Expert SEO Testing: Usually Worthless

Rel=Nofollow Wastes PageRank

About 2 weeks ago Danny Sullivan highlighted that Google follows Javascript links, and that sculpting PageRank using rel=nofollow no longer works. Matt Cutts shared that second bit to the shock and awe of the SEO industry at the recent SMX conference.

And Nofollow Has Done so For Over a Year Now

While Matt Cutts only recently announced the change, this change is something that was done over a year ago:

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.

Matt explained why they never disclosed the change back then:

At first, we figured that site owners or people running tests would notice, but they didn’t. In retrospect, we’ve changed other, larger aspects of how we look at links and people didn’t notice that either, so perhaps that shouldn’t have been such a surprise. So we started to provide other guidance that PageRank sculpting isn’t the best use of time.

Why Google Engineers Once Pushed Nofollow PageRank Sculpting

Originally Google created rel=nofollow in what was claimed as an attempt to minimize the effects of blog comment spam on their search results. But the tag never decreased blog spam, it only decreased the ability of bloggers to influence search rankings by leaving back-scratching comments on each other's blogs.

Matt Cutts quickly extended nofollow's purpose to include use on paid text link ads as well. But given that Google AdWords sells links (and often to scammers) some people may have seen trade issues with forcing the new proprietary nofollow tag onto the web. Promoting PageRank sculpting gave Google a way to legitimize a tag which otherwise added no value to anyone except search companies.

After enough time passed and Google saw too much collateral damage popping up from rel=nofollow usage, they pulled the rug out from underneath it. Nofollow already had enough momentum, and was a functional part of the web. After a Google employee slipped nofollow into a working draft of the HTML 5 specifications it was time time to clean up the mess and inform SEOs about the nofollow change that happened over a year ago.

Some SEO Professionals Claimed Huge Benefits From PageRank Sculpting

Over the last year many SEOs have claimed that nofollow tests worked amazingly well which show up directly in the bottom line. And ironically, sharing/hyping this incorrect information worked well from a marketing perspective because...

  • it makes them look cutting edge and allows them to sell additional services
  • writing about things which are new, uncertain, and untested yields links (because for every person who is an SEO expert there are 1,000 ditto-heads linking to whatever sounds new or important)

What the SEOs were testing on their high profile public SEO websites was more a reflection of branding and marketing efforts. As they made noise in the marketplace their brand spread and that made more sales. We recently (maybe a month ago?) added nofollow to some links on our site, and we failed to see the lift that other SEOs claimed. And the SEOs that claimed to see the obvious huge amazing lift failed to report the drop off when Google changed how they handled nofollow, which sorta shows the error in the testing method.

Why Fake SEO Experts Recommended Using Nofollow Everywhere

It is no surprising that many self-proclaimed experts aim to misinform novices, as beginners are typically the biggest piece of a market and their topical ignorance makes them the easiest to monetize.

This is precisely why get-rich-quick email list internet marketers make so much money. There is always a new, desperate, and gullible crop to feed off of - an Eternal September. And until they get burned a few times and hardened by the market (and/or go bankrupt) they convert at rates well above what other market segments convert at. Greed makes it easy to make poor financial decisions, especially when matched against seasoned marketers and promises of automated wealth generation.

A More Holistic SEO Strategy

Part of my SEO philosophy has been to try to get the easy wins that you can figure out, but not to know the relevancy algorithms in intimate detail because it gets hard to isolate testing variables as sites get more established, and when you are competing for core keywords in big, competitive markets the SEO game comes down to industrial strength link building, public relations, social networking, branding, advertising, and other aspects of classical marketing.

Most of the SEO Market Misses Big Changes

Think of how many SEO blogs there are (literally thousands), and...

  • a month after a major update happen a lot of people say nothing changed (even though Google confirmed the change and we highlighted it on our blog, backed by hard ranking data across many industries)
  • nobody said anything when Google changed how they treat nofollow (we didn't notice the change because we have not used it much on many of our sites because we were afraid it would be taken as an SEO flag, given how Google profiles SEO professionals)

Lots of alleged testing in the SEO industry, but most of the stuff shared publicly is nonsense or misguided junk worth less than nothing.

