If you’re a long time SEO, you remember all the hubbub about pagerank sculpting back in (around) 2010. I can’t remember the exact date, but it was a while ago. I remember when Google (and others) came out with the nofollow attribute and then shortly thereafter SEOs all over the place began using it on internal links to pages that they deemed “unimportant” on their websites. For a little while, this worked great. Pagerank flowed exactly the way they intended it to and there were no issues at all. If you’re not familiar with what I’m referring to, I’ll explain: Let’s say you’ve got a website homepage that has ten links on it that lead to other internal pages. Back when the nofollow attribute was developed, webmasters would use that to “shield” pagerank from flowing to pages that they didn’t need to rank. The nofollow link attribute doesn’t pass pagerank, so in theory, this worked well. Again, if you’ve got a homepage with ten links and you don’t use nofollow, then 10% of the link power gets transferred through each link to those pages they link to. However, if you happen to place a nofollow attribute on five of those links, back in the day, those five would be dropped out and 20% of the link power would pass through the remaining links. SEOs were using the nofollow attribute to funnel what they refer to as “link juice” to the most valuable pages on their sites.
After a while, Google caught wind of this practice and changed the pagerank algorithm so instead of 20% passing through the remaining links, only the original 10% would. What happened to the other 50% that originally passed through the previously nofollowed links (before they were nofollowed)? Well, according to Matt Cutts, it just evaporates. It goes nowhere and you lose it. That’s obviously not a good thing and pagerank sculpting, at least the kind folks used to partake in, has all but disappeared.
There are many content management system developers out there who don’t really appreciate how pagerank flows through a site. They’ll throw nofollows all over the page with their code with the intention of directing crawlers where they should be directed. In this regard, yes, nofollow does work. I’ve seen it first hand. On a daily basis I’m neck deep in server log files and I can see exactly where crawlers go. I’ve got websites that employ many nofollows and the links that use this attribute don’t get followed very often. The problem is, all the link juice that should be flowing through these links is lost. On both small and large scales, this is a huge problem. Just think about having a three page website – a homepage and two subsidiary pages. Pretend that one link from the homepage is clear of nofollow and the other one isn’t. It’s got the attribute applied to it. Right there, you just lost 50% of your pagerank that should be flowing through your website. Is that a problem? Why, yes it is.
It’s long been said that Google doesn’t like discussion forums. People say they don’t rank well. I have thought about why this is the case. This forum you’re currently browsing uses XenForo software, which is one of the best in the world. It does, however, come with a few SEO issues that need to be addressed. The thing is, so does lots of other makes of forum software. From Wix, phpBB, vBulletin, MyBB, Vanilla, Flarum, Simple Machines Forum, and Discourse all the way to Invision Community. Each one has their challenges and it’s up to each website owner to take a good hard look at what they’re dealing with and correct the problems.
Dealing with XenForo in particular, there are tons of nofollowed links on almost every single page. There are also links that lead to unimportant pages and 301 redirects. Some even lead to 403 Forbidden status pages. It’s a wonder that any pagerank even exists after it’s been so clouded out by the sheer volume of URLs. So I’m not sure that Google really doesn’t like discussion boards. I think it’s more of a case of Google not liking websites that have convoluted URL structures and linking hierarchies. When it comes to website architecture, much can be done to smooth out the flow of linking power and to create a lean and mean website SEO machine.
As an example, if there you have a forum page that leads to 20 threads via links, what you really have is a page where there are 140 total links and only 20 of them being worthwhile. The rest are simply links that lead to the many features XenForo offers. Most recent posts, user profiles, etc… It’s the webmaster’s job to parse through the template code to correct the linking structures SEO-wise.
So what can be done now that pagerank sculpting is dead? Mind you, back in the day, all we’d have to do is add nofollow attributes to all of these unimportant links and we’d be golden. These days, a good percentage of our pagerank is floating away into never never land, not to be seen again. Today, the job is to correct the linking architecture so links to 301 redirects, 403 Forbidden pages, and nofollowed pages don’t exist on pages at all. It’s best to work through your templates to remove any unimportant links so the pagerank can flow freely.
If you’re interested in reading what Matt Cutts has to say about pagerank sculpting and evaporation, you can read his post from 2009 here.
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