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Google NoFollow Rules Change

00:00 on Mon, 8 Jun 2009 | SEO | 0 Comments

The SEO blogosphere in the past few days has been dominated by one story. Matt Cutts announced a rather significant change to Google’s stance on nofollow.

So what actually changed? Previously, if you wanted to push more link equity to important pages and sacrifice your less important pages, you could implement a system known as ‘PageRank sculpting’. The basic idea was that if your page had a value of 10 and you had 10 links on your page, instead of passing a value of 1 to each of those pages, you could selectively place the nofollow attribute on 5 less important links and channel your PageRank equity to flow into your more important pages. This would mean the 5 nofollowed pages would get zero value, but the 5 pages without nofollowed links would receive a value of 2. The new stance on nofollow is that link equity can’t be conserved with nofollow and channelled to important pages. Instead, the 5 followed pages will receive a value of 1 each, but the 5 nofollowed pages will receive nothing and that other ‘spare equity’ of 5 will simply disappear.

The reality of this situation is that the effects may not be as horrifying as they sound. Some simple math will hopefully cheer up the PageRank sculptors out there. As the amount of link equity you are passing decreases, so too does the overall PageRank pool. Effectively, you have lost the advantage you had on your competitors, but the losses stop there. Well kind of. Whilst you are back on par with your competitors in terms of a single page’s PageRank, you don’t get the chances they do of passing PageRank around your site from the unimportant pages. Nevertheless, it seems much less scary then the ‘evaporating juice’ Matt Cutts was talking about.

Of course, you could just use some different technology to conceal the links from Google’s view whilst maintaining the code for users and bots. Changing all the links you want nofollowed to JavaScript would work perfectly. Ah, yeah...Slight problem there. Google happened to make another big announcement at SMX Advanced. Google has improved its ability to follow JavaScript links and will now be officially indexing and passing equity to pages that are linked to using JavaScript. Interesting coincidence, that. Now, you could do some nifty flash linking, but that has the potential to ruin user experience. So what’s left? Cloaking? Can you afford to take that risk (or, can you afford to pay someone to reduce that risk)?

It seems that Google feels they have given excessive freedom to webmasters and want to pull in the reigns. In reality, as Andrew Girdwood said, (on the face of it) it was good of Matt Cutts to let us know what was changing; though I’ve yet to see reports of anybody seeing changes. Now I’m not accusing Matt Cutts of lying, but Google have been known to word things in interesting ways. Now, before I run off into a conspiracy theory rant, I’ll wrap this post up with some advice.

My advice would be, as long as your site is performing well, hold back on reacting to this announcement until further details surface. If you are looking to create a brand new site, you may want to just nofollow the minimum amount of pages (privacy policy, terms and conditions), or look into more advanced tactics.

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