What About "Experts" Who "Test" Everything?

About 6 months ago I talked to a person who claimed to be an expert at fine-tuned testing, and I was surprised as to how clueless they were about the influence of domain names on SEO. Even after I told them and showed examples they still didn't get it. They were clueless even after seeing the evidence. Domains are one of the few variables that are exceptionally easy to test, and it really validated my opinion that excessive testing can be a waste of time, as that the well known self-labeled "expert tester" was so ignorant about something that is so easy to test. Another self-promotional expert recently claimed that hyphenated domains were the way to go because he has data on 40,000 customers who are all using his misinformation. (Of course he didn't word it that way, but a sampling error he made, and 40,000+ people are losing money because of that advice).

Some People Know The Algorithms, but do Not Share

The one disclaimer I would on this front is that there are some SEOs who likely know the relevancy algorithms better than many Google engineers do. Guys like David Naylor, Greg Boser, Fantomaster, and Eli can do a lot of deep-algo testing based on how many sites they operate and how good they are at doing it. But those guys spend a lot of time and money doing their testing, and don't share their advanced research publicly until they feel it makes sense to from a strategic standpoint, as noted in our recent interview of Eli:

Isn't the value of many aggressive SEO ideas inversely proportional to the number of people using them? What makes you decide what ideas to share and when to share them?

In many cases that's absolutely correct. I've shared several techniques that have died within days of posting them. Just to list a few examples, my Abandoned Wordpress series, Wikipedia Series, and exploits. In all these cases I know before I ever post it that it'll die moments after I do. So most of the time I'll post it out of greed. They are usually techniques I've been using for several years and have since retired them out and quit using them. Naturally with any technique others are bound to figure it out. When I start seeing them popup underground and are being used against me in increasing numbers when I'm no longer using them myself I might as well wreck it.

If you only have a few sites testing many variables is much harder than many people try to make it seem, and it takes a serious investment and skill level to be at the level of the above mentioned names.

SEO "Experts" Jumping from 1 Bad Recommendation to an Over-Reactive Increasingly Worse Strategy

Based on the current Google information on nofollow, some SEOs are already recommending that you strip the ability of commenters to add any outbound links to comments so you can hoard more PageRank. And some are suggesting putting comments in an iframe. But in most cases, such advice is at best misguided. Why?

  1. Comments offer free relevant textual content that helps your pages rank for a wider array of related keywords.
  2. Allowing some relevant outbound linking makes the page more useful, and makes some people slightly more likely to want to comment.
  3. When you are competing for core keywords in big, competitive markets the SEO game comes down to industrial strength link building, public relations, social networking, branding, advertising, and other aspects of classical marketing.

Anything that makes your site more of an island (especially for new sites that need to buy market-share and momentum any way they can) makes it harder to compete against more open sites and well established competitors. If you close off a marketing channel then you are simply ceding a marketing advantage to a newer (or a more savvy) competitor.

Published: June 16, 2009 by Aaron Wall in google marketing


June 16, 2009 - 3:18pm

I'm getting continued enjoyment watching all the backstepping over nofollow. There is a critical point you mentioned that I think can be expanded upon -- if you want to learn about how an algo works, track a large number of websites and pick them apart continually and continuously (pun intended).

For newer SEOs and affiliates it may not be possible to actually own all these sites, but building a crawler to pull down raw HTML isn't too hard, and if you throw that data into a simple DB that contains corresponding ranking data, you'll start to see patterns.

I enjoyed the article Aaron.

June 16, 2009 - 4:19pm

Thanks for the kind comment Cygnus. I would have listed you on that short list, but I was guessing you were not interested in that type of exposure ;)

June 16, 2009 - 3:04pm

What a refreshing post Aaron. Goes to show you even the somewhat skilled SEO's find ways to dupe themselves and clients at the same time.

June 16, 2009 - 4:21pm

And that some of them focus much more on sales and public relations, when (if they cared about delivering value to clients) they would spend a bit more time learning about what they are actually selling. ;)

You can sell a bag of smoke, so long as you promote it everywhere!

