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Sculpting Page Rank with the NoFollow Tag

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Update: This post has been edited since first being published. A paragraph has since been stricken. The stricken text was an error in wording which was brought to our attention.

Q: I’ve heard that by including a no-follow tag in some internal links, you can increase the page rank of your site. Is this true? If so, what is the best way to proceed?
– Collin

Until about a year ago, the nofollow tag was often used to actually build page rank. Although it can no longer be used to the same extent, it can still be used to prevent the loss of page rank.

At a recent Search Marketing Expo, the head of Google’s Webspam Team, Matt Cutts, announced that nofollow tags can no longer be used to sculpt Page Rank (PR) anymore. Although this change has been in effect for over a year, this announcement was the first clear indication that the nofollow tag could no longer be used this way.

It still, however, plays a very important role in SEO, at least in terms of not being penalized by Google for a violation of their Webmaster Guidelines. There are still a variety of links that webmasters are required to include the nofollow tag on, and failing to do so can get their website penalized by Google, or even outright banned.

How NoFollow Has Changed

While the nofollow tag was still being used to actually sculpt PR, it was used as an “internal SEO” tactic. Webmasters would put it on links to pages that they weren’t trying to rank for, such as their “terms and condition” and “privacy policy” pages. The reason was to keep the “link juice” of the higher profile pages from flowing to less important pages. This way, more “link juice” could be distributed to other links on the page that were deemed as more valuable.

What has changed is that Google will no longer index an internally tagged nofollow link as “link juice dam.” In other words, trying to use it as internal SEO tactic to sculpt your PR isn’t going to work. As SEO expert, Danny Sullivan put it:

Imagine authority is money, and a particular page has $10 in “authority” to spend. It links out to 10 pages, so each of those pages gets $1 ($10 divided by 10). If it links to 20 pages, each gets 50 cents ($10 divided by 20). If it links to 5 pages, each page gets $2 (you get the math by now).
[…]
[Now] if you have $10 in authority to spend on those ten links, and you block 5 of them, the other 5 aren’t going to get $2 each. They’re still getting $1. It’s just that the other $5 you thought you were saving is now going to waste.

So as far as PR sculpting goes, you should now let your link juice flow freely throughout your site and removing the nofollow tag from your internal links. If you do not do so, you run the risk that some of PR that you can share among your pages will just go to waste.

Where you might want to still use it, however, is in linking to outsides sites. The reason that a link from another site boosts your PR is because when that site links to you, some its PR gets passed on to you. So if you’re linking out to another site, you might choose to not pass on some of your PR.


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