By Jonathan Griffin. Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.
In response to a question on Twitter, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that PageRank Sculpting using nofollow link attributes is a waste of time.
Despite PageRank sculpting not working for SEO, Mueller acknowledges that many webmasters still “waste their time on it anyway.”
Here is the relevant tweet:
I’ll discuss why PageRank Sculpting using nofollow links doesn’t work shortly.
First, it is useful to gain a basic understanding of PageRank and nofollow links.
What is PageRank?
PageRank is an algorithm developed by Google to rank websites in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) based upon the number and quality of the backlinks of a page.
While the algorithm has developed in sophistication over the years, the basic principle is that links from other sites pass PageRank in proportion to the number of out-links on that page.
The following diagram, taken from the original patent for PageRank algorithm, demonstrates how PageRank flows between several web pages.
It is worth reading Majestic’s deep dive into the original algorithm if you have time.
What is a Nofollow Link?
A nofollow link is a link that uses the
rel=“nofollow” link attribute.
They do not pass PageRank or anchor text signals.
What is PageRank Sculpting?
PageRank sculpting using nofollow links is the process where you channel PageRank to your chosen pages.
Before 2009, nofollow links were ignored entirely for PageRank purposes. As such, the PageRank was divided between the follow links equally, thus channeling all the PageRank through them.
By strategically using these links throughout your site, you could significantly boost the SEO performance of your key pages by guiding the PageRank to them.
But like I said, this was the case before 2009. Not now.
Why does PageRank Sculpting no longer work?
In 2009, Matt Cutts made a blog post declaring that they made changes to the PageRank algorithm sometime in 2008.
Cutts posed the question, “So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed?”
Originally, Cutts said, “the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page).”
After the changes, “the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.”
As such, according to Cutts, nofollow links cause their share of PageRank to disappear. This may be why Mueller says that page sculpting is a “waste of time.”
I cannot be 100% certain that the position has not changed since 2009. There was a discussion in a Google Hangout in 2015 about the topic, but Mueller appears to dismiss reports from a Russian Googler that this was the case.
It is better to let the PageRank pass through all pages, rather than lose it entirely.