June 16, 2009 - 4:53pm

Aaron, Yet again you have put into words the gut feeling that I have had throughout this debacle. I have lost count of how many people, who never seemed to know how or why sculpting was meant to work in the first place, are crying over their blogs, I have even seen it compared to the Florida update! With almost no exceptions, everyone I respect from the SEO industry has seen this as a minor shift, barely a bump in the road, and not worth detracting from their main strategies for. P...
June 16, 2009 - 6:25pm

Man... I do not even know where to start. So, I guess I'll just type out my thoughts even if they appear somewhat disorderly.

1. There are so many factors influencing any single variable within Google's algo that the average person would be wasting their time and money trying to isolate, test and form a strategy to exploit it. Focus on tactics that work (PR, links, content, networking, etc.).

2. When asked about using nofollow to sculpt PR on our site, I replied with a NO! It was, IMHO, a tactic with a great deal of unknown return and risk, thus not a wise use of our time to pursue. We already had a way to easily control what parts of our site we wanted to be crawled and/or indexed and what we didn't--robots.txt.

3. The term "SEO Expert" is to me a ridiculous notion because it is too vague, and SEO will never be totally mastered. SEO is always a work in progress. As such, I feel that the term "Professional" is much more accurate term for one who knows a lot about SEO and practices it on daily basis at a high level.

Note: When was the last time you watched an expert golf game? How about an expert baseball game?

4. Ditto-head. CLASSIC! Exactly the reason I did not start my own SEO-based blog. Sure, I have an SEO category on my blog, but it's thin because I refuse to post about the same regurgitated topics.

5. STOP blindly leaping from one unknown tactic to another just because an "expert" claims it works for them. It might be working great for them, but for what niche and for how long? How much time or money did it take to discover and form a strategy to exploit it? DEFINITELY read what others post and take to heart their findings, but you have got to test ideas for yourself and use your head before blindly implementing any strategy.

Jill Whalen
June 16, 2009 - 6:22pm

You picked out the MOST interesting thing that MC said in his post.

I love that nobody noticed for a year that PageRank sculpting had no effect. That's just too awesome for words.

June 16, 2009 - 6:38pm

The best deconstruction of the PR sculpting debacle to date. Where others have taken it blithely as a given that PR sculpting was a valuable tactic, you've provided a much-needed perspective on how that seemingly accepted determination was made in the first place. Great stuff!

Bob Gladstein
June 16, 2009 - 7:02pm

I've been opposed to PR hoarding and PR sculpting since I first read about them. I've never considered any page with unique content to be so low in value that I wouldn't want link juice to flow to it and through it. If the page is useless, I'd rather not publish it at all. I never thought blocking off a few pages would make enough difference to make it worth my while. I don't think there was ever a reliable way to measure the benefit, if it existed at all.

Finally, it seemed pretty clear from the start that the practice was all about the search engines -- nothing about PR sculpting created any benefit for the user. You have to figure that any tactic that's strictly about getting a response from search engines is one that the search engines are eventually going to block, and I don't want to have to explain to a client that I charged them for some task that that was only going to work for a while (if at all).

June 16, 2009 - 9:36pm

Excellent post, Aaron. I started off as a statistician and know the difficult of identifying real effects in relatively simple situations with noise. Trying to backward engineer how Google is really doing things is probably impossible. As Matt Cutts also said, they have been somewhat surprised that some even bigger changes to algorithms have not been spotted.

This should be a further cold shower on an industry that really needs cleaning up, given some of the inferior work that is done.

June 16, 2009 - 9:55pm

I love how every SEO (including those in the comments on this blog) all "knew" the nofollow tag was useless and should not be used. I have read a couple of blog posts about this topic now and every comment back from someone in the field highlights how those "other" seo numskulls were stupidly using nofollow. God damn them.

SEO is a field where you can never do anything wrong or at least admit to it in public even though it's a constant moving target. The ball game is always changing. This is perhaps a large part of the problem because then you will never get the advice required.

I for one didn't know google had changed the way they count the nofollow tag. I used this in conjunction with the robots.txt file to try control content indexed and PR. To me it made sense when I thought about it logically. I also do believe some of the well known SEO guys when they say something is a good tactic. I have to as at present I don't have the resources to test every aspect of the algo myself.

Great post Aaron a definite lesson for me ...

