Nofollow Makes News at SMX Advanced
Editor’s note, June 15, 2009: There’s more to report in the continuing saga of nofollow! Check out Matt Cutts on Nofollow and the Siloing Solution to listen to audio clips of Matt and to read Bruce’s nofollow recommendations. There are also additional tips in Susan’s post Nofollow on Your Site Will Not Cause It to Explode.
With SMX Advanced taking place today and tomorrow, SEOs could expect that more than one announcement by a search engine might potentially change the search marketing game. Before the first day has concluded, at least one such revelation has already occurred. Those who attended Duplicate Content Solutions & The Canonical Tag listened to Google webspam czar Matt Cutts explain that, in time, it would become less effective to use the nofollow link attribute for sculpting a site’s PageRank.
Witnesses have dutifully shared the news on Twitter and in blog posts, but there has been no official word from Google yet. Until then, the facts remain fuzzy about what was actually said and implied by the Google team regarding the use of nofollow. Was the recommendation about internal links only? Will a flag be raised if the number of nofollow attributes on a single page exceed a recommended limit? PageRank sculpting is “less effective” than it used to be — by what margin? Some accounts suggest that webmasters have six months to clean up nofollow on their site, so what happens after that? And what does Matt mean by PageRank sculpting anyway? The questions just keep coming.
We can expect to receive some clarification from Google or a representative in the coming days, but Internet marketers who’ve been dedicated to a long-term strategy aren’t holding their breath. That’s because a sophisticated, long-term, organic search marketing strategy doesn’t rely on quick fixes like PageRank sculpting using nofollow to drive traffic and conversions. Instead, it relies on siloed site architecture and link-worthy content, and abides by the best practice recommendations of the search engines.
The nofollow attribute was first introduced with a specific role in mind: to help dilute the effectiveness of comment spam. Any use that perverts the original intent — especially one designed to manipulate ranking factors — was destined to be snuffed down the line. Nofollow is not and has never been the silver bullet. More importantly, a strategy that depends only on nofollow PageRank sculpting risks forgetting what’s really important — strong, theme-supported site architecture.
[Editor's note: Bruce Clay, Inc. has recommended the use of the nofollow attribute in appropriate instances. Please see the update below.]
Today’s announcement is another much-needed reminder for SEOs to stop chasing the algorithm. That path only leads to ulcers and extra work. If you got tangled up thinking that nofollow is the end-all and be-all of PageRank sculpting, don’t beat yourself up; nofollow sculpting had a pretty popular cult for a while there. Now, use this lesson to remind yourself that a work ethic based on fundamentals and smart SEO will take you farther in the long run. What looks like today’s speedy workaround is really next month’s time-consuming correction. By relying on nofollow to do all your siloing, you may have to go back and reorganize your site when Google changes in the way Matt suggests they might. Do it right the first time and achieve the same victory without the side of heartache.
Update on June 3, 2009: During the last session of the first day of SMX Advanced, Matt Cutts partially clarified Google’s position on nofollow-based PageRank sculpting. There is some excellent liveblog coverage of the informative You&A with Matt Cutts by Outspoken Media, Beanstalk SEO and SEOgadget. Here’s a snippet from Lisa Barone’s post:
If you’re using nofollow to change how PageRank flows, it’s like a band-aid. It’s better to build your site how you want PageRank to flow from the beginning.
Long before the days of nofollow, Bruce Clay, Inc. has advocated a site architecture practice known as siloing. Siloing relies on two things to create sections of a site that are highly relevant to the targeted keyword: linking and theming. By linking pages with the same theme (virtual siloing) and by including those pages within the same directory (physical siloing), you can create a section of your site that will be considered pertinent to targeted keywords.
With the advent of the nofollow attribute, we recommended nofollow use to eliminate superfluous links to pages that were off-theme. However, we considered PageRank sculpting using nofollow to be a marginal support for siloing. If a forthcoming Google guideline were to discourage nofollow-based PageRank sculpting, it would not affect the core principles of siloing, a powerful site architecture technique that improves site structure and the related relevancy signals. If Matt is suggesting that webmasters build a site with PageRank flow in mind from the beginning, siloing is an ideal solution still deserving of attention and implementation.