Articles in the Advanced SEO Category

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March 24 2008

Site Sculpting with the nofollow attribute: Clever SEO or Spam 2.0?

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Site sculpting with the nofollow attribute is slowly becoming a hot topic in the SEO world and the information that is being put around is not that clear. The nofollow link attribute was designed to relieve beleaguered forum owners and other open source content sites from the deluge of link spam that was clogging up their forum and general information pages. In a previous blog post on the true purpose of the nofollow link attribute, we discussed the correct usage of this attribute. So far, it’s worked pretty well for that purpose but as with all good things, there may be a dark side.

Late last year, Matt Cutts implied that a pro-active SEO use of the nofollow attribute could result in better PageRank for pages on your site leading to a heightened interest in this new SEO technique. A good visual explanation of site sculpting can be found here: http://www.evisibility.com/blog/no-follow-tag/. As recently as this week, participants in the Organic Listings forum at SES New York were recommending this new technique for improving the rankings of important pages of your site.

All this reminds me of a friend of mine who was convinced that he could make his back pain go away by gluing fridge magnets to his back. Magnetic fields may really have a medical use but so far as I know, nobody has been able to show exactly how to paste the fridge magnets on your back to maximum effect so he really had no idea whether he was using them correctly or not. Therefore, he was either doing nothing whatsoever for his back (the most likely possibility) or he could potentially be doing damage.

Site sculpting seems to me to be a little like this and a quick review of the most recent site sculpting buzz shows that I’m not alone in my confusion over the best use of this new SEO technique. I’m not endorsing all these opinions – just showing that there is some difference of opinion. One major problem is that not all search engines interpret the nofollow attribute exactly the same way:

How Google interprets the nofollow attribute:
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=81749&topic=8522

How Yahoo interprets the nofollow attribute:
http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/search/indexing/nofollow.html
How MSN interprets the nofollow attribute — this is not explicitly mentioned in MSN HelpCentral but this was their original announcement on the topic:
http://blogs.msdn.com/livesearch/archive/2005/01/18/nofollow-tags.aspx.

These are just the major search engines. As far as we know, other engines like Ask.com do not respect it at all. In fact, there are still many questions about how search engines interpret the nofollow attribute.

All in all, we’re a little suspicious of the claims that Matt Cutts is endorsing the practice. Generally, Matt Cutts doesn’t promote techniques that could potentially manipulate search engine algorithms. This makes us worry that it won’t work and we will have wasted precious SEO time and effort. Or, worse, it will work but not to our advantage.As a result, we’re recommending that if a site owner wants to try it, they should be very careful only to apply it to links to pages that really and truly are unimportant and definitely do not need to be indexed.

The bottom line is that, as always, the best way to optimize your site is to only provide content and links that are valuable to your visitors. The homepage is the most valuable real estate on the site and only the most important links should be found there. If there is a link on your homepage that you are thinking of adding a nofollow attribute to, then maybe a better question would be why is that link there in the first place? In other words, instead of using the nofollow attribute to sculpt your site, try using your main navigation. In the end, it’s more durable and doesn’t depend on the ever changing whims of search engine algorithms.

December 31 2007

Playing in Googles Sandbox

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The term “sandbox” was coined by webmasters to represent the time that a new website must wait before it is listed for a competitive keyword in Google. Much like how children first play in the safety of a small sandbox, Google also forces new websites to do their time before joining the older kids on the rest of the playground. The sandbox process is difficult to explain, since Google claims it does not officially exist. But tests by webmasters have confirmed its existence and effect on newly created websites.

The first thing that happens to any new website in Google is what some call the “fresh boost”. This is when the website is allowed to rank freely among the other sites often on the first three pages of the search results. This fresh boost usually lasts for about a month or two and is monitored by Google to see how well the site performs and how much it grows in terms of content and backlinks.

If the site passes Google’s fresh boost test it is allowed to remain in the rankings. The problem is that 99% of sites fail this test and are sent into the sandbox for a period of time that can last for nine months or more. No one really knows what needs to be done in order to pass Google’s test, but there are many ideas as to what Google is looking for. These often include authority back links from established and trusted sites such as DMOZ or Wikipedia. Basically, the idea is that if the bigger kids allow you to play with them, you get to stay. If you can’t manage to gain the trust of Google and authority sites in the allotted time, you are sent into the sandbox as an un-trusted or spam site.

Once in the sandbox there is no proven way out. Many say they have gotten out by a mass flood of links, but building such a massive amount of links can get a site banned from Google altogether. Many webmasters would rather wait and do their time than get banned, since it is extremely hard to get a domain un-banned from Google. The best thing you can do is continue to go about building your site and ignore the fact that you’re even in there. Use the time to add content to your site and continue to build back links from other websites. Once your time is up, you will have proven to Google that your site can be trusted and will be allowed to rank for highly searched keywords once again.

While in the sandbox you will still be indexed and listed in Google for non-competitive keywords and low-search volume terms. The sandbox only affects certain keywords and certain pages within your site, so you will still receive traffic from Google just not as much as you will in a year’s time. If you’re trapped in the sandbox, don’t worry. You will get out some day, and while you’re waiting for Google to trust you remember there is always Yahoo! and MSN.

March 9 2007

Search Engines Do Not Index Web Sites

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How many times have you gone to your favorite search engine, typed in your keywords and been shown an entire web site as a result? The odds are, never. More and more often I find myself explaining how it’s not your whole site that is indexed, but it’s a bunch of individual pages on your website that are being indexed. This may seem like an insignificant difference or just a wording issue, but I assure you the distinction is an important one to understand and I promise I am not just splitting hairs.

I would think that most people agree that the general function of SEO is “to help web sites rank higher in the search engines”. I submit a more accurate statement would be “to help the pages of a site rank higher in the search engines”. The pages of a web site are indexed and ranked individually, based primarily on their own merits. There are very few factors in the search algorithms that when changed effect a web site on a global scale.

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