I do find it funny that Youtube use the nofollow tag throughout their site to direct pr towards community pages, well that's what i thought, obviously I was wrong ... doe

June 16, 2009 - 10:42pm

In the past I maintained that if you had a strong brand then there might be limited risk in using nofollow, but I did not recommend using it on thin affiliate sites, etc. as I saw it as a way that Google could use it against you "xyz uses nofollow to sculpt PageRank, so give them no benefit of the doubt"

In the section of our training where we had info about nofollow we also included a section that was called sculpting without using nofollow, where we talked about promoting key pages by moving them up in the navigation structure. We also have a popular thread about that in our forums as well.

I thought Google would use nofollow more for profiling SEOs than to take link equity away from end users, but they have a much broader view of the web than I do, and they must have had access to a lot of collateral damage information that I did not see - though to be fair, I did call some link hoarding uses of the nofollow element as idiotic. Here is one such example. And here is another.

I believe Matt Cutts stated that Youtube primarily used nofollow to prevent any video that is featured on the homepage from accruing a disproportionate share of PageRank.

June 17, 2009 - 8:33am

of course it could just be that the people who thought it worked have decided not to comment, just as those who are commenting now didn't comment 6 weeks ago on posts that said it was a good technique.

June 16, 2009 - 10:11pm

I wish someone had/would publish a list of SEO agencies that do nofollow page rank sculpting. I can only think of SEOMOZ, probably because they were the ones who named it and promoted it and reported they had seen effectiveness. I'm sure there are others.

As for the added info about the change made a year ago, that wasn't divulged at SMX was it? I thought that was first revealed in Matt's new blog post(?)

I wasn't in the session at SMX but did perk up when I saw that mentioned in the blog post.

June 16, 2009 - 10:46pm

I think you are right John...Matt only mentioned the historical references in his blog post.

June 16, 2009 - 10:21pm

"SEOs are already recommending that you strip the ability of commenters to add any outbound links to comments so you can hoard more PageRank. And some are suggesting putting comments in an iframe."

That's quite possibly the dumbest advice I've ever heard. Let's make it harder for user to interact with our websites. Or let's give all the user behavioral data and toolbar data that Google is collecting and give it to some other site.

And I keep hearing people saying a high comment number is going to be harmful. That's a ludicrous and unfounded statement as well.

I mean, I could be just trying to make this post worse by commenting on it. I'm a sneaky bastard and all... ;)

Aaron C.

June 16, 2009 - 10:48pm

Comments = free relevant content + more search traffic + social proof of value + deeper user engagement + more likely to buy + more behavioral data = win.

Some of the people offering best practice advice are not thinking through their advice to its obvious conclusion. But I sorta hope they don't read this blog post as it will only benefit us and our customers while hurting anyone who listens to their advice.

David Baxter
June 17, 2009 - 2:34am

The #1 reason for the relentless propagation of myths about search engines and SEO? Webmaster forums. Populated by self-styled SEO experts trying to impress other forum members. Someone says, "I think...". Someone else says, "I heard...". And before you know it you're reading the myth in posts that claim "it's common knowledge that...".

Once it reaches this status, it's almost impossible to derail.

June 17, 2009 - 8:52am

This is probably one of the greatest cases, where closely following minute changes in Google algo has been only a waste of time. It's one of the reasons, apart from higher ROI, that investing ones time into greater content is more efficient.

I too find it amusing that no one reported traffic drops, even though I do know someone at the SEO Refugee forums, who noticed ranking changes (not sure if related to nofollow/other changes or not).

Thanks for putting it concisely, Aaron. This post finally shredded the remains of doubts on keeping my way, instead of doing what others say. I've always thought that having dofollow links in good comments (and purging the rest) is much better, than nofollowing comments or removing them.

June 17, 2009 - 9:51am

One seo (who said he has soe'd dozens of site) asked me to help him solve a lack of indexing problem for one of his site: he couldn't understand why Google only indexed 1% of the site. He was desperate because he thought he's done 100% of what technically possible (even hired external seos to help him solve this problem). I checked his site and realized there were nofollow nearly every where except on the most useless part of the site. When asked why, he told me that it was to "funnel" pagerank to the most important areas...

