Beware of Advanced Technique
Link sculpting officially died in 2009 (according to Search Engine Land). Yet it’s an advanced White Hat SEO technique that some less-than-White-Hatters still use today. In this post I’ll explain what link sculpting is, why you should avoid it, and tips for building a better long-term strategy.
What Exactly is Link Sculpting?
Link Sculpting is the process of manipulating your websites PageRank by controlling the flow of link juice. PageRank is what Google uses to determine how a website ranks within a search result. If structured well, your internal links can quickly point Google’s automated spiders to the right areas of your site, thus increasing ranking within the SERPs.
There are two kinds of links: “dofollow” and nofollow. The process of link sculpting involves using the nofollow link attribute to stop the flow of link juice within a web page. Using “nofollow” attribute tags to flow PageRank from your highest, most popular pages (e.g., your home page) through other internally linked pages is a common link sculpting tactic.
For instance you have a webpage with 4 links going to pages outside of your website. You want the PageRank to be passed to 3 of the 4 links only. Applying the nofollow attribute to the 1 link you do not want to pass PageRank to, essentially would make this happen.
A Grey Hat Practice
Grey Hat SEOs use a variety of methods to intentionally trick or manipulate the search system in order to get rankings faster. While the link sculpting technique was popular back in 2008 and 2009, it’s largely been discredited as ineffective and unnatural. Here’s what Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, has to say:
PageRank comes into your site and flows throughout your site based on the links that you have on the site. If you add ‘nofollow’, that’s causing those links to drop out of the link graph and not flowing the PageRank naturally on your site. Some of it (Page Rank) just evaporates or disappears.
Cutts added this statement: “not flowing the PageRank naturally on your site” is the outcome of adding no-follow links. If it’s not natural – chances are it’s a grey hat strategy. As routine changes are made to search algorithms specifically targeting Grey Hat techniques, it is imperative to avoid manipulation of any kind. Unless of course you don’t mind the risk of a penalty from Google.
A Better Link Building Strategy
We tend to agree with Cutts here. At best, link sculpting is a waste of your time. Given the push towards fresh, quality and meaningful content, your time would be better spent actually creating content visitors want to read and share, rather than re-working your site’s link structure.
Google’s love/hate relationship with link building – and its ever-evolving search algorithm – has left plenty of web developers confused over the best ways to build a strong internal linking structure and share the link love throughout a site.
In general, building a portfolio of quality and natural inbound links from other websites is a positive SEO signal. However, links for links sake doesn’t make business sense. Creating quality content can facilitate those inbound links. Yet there needs to be a relationship from those websites; they should drive qualified leads to you. When you have a linking profile that’s natural and relevant, you build credibility and authority in Google’s eyes.
Linking Structure Tips
Here are a few tips to help improve your website’s internal linking structure:
- Keep It Simple. There is no reason to link to every possible web page within your content. Be selective when creating links to internal pages. It is easy to over do it. Pay attention to related topics and keep it simple. Always keep your human visitor in mind. If the page is full of links, it’s distracting and appears manipulative.
- Be Mindful of Navigation. Again, consider your user’s experience when developing your site’s navigational structure. Rather than create menus cross linked to many of the same pages, create direct paths from major categories. Link to sub-category pages in order of hierarchy.
- Check for Broken Links. Regularly monitor your internal links to see if any are broken. As your website content advances and design changes are implemented, links can break. Not only can a broken link confuse a search engine spider, it offers a poor human user experience. Don’t let your hard work of creating helpful content go unnoticed. Take the time to find and fix broken links.
- Create Quality Content. At the end of the day, it’s also important to keep in mind that Google’s algorithm and its approach to measuring content is continually changing. The software rewards quality content producers and punishes web spammers. Stay above the fray by creating quality content that will naturally earn organic links from reputable industry sites.
- Review Your Profile. Now that you are building a link profile, review it regularly. Disavow links that can hurt you. By periodically analyzing your profile and deleting irrelevant links, you keep a squeaky clean image.
Are you convinced that link sculpting is a bad idea? We hope so.