SEO Gets Simpler In 2009

During the last 12 months at least, some SEO clients have apparently been paying sizeable fees for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work that was completely ineffective.  That really is the bottom line on a development that Danny Sullivan describes in a post entitled, PageRank Sculpting Is Dead! Long Live PageRank Sculpting!

Earlier this month, Google’s Matt Cutts sent a shockwave through the advanced SEO community by saying that site owners could no longer perform “PageRank sculpting” using the nofollow tag in the way they’d previously thought.

Google helped advanced the notion of using nofollow to flow PageRank. No one was forced to do it; no one is being punished that it might no longer work. But Google did help put it out there, and that’s why it should have spoken up sooner when it took nofollow out as a sculpting tool. Instead, it said nothing about the change that happened sometime from May 2008 or earlier.

.. and why did Google not spill the beans earlier:

At first, we figured that site owners or people running tests would notice, but they didn’t. In retrospect, we’ve changed other, larger aspects of how we look at links and people didn’t notice that either, so perhaps that shouldn’t have been such a surprise. So we started to provide other guidance that PageRank sculpting isn’t the best use of time.

Danny Sullivan then provides the following view on how it all now works:

Google itself solely decides how much PageRank will flow to each and every link on a particular page. In general, the more links on a page, the less PageRank each link gets. Google might decide some links don’t deserve credit and give them no PageRank. The use of nofollow doesn’t ‘conserve’ PageRank for other links; it simply prevents those links from getting any PageRank that Google otherwise might have given them.

I was moved to write this post today by an e-mail message I received from Dan Thies of SEO Fast Start.  He revealed that he was in two minds as to whether he should roll back the Site Structure chapter in SEO Fast Start, and basically go back to what he was teaching in 2006. He has some concerns about what some folks have done with "PageRank sculpting" since he has seen more mistakes than good implementations with that technique.

Dan Thies is the author of a free 97-page ebook, SEO Fast Start 2008, that you can download. Interestingly the preface includes the following:

The 2008 edition is not much different from last year’s – because if you’re not trying to game the search engines, very little changes. Heck, if you had a copy of the November 2001 edition, your site wouldn’t exactly burn down if you followed what I wrote then.

It appears that once more that French phrase applies that translates as, The more it changes, the more it stays the same.  I still believe that the word PageRank is being used in at least two senses in these discussions.  Underlying this is the basic PageRank measure that applies to all URLs as suggested in the PageRank Calculation – Null Hypothesis.  Thereafter that basic value is used within the keyword search algorithms in a modified way as Danny Sullivan pointed out above. 

Even if PageRank sculpting is no longer the hot topic it was, there are still key issues to address with the most important being to Avoid Duplicate Content Problems.

Other resources you may find helpful are:

Never forget that of course SEO is only part of the answer to getting better business results online.  You really have to start off with the right strategy and follow through to good usability of the website and making the sales. The series of articles on Marketing Right Now is a useful primer on the total process.