June 17, 2009 - 11:37am

Thanks, Aaron. I suspect that the change we're talking about at Google happened in late 2007 - not 2008. That's when I started having to talk people back from the kind of radical "sculpting" (siloing, etc.) that a lot of people have engaged in.

Basic use of nofollow on overhead pages and the like still makes sense more often than not. Even more radical sculpting in some cases can still be a net win, depending on your objectives. As Leslie Rohde pointed out, it still has an effect, just not what a lot of people thought.

What's interesting though, and why I think a lot of people didn't notice, is that looking at data "from the wild," the statistical indication is still in favor of sites using nofollow internally getting indexed better and faster - but clearly this has been (like bold/strong keywords) a case where correlation isn't cause & effect.

The "SEO involved" factor (nofollow clearly indicates this) also comes with link building, deep linking, and a bunch of other smart structural moves outside of nofollow that can contribute.

That, plus the truth is, even 3 years ago, the most insanely radical sculpting schemes were really only able to push PageRank around a bit - at the third tier of a site, getting an extra 5-10% by borrowing it from the pages above would be a lot. Radical sculpting never made sense for normal smaller sites - tens of thousands or millions of pages, it will still make some sense in many cases right now.

We're doing some work now with some folks to try to carry out a more controlled experiment, and eliminate the "SEO bias" in the data, but I think the outcome is predictable.

So far, the few folks I know who have removed internal nofollows, are not seeing some giant performance gain - I got one report (a case of siloing) where they bounced back quickly after removing it. It would take time I don't have to analyze whether their siloing effort would have been damaging no matter what Google changes, but this guy isn't an idiot so I'm inclined toward a confirmation.

People try to do stuff that sounds "advanced" without understanding that it's also "risky," "experimental," etc. and even when you tell people it's risky experimental and undocumented, I suspect in some cases that actually encourages them to do it.

Whoever said there are no 'experts' I halfway agree. There are no all-seeing oracles. Even Matt Cutts doesn't fully understand the implications of everything they do over there, and he can read all the memos and stuff - probably even review most of the code.

June 17, 2009 - 1:56pm

Thanks for the comment Dan. SugarRae mentioned in a comment on Matt's blog that she asked him how Google would react to people abusing nofollow when Matt suggested that people could sculpt PageRank. He didn't think it was an issue then, but clearly that ship changed course...every action seems to have unintended consequences, where whenever they trust something too much they create a business opportunity for it.

  • when they put tons of weight on anchor text people bought and traded tons of keyword rich links
  • when lots of directory sites started ranking in the early 2004 timeframe that created lots of directories
  • when Google recommended submitting to directories like DMOZ and the Yahoo! Directory that helped create thousands of additional directories
  • when running blog networks was new people would cross link into any spammy old topic quite aggressively as long as they considered it part of their blog network
  • when they started applying filters for abnormal link profiles people started buying large swaths of links *for* competing sites
June 17, 2009 - 4:47pm

I don't know if this fits into the same story line of fighting spam - because all those things are examples of stuff everyone knew was abusive.

The public rationale for the nofollow change doesn't make any sense. It's that simple.

But it's a change that wasn't driven by the 'search quality' people, so I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with reacting to 'abuse' and may have more to do with saving a few computing cycles somewhere deep in the bowels.

At the core, Google is an advertising network that has to run the world's largest and most expensive computer to create the ad inventory.

June 17, 2009 - 8:29pm

At the core, Google is an advertising network that has to run the world's largest and most expensive computer to create the ad inventory.

In the past I thought you would call me cynical for such statements, but that is a beautiful quote that gets to the core of the issue. :D

June 17, 2009 - 5:26pm

@Dan - love how you phrased that :D.

Daniel Mcskelly
June 17, 2009 - 6:34pm

There is a critical point you mentioned that I think can be expanded upon -- if you want to learn about how an algo works, track a large number of websites and pick them apart continually and continuously (pun intended).

While I agree with this in general, as well as aaron's point that DaveN, Boser et al have resources beyond those of the average SEO, you don't necessarily *need* that infrastructure to draw useful conclusions.

