restrict those 30,000 web pages, and direct the pagerank from these to the remaining and important 70,000 pages, it can have measurable effect on your overall ranking and your visibility.
Little pagerank coming in...
Third, if your site has very little pagerank coming in from external links, then you will not benefit from pagerank sculpting and need to concentrate on more important stuff.
So, to conclude: Unless your web site is a mixture of thousands of important and unimportant web pages, and some of your web pages are already getting some decent ranking, you probably can spend your time in a more effective way.
Should I use rel nofollow or robots.txt for pagerank sculpting?
People sometimes ask whether they should use the rel nofollow tag or whether they are better off with imposing restrictions in the robots.txt file. There are three methods you can use to tell search engine crawlers what to do with your web pages:
- Restrictions in robots.txt file
- Use of the rel nofollow tag
- Use of the noindex meta tag
These three methods do not do the same thing and therefore also have different effect when doing pagerank sculpting. These three methods are not interchangeable.
You can use robots.txt to tell a search engine to not index your web page. You would do that using the following syntax.
This web page will not be indexed by a search engine, but remember, what is the main goal of your pagerank sculpting intention? You, for example, want to stop flowing pagerank from your main page to your contact page. If you do not let your contact page indexed by Google, but you link to your contact page from your main page, robots.txt will not help as nothing tells the search engine robot to not follow the link and to not flow the page rank. In other words, if you create a link from your main page to your contacts page without the rel nofollow tag and the contacts page will be restricted by robots.txt from being indexed, the pagerank will flow through the link anyway.
Noindex,nofollow meta tag
This is very similar to the previous pagerank sculpting method. You can use these methods to stop the page from being indexed by search engines, but you do not stop the pagerank from flowing to these pages.
Rel nofollow tag
The rel nofollow tag (http://google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=96569) is perfect in a way that it does exactly what you need.
The rel nofollow stops search engine crawler from following a link and from flowing pagerank through the link. But, it has one problem:
- Not all search engines recognize the rel nofollow tag. Although Google is the biggest search engine today, you have to realize that there are many other search engines which also bring visitors to you, and therefore you should optimize your web site for those too.
So, what do you use to do pagerank sculpting? It depends if you really want to control the flow of the pagerank, or if to stop a page from indexing is all you need.
Is pagerank sculpting waste of time?
Many SEO professionals say yes, and they back up their stance with the following three arguments:
A) Pagerank flow: Let's say you restrict using pagerank sculpting your contacts page from getting pagerank from the main page. Most web sites with good architecture would include a link from the contacts page back to the main page. So, even if you do not do any pagerank sculpting and do not stop pagerank from flowing from the main page to the contacts page, the pagerank will not get lost because it will go back to the main page and close the loop there.
B) Max optimization: SEOs say that every page, even the contacts page, or gallery, or shopping cart can be optimized for some keyword and attract visitors which can convert into customers.
C) Marginal effects: Pagerank sculpting as on-site SEO technique won't leap your money pages to the top of the rankings. There is only so much you can accomplish with changes to your site structure and with pagerank sculpting.
There is also the penalization uncertainty around the pagerank sculpting method.
I heard I can get penalized for pagerank sculpting and the use of nofollow
You can find many articles on the web where some people polemize about whether pagerank sculpting is a bad thing and that the use of the rel nofollow tag can hurt you as being a big red flag to Google.
Pagerank is an unstable animal, and pagerank sculpting can be a dangerous weapon if used inappropriately. People claiming that pagerank sculpting and the use of the rel nofollow tag is a penalty have been doing something wrong in most cases. There can be two reasons why pagerank can drop after implementing rel nofollow.
a) If you use pagerank sculpting in a bad way, you can inadvertently take too much link juice away from pages that needed to rank.
b) Any significant changes to a site can cause Google to stop and be on alert. Adding the rel nofollow tag to a great number of web pages on one day can result in fluctuations in ranking as Google wonders if the site is still trustworthy.
Not yet convinced?
Pagerank sculpting example...
Take a look at popular forums and major web sites. For example, if you look at Expedia's source code, you will see that links to Sign in, My Itineraries, My Account, and Feedback pages include the rel nofollow tag. So, even the big players do use it. Google crawler does not know how to sign in or leave feedback, so it would be a waste to flow pagerank to those pages. Doing pagerank sculpting here is legitimate.
Talk about pagerank sculpting by Matt Cutts...
Rand Fishkin published an interview with Google's Matt Cutts where Matt repeated that it is safe to use the rel nofollow tag on your internal links to control the flow of pagerank within your own site. Here is a quote:
Many top SEO professionals agree that there is no harm in doing pagerank sculpting (http://www.searchenginemarketing.co.uk/blog/sem/pagerank-sculpting/). Sounds pretty reassuring.
Pagerank sculpting in real world
If you have any questions about pagerank sculpting, feel free to visit our SEO discussion forum.
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