The more experienced professionals (and with a few more years of activity on their shoulders) will well remember the PageRank sculpting, the technique that served to sculpt the share of PageRank distributed from the links of a page in order to strengthen the most useful destinations. Now, and for over 10 years, this system no longer has that value but you can still profitably exploit some of its principles, to optimize link equity and give strength to our best pages.

What is the PageRank sculpting

Let us first take a small step back in the history of the SEO and move at any point between 2005 and 2009: the rel=nofollow was recently invented by Google and is spreading a tactic that results in black hat SEO, which basically consists in channelling all the link juice into one link among those on the page, so as to reinforce the destination URL as much as possible.

This was the original Pagerank sculpting: basically, assuming that one page could pass a link equity share of 100, instead of dividing this total into 4 outgoing links concentrated all in a single follow link, putting the others in nofollow. A useful method to “sculpt” the PR and direct it to useful resources, signaling as nofollow links to less valid pages or third-party sites.

But exactly in 2009, however, Google put a stop to this borderline strategy and changed the original formula of Pagerank: instead of being redistributed fairly for all follow links coming out of a web page, from then on the equity would remain unchanged regardless of the type of attribute. In other words, thinking back to the previous example and always with extreme simplification, the only follow link of the page would still pass only a quarter of PR, while the other 3 nofollow would continue not to pass, as in their nature.

To put it almost mathematically, “on a page with N links, of which K nofollow links, each do-follow link, internal or external, transfers 1/N of the page’s page rank, while no-follow links transfer nothing (0). In conclusion, the page rank part blocked by the nofollow attribute is lost in nothingness“.

Performing PageRank sculpting today

Given this information, we should not think that Pagerank and Pagerank Sculpting are now only old memories of the past – and even some Googler has more or less admitted that the PR system is still in operation, although no longer public. Indeed, according to Manick Bhan, CTO of Linkgraph, it is still possible to exploit the technique of sculpture to give strength to the relevant pages of the site, and in an article published by Search Engine Watch explains his theory and offers interesting indications to test.

Recalling that Pagerank-driven link algorithms are the original authority metrics of Google, for the author they remain “still the fundamental basis for assessing authority by page and by domain” and “Google uses its Pagerank algorithms to separate signal from noise in its huge index of 30 trillion pages and provide high quality search results”.

Why PR sculpting is still useful and current

Prior to 2009, “Google offered full transparency on Pagerank calculations for any page on the Internet directly from its database”, and so “the SEO knew which pages had the most Pagerank and did everything possible to capitalize on it”.

Today, even if there is no longer a window on the Pagerank metrics, this value “is still distributed on our sites, so thinking about where we are sending it is very important,” says Manick Bhan, who says he often notices “large websites with multiple landing pages that target too many competitive keywords: 95% of their pages do not receive traffic, but their Pagerank is extended to all”.

The mistakes of e-Commerce

A clear example of the still current value of Pagerank is noted in e-commerce sites, which often have “a product page for each SKU in their catalog, with the result that an excessive Pagerank is sent to a low value inventory, exhausted or unlikely to be ranked on Google”.

Even e-commerce sites “that dynamically create new pages from a template for each city or state often rank only by keywords with a low search volume”: usually, these “types of pages do not have enough unique content to allow Google to view them as valuable, so assigning links to them equity just means losing completely valuable PageRank”.

And so even “new e-commerce sites with thousands of product Skus” may not work “because they have deployed their site authority on too many pages and don’t have enough Pagerank for pages that matter”. On the contrary, “large successful sites (such as Amazon, which has over 300 million landing pages) insert their most important product segments into the navigation menu, so as to direct the domain’s PageRank where they want for their SEO purposes”.

Using internal links to do PageRank sculpting

The lever to move the PageRank of the page in a way that actually has an impact are the internal links that allow you to distribute the equity link from one page to another of the site.

Specifically, Manick Bhan has studied and tested three internal linking strategies to effectively distribute PageRank and achieve “extraordinary results for large websites”.

  1. Recover lost PageRank by redirecting damaged internal pages

A page placed in 404 “cannot be classified in search results and does not transfer Pagerank to other pages”: Therefore, one of the first ways to get more juice from your own links is to redirect all your non-working internal links to the most valuable pages.