Case in point: we (Bronco - dave's firm - where I was working at the time) first started talking about growing weirdness with nofollow 4-5 months ago, but it wasn't a site from "the network" that put it on the radar, it was a little outlier site with only nofollowed links in that made me notice it.

Having access to lots of sites certainly helps your chances of tracking this kind of thing, but you can learn lots and even have eureka moments months before they go public even if you're just tracking a single site.

June 17, 2009 - 8:25pm

Good point Daniel. But I think most people only track heavily the sites they themselves are promoting (and perhaps a couple competitors that are beating them). And a sample size of 1 to 3 sites for them often leads false conclusions (I just submitted to Yahoo! Directory and my ranking went from #5 to #12, did it hurt me? and stuff like that). If they are trying to build authority 5 different ways at the same time, and make 5 structural changes, then once they start getting some traction they can get a lot of false conclusions from the size of their sample.

You were able to pick up the signal of oddness from 1 site, but you likely also benefited from the experience of promoting many sites and seeing a lot of different data, trends, and patterns...all of which helped that one outlier stick out more.

June 17, 2009 - 8:59pm

When I first started reading this post on my RSS feed I was slightly shocked - half because I originally couldn't help feeling I had a prank played on me about site sculpting, being the new guy at Bronco.

Straight away I started slicing and dicing up my blog's nofollows.

Check it out anyways, I've dofollowed my comments (so its worth reading even if it is just for the free link):

Would like to know what you think...

So far from those changes I haven't really noticed much of a change in rankings, well perhaps a slight increase...

June 17, 2009 - 10:26pm

I would be careful with advertising that you are using dofollow comments on your blog on SEO could end up on some crappy list of dofollow blogs and wind up getting about 400 spammy comments per day, that read as follows

good post dear sirs buy viagra online cheap

Daniel Mcskelly
June 17, 2009 - 11:13pm

^^ touches on both the negative effects of an open-door commenting policy, *and* deriving algo features from stats. From a single site, I might add ;)

June 18, 2009 - 2:26am

Nice post Daniel :)

June 18, 2009 - 5:48pm

It's actually by Richard Baxter :). But it is a nice find, if that's what you meant.

June 18, 2009 - 12:54am

I think many people didn't notice the switch of "turning off" nofollow based on another admission Matt made to Danny about how PR is distributed, "Pretty much however Google sees fit."

Put a nofollow on your privacy policy and you just concur with Google, saying something to the effect of, "Yeah, we don't care much about that page either, even though it's mentioned on every page of your site."

He then came around to two other points: get external links to point to your pages, and point out to authoritative sites, i.e. do your job as marketers.

Which is understandable, historically there's always been a bit of a chip on the search engine shoulder when it comes to "SEO" and not knowing what's important on the web. When it's viewed that direction Google always responds, "We'll optimize our own search engine thank you very much."

June 18, 2009 - 9:06pm

Another great post, I always believed that something trickled through from nofollow, now I guess I am better informed, but you wonder why Matt & Co left it for a year before they let the cat out of the bag ...

June 19, 2009 - 9:24am

I'm pretty happy about isn't fun to no-follow things on Drupal :)

June 19, 2009 - 9:16pm

Man, the heavyweights really came out for this post.

Well done, Aaron. In an age of pretend journalism and scholar (particularly in the online marketing and SEO space) your commitment to truth is commendable.

My rule of thumb for SEO is to keep it simple. Stick to proven variables and work hard on those, identify true scholars and read their work religiously, use analytics and data mining as a foundation (empirical evidence is key) and don't react to crowdthink.

June 20, 2009 - 2:49am

"Comments = free relevant content + more search traffic + social proof of value + deeper user engagement + more likely to buy + more behavioral data = win."

I like the way you think about comments. This gave me great insights.

Thinking about this issue that some people worry about losing pagerank through links in comments, I came up with a few questions.

Does Google distribute link juice evenly to links in content area and links in comment section?

While Google tend to value links in text content area better than ones in comment section, isn’t it possible that Google let fewer link juice pass through links in comment section than ones in text content area?

Like, this is going to be my wild theory but, Google can even set a cap on how much of link juice going out through links in a comment section. Say, Google can decide only as much as 10% of link juice of that page can going out from comment area.

