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

- March 24, 2008

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: 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:

How Yahoo interprets the nofollow attribute:
How MSN interprets the nofollow attribute — this is not explicitly mentioned in MSN HelpCentral but this was their original announcement on the topic:

These are just the major search engines. As far as we know, other engines like 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.

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