It is almost inevitable: “As we build our websites over time, the structure of the site changes and even the permalink Urls can change”, and this is especially true “for older websites with a lot of history and for larger websites with a lot of Web pages”.

The links that point to the site are static, so it is very common that older backlinks point to broken pages; similarly, it may happen that the old internal links in blog posts or in other areas of site content point to pages that no longer exist. Google crawlers see all this and consider it a signal of poor on site quality, as we said also talking about errors with internal links.

Checking the status of links

There is, however, the possibility to reclaim and recover that PageRank, making redirects from page 404 to the . However, it is necessary to evaluate whether the content of the redirected pages is relevant to that of the old page, because pointing all 404 to the home page “is not a great idea”, and therefore it is important to look for pages that make sense.

Moreover, the author recalls that “the Pagerank algorithm has a damping factor: every time the Pagerank is transferred from one page to another, it suffers a loss of 15%, including redirections. For internal links, there is no reason to lose 15% of your internal PageRank; for external links, a redirect 301 allows you to acquire 85% of the link equity, which is much better than getting 0% with a 404″.

And to find the backlinks not working and pages 404 there are various tools, from the Google Search Console to server analysis logfiles, up to (we add) to tools like our SEO Spider.

It is good practice to perform this check regularly, especially for dynamic sites with lots of content, to make sure that all internal links point to valid destination pages without 301 redirects or interrupted pages 404: this “is a signal to Google that there is a webmaster who takes care of the site and that the site is of high quality”.

  1. Focusing your domain’s PageRank on pages that really matter

Google “uses the internal linking structure of your website to calculate the amount of PageRank on each page: many sites have most of their PageRank on the home page, which then passes the juice link to the rest of the site”. In this way, “the closest pages to the home page, such as those connected with a navigation menu and a footer, or the pages frequently linked internally, will have more and more Pagerank”, summarizes the author.

Using Google Analytics you can identify which pages of the site remove or move to positions of less evidence and, above all, control which landing pages do not receive organic traffic. In short, you can build a list of pages “to which you want to subtract the Pagerank, as well as target pages with the greatest opportunities on your site to which you want to push more Pagerank”, and then work to shape and sculpt the PR.

Techniques to perform Page Rank sculpting

Manick Bhan then lists five strategies to concentrate the PageRank in the desired way.

  • Using headers and footers, which “serve as a sort of boa for the Pagerank in your domain”, within which you can “link the most important pages to focus the PageRank on”.
  • Removing pages with worst performance. To make internal links more effective, “you don’t have to put pages in headers and footers that don’t get traffic or don’t rank well”, which should be “nested deeper in your site, merged or removed altogether”.
  • Creating category pages, which are “a great way to create PageRank silos that you can focus on selected pages”, prioritizing “the items on these pages and linking to the pages that matter most at the top of the page”.
  • Using the site command: “to verify the order in which pages are displayed and then which pages Google considers most important for the Page Rank”.
  • Using blog content, which allows you to link “high value pages in a contextually relevant way”, helping “to strengthen the relevance, depth and authoritativeness of the topic for your most important pages”.
  1. Performing A/B tests of the PageRank sculpting

When trying a heavy PageRank shift “it’s important to take an iterative approach to internal link changes”, using “a version control system (like Git) or site snapshots to deploy and crawl in a staging environment”, to see how much PageRank you get on pages that count in what is sort of an A/B test.

At the end of this phase, we deploy the new live version and monitor the placement of keywords for the pages concerned during one or two weeks: if “you have chosen the right pages to thin out and promote, you should see a nice rise in the placement of keywords where it matters; otherwise, you can easily rollback”.

Exploting the PageRank sculpting to improve performance

In his conclusions, Manick Bhan argues that “Pagerank sculpting works best if done on a site with high quality landing pages, with good user interface and effective levels of user experience and Core Web Vitals data”.

Like all SEO strategies, in fact, you need an overall job: “If your main pages are not of high quality or have a poor user/UX interface, no move of the PageRank will bring them to the first page”, highlights the author.

Overall, “larger websites run a greater risk of distributing too thin a link equity simply because of their size”, but “For those who have quality pages, sculpting PageRank is an ideal strategy to help Google recognize pages that matter the most“.

 

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