In this way, no matter how many links you get in comment section, you can only lose 10% of link juice of that page.

Above assumption is purely a made-up by me but, thinking about links in comment section are not valued as much of good backlinks, I don’t really feel I’m loosing much link juice though links in comment section.

June 20, 2009 - 1:09pm

Danny Sullivan postulated the same theory that Google decides how much weight to put on each link, and Matt Cutts confirmed it.

June 20, 2009 - 3:13pm

Great post aaron. You definitely hit the nail on the head.
Thanks for the mention again, but i'll admit as I was reading I was certain you were going to quote this from the interview not the other lol:

Have you ever felt a search engineer was lying about something? If so, have you ever called them out on it?
I think we're being lied to about nofollow. Consider this the call out :)

Does anyone else find it illogical to say that Since we changed the way we distribute pagerank on dofollow links that makes pagerank sculpting using nofollow void?

If nofollow is what it implies then that doesn't make any sense. If you have 6 links, 5 don't contain the nofollow tag and 1 does. Does it matter how google distributes those points to the ones without the tag as long as it doesn't distribute it to the nofollow link? Is that not pagerank sculpting? No matter which way you interpret that statement, whether it be google distributes the pagerank evenly among the dofollow links, or Google only gives one PR point to each link no matter what the pagerank of the document its on is; It still has nothing to do with stopping people from pagerank sculpting via nofollow.

You mentioned testing methods for people with lots of sites such as myself. If you've ever checked out some of my sites you'll notice I've never done pagerank sculpting with nofollow (i always leave it to the site structure). It's not because I don't think its possible or I saw some algorithm change it's because of my test results with it.

As you drove home with this post you should never trust other bloggers or what search engineers say. You should always do your own testing and find out for yourself on a constant basis. Here's a fun pagerank nofollow test: Link to a new site with no other links with a nofollow link on an authoritative site you have. Then link to another new site with no other links on a nonauthorative site using nofollow as well. Then after the next pagerank update note what happens. Then add a link to a banned site of yours on both the authoritative site and the nonauthoritative site right above or below the link to your new test sites once again using nofollow. Wait for the next pagerank update. I guarantee you'll learn three very important things about how google treats nofollow.
The most important of which I'm certain you'll find will be that nofollow is not a method of not passing link value or blocking links. It's merely a safetynet to prevent a spam caused penalty.

Thanks again for this post aaron. I'm sure it woke up a lot of sheeple. :)

June 20, 2009 - 6:28pm

Great comment Eli. Are you almost done with that guest post you were writing for us?

Free Traffic
June 26, 2009 - 10:09am

great post, and very interesting comments. I wonder how many people here value PR? and if its greatly considered when you are link building?, i certainly do, and still believe that linking to a high PR post is still better than thousands of links from bottom ranking page.

June 26, 2009 - 11:12am

I generally tend to much favor significant link diversity over having a few higher pagerank links.

Terry Van Horne
July 5, 2009 - 12:36am

Aaron, love this article... especially how you called most SEO testing out as BS I would agree and I did a lot back in the day. On top of the Sculpting you have the
data coming from the SEO experts in that other corner. Of course since they didn't really get it in the first place they didn't include other or relationships between elements that may also be ranking factors.

I tried to find the methodology but they're gettin' smart over there and I guess they've decided if they don't give that info out no one can call them on their a$$e backwards testing which is seemingly done in a way to prove some pre-conceived notion they've come to or earth shattering proclaimation they'd like to make in one of their less then useful ranking factors roundup. Nothing except maybe titles is weighted heavy enough to actually see real undeniable results.

One last thing... as an early Member of the HTML Writers Guild and very familiar with the RFC process nobody slips anything into an RFC and more than two people actually make the decision to include something in the RFC and fianl spec. The decision to implement is decided by more than two people. 2 people may be responsible for documenting and testing concerns of others. Take the time to read the RFC and you'll see it actually gives webmasters a better method for implementing "nofollow".

January 16, 2012 - 8:39pm

I started a blog to try and review SEO experiments but I instantly drowned in the sheer amount of it. People just flat out ignore scientific method and the whole SEO community sells itself snake oil. I despair sometimes, I really do...

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