SMX: matt cutts, nofollow, 'pagerank sculpting' and hype from the waterfront…

I’m sitting here on the waterfront in Seattle. SMX Advanced ’09 is over. One of the best search marketing focused events I’ve ever attended. But the “news” from the event is mostly about some stuff Matt Cutts said during “Q&A” at the ‘canonical tag’ session.

I was present, to moderate the audience Q&A. There really wasn’t much of that, because the panelists pretty much did all the talking, or arguing, howerer you want to put it. It was interesting, to be sure.

Matt appears to have come in to bail out Maile Ohye, who had said some stuff that didn’t really match up with the Google party line, like saying that rel=nofollow should only be used to mean that you don’t vouch for the link. After coming and saying that he supported everything she said (which I don’t think he could have even heard), Matt responded to a question about pagination links, didn’t actually know what kind of pagination links they were talking about, and said basically that nofollow might not work like people expect for sculpting PageRank. And, some other stuff which many folks have attempted to reconstruct.

First of all, the idea that ‘sculpting’ – especially the kind of radical sculpting that was being discussed – is not going to work like people expect, isn’t really news. Second, Matt didn’t really say anything especially clear, either in this panel or the “You&A.”

Hopefully someone from Google will add some true clarity to this soon, but for now, relax and don’t buy all the hype.

  1. If Google really has radically changed the way nofollow and PageRank are handled, they didn’t do it overnight – that’s major development work. Months.
  2. As recently as April 23, Matt had a platform to actually ‘announce’ something like this but didn’t. Didn’t say, ‘but don’t bother because we have a major change in the works.’ He said, as he’s often said, as I have too, as many others have, that spending a bunch of time trying to “sculpt” PageRank should be way way way down the to-do list.
  3. Until someone says something definitive, what you are hearing is people who speculated being interpreted by others, and… you know what? That’s not news. That’s the blogosphere, and Twit-o-sphere, doing what they do.

A lot of questions were raised by that panel – like whether robots.txt even works, if you want to believe everything that was said, and put the wrong context around it. But it’s a beautiful sunny day.

We’ll talk more later. I’m going to go say goodbye to the seals in the marina.

Update from Matt – doesn’t add much clarity:

Well, enough clarity in the comments there, for me to say that Leslie Rohde nailed it.

14 thoughts on “SMX: matt cutts, nofollow, 'pagerank sculpting' and hype from the waterfront…

  1. Thanks Dan,
    I was standing back watching it all start to come to the boil and suspected that just like water there would be all sorts of vigorous motion before the whole thing evaporated.
    I’ll go back to sleep now.

  2. Hey Dan,

    Chillin’ at the waterfront – nice!

    If Pagerank sculpting turned into the hottest SEO “news” at SMX then should we assume that Matt and Maile had nothing more important to say about Google search rankings?

  3. Seattle is place I think I’ll fall in love with, however you got a treat there, sun!

    I’ve never felt PR sculpting was a viable means to help SEO efforts, it just doesn’t make sense that Google would allow us to have a little direct control on rankings. This comes as no surprise.

    SEO is becoming mainstream fast now, at least 50% of our local business prospects know what SEO is to a simplistic degree. Google’s efforts to the LBR has been intensive and changing regularly, and PR sculpting is just another SEO tactic that I would call blackhat.

  4. I’ll get something more substantive up over the weekend. As it is I am a day behind, after spending much of my free time Tuesday on a webinar that had a tech explosion, and I have to make that call up today.

    The simplest explanation is that things still work exactly like they always did, and I’ll show how that would look to a “PageRank Sculptor” expecting to double the PageRank in a set of target pages.

    I’ll also show what happens with the PageRank algorithm if you run it the way some folks have suggested.

  5. It was Matt’s use of the word “evaporate” which seemed to rattle the most cages. I wasn’t there, so maybe you can explain this to us better. Or correct me if this was not the word he used.

    From what I understand, many of us in the SEO world have assumed that if you no follow certain links on a page, then you pass MORE juice to the remaining links. Matt seems to have expressed that this is not correct, and that NO extra juice is passed to the remaining links.

    So we have only a few choices.

    1 – Matt was telling the truth. Google has decided NOT to add value to these remaining links. Either they’ve already done this, or are moving towards this approach.

    2 – Matt was confused. It can happen. But “evaporate” just to me doesn’t sound like a word somebody uses by accident.

    3 – Matt misled us with his comment on purpose. I’ve always felt that Google sometimes walks a thin line promoting “best practices” when their algorithm often rewards people who do not follow best practices.

    So, which is it? :)

  6. @Lee, I will be posting what I was able to discover early tomorrow.

    I think we can rule out #2 – he was definitely confused a bit during the ‘canonical URL’ session, but Marty ( got a pretty good transcript of the “You&A With Matt Cutts” session.

    PageRank can’t “evaporate” – it has to go somewhere.

  7. Agreed that PR sculpting should be at the bottom of the to-do list. If you have all that time to worry about it you could apply that time in so many ways to work on generating amazing content or better sales copy, etc to enhance the visitor experience. Anyway – love the insight.

  8. Yes I too was at SMX and it seemed like google was getting a new face instead of Matt. I don’t think this is an overnight change either, and it probably has been like this for a while, maybe even from the beginning.

  9. Indeed. He said something like “it bubbled up from the index team” – my unlikely, likely, and utterly crazy conspiracy scenarios will be posted tomorrow. ;-)

  10. Hey Dan, to give you a little back story.

    We’ve used No Follow for years on external links and some internal links, but hadn’t really dived into officially sculpting our site. About eight weeks ago we finally did it. Used a silo approach through our product categories. Expected some things to improve, and others to drop. Noticed some things drop a bit. But the things that should have improved didn’t improve at all. We were already discussing rolling back these changes. So if you ask me, Google had already made this change weeks, if not months, ago.

  11. I’m not sure what you were expecting to improve, or how large the site is. To me “siloing” is a pretty radical step.

    You can’t really push enough PageRank around to affect rankings much, and the math gets pretty complicated internally, and impossible when you want to consider inbound and outbound links from the site.

  12. believe nothing said by matt cutts, he is merely a google agent trying to misled the public

    he is a character created to make sure the public follow what google

    for example, buying links… it is working well and alive, but google is using matt to tell lies

    if you do a simple check on ultra competitive niche like credit cards, everyone at the top of search results is buying links… and lots of them are sitewide links

    so google and agent matt, who are you trying to cheat?

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