PageRank Sculpting: Learn how to Get Extra From Your Hyperlinks
30 second summary:
- SEO strategists who focus on link building often forget that it is much easier to optimize their existing link equity than to build more.
- Large corporate and ecommerce websites with thousands of landing pages often spread PageRank too thinly and send link equity to pages that are unlikely to rank.
- SEO strategists can make dramatic ranking improvements by modifying the internal link profile of their websites to focus more PageRank on their landing pages with the highest value.
- An iterative approach to crawling internal links, A / B testing, and site rollbacks allows webmasters to make adjustments until the PageRank distribution is correct.
For the past decade, some SEOs have loudly proclaimed that the art of PageRank sculpting is dead. As is often the case when chair technologists use clickbait headlines to give their opinion, You got it absolutely wrong. The bigger the site and the more PageRank it has, the more effective the PageRank sculpting can be.
PageRank-driven link algorithms are Google's original authority metrics. They are still the basic basis for assessing authority per page and per domain. PageRank even underlies Moz's PA / DA metrics and Ahrefs' UR / DR. Google uses his PageRank algorithms to separate the signal from the noise in its massive 30 trillion page index and provide high quality search results.
Call me a traditionalist, but one of the reasons I love to experiment with PageRank is because it is a On-site strategy that I have 100% control. Getting new links is great, but time consuming. Maximizing the value of my existing links is a lot easier than creating new links. For websites with large existing backlink profiles, this often has an immediate effect.
Trying not to use PageRank to your advantage is a big missed opportunity, especially for corporate-level websites or ecommerce websites with hundreds to thousands of landing pages. This post describes three powerful PageRank strategies that I use with my customers to improve their rankings. But first – some history.
How PageRank Sculpture Died and Why It Should Come Back
There was once a time when Google offered complete transparency about the PageRank calculations for every page on the internet straight from the database. SEOs knew which pages had more PageRank and did everything they can to capitalize on them.
One of the methods SEOs used to do PageRank sculpting was by using Nofollow tags to direct more link juice to certain pages. Google responded to the fact that all links on a page, regardless of which, transferred the same amount of equity nofollows. Also, Google decided to ditch the PageRank API endpoints and close them completely later.
Although we no longer have a window for PageRank metrics, it is still being distributed across our websites. So it is very important to think about where we are sending it. I regularly see large websites with multiple landing pages targeting too many competitive keywords. Ninety-five percent of their pages get no traffic, but their PageRank is distributed across all of them.
Some ecommerce websites have a product page for each SKU in their catalog, which results in too much PageRank being sent to inventory that is low in value, out of stock, or likely to be unranked on Google. These ecommerce websites, which dynamically create new pages from a template for each city or state, are often only rated for low volume keywords. These types of pages usually don't have enough unique content for Google to consider them valuable. So if you send link equity, the valuable PageRank will be completely wasted.
New E-commerce websites Thousands of product SKUs are working right now because they have too many pages with their site entitlement and they don't have enough PageRank for the important pages. If you look at successful large websites like Amazon (with over 300 million landing pages), They add their most important product segments to the navigation menu so that they can direct the PageRank of their domain to the desired location for SEO purposes.
How can you shift your page's PageRank so that it actually has an impact? You go through it internal links. Internal links spread from one page of your website to another for your link equity. Here are some of the internal linking strategies I've used to move PageRank and get dramatic results for large websites.
# 1: Reclaim lost PageRank by redirecting broken internal pages
A page with a value of 404 cannot be ranked in search results and does not pass the PageRank on to other pages. One of the first ways you can get more out of your links is to redirect those broken internal links to your landing pages with the highest value.
As we build our websites over time, the structure of the website and URL permalinks can change too. This is especially true for older websites with a lot of history as well as larger websites with many web pages. The links pointing to your website are static. Therefore, older backlinks often point to faulty pages. It is also common for old internal links in blog posts or other content areas on our website to point to pages that no longer exist. Google's crawlers see all of this and reflect the poor quality on site.
To get that PageRank back, all you need to do is create redirects from the 404ing page to the appropriate landing page. Here are some strategies for finding your broken backlinks and 404 pages:
- Google Search Console: Check your 404 logs for View a list of broken links and pages
- Check your incoming backlinks: Use one Backlink analysis tool To test the pages showing the inbound links, make sure that they are resolved. If you know how to program, you can create a simple Python script to do this for you.
- Analyze server log files: If you are tech savvy, Check your Apache or Nginx log files to find 404 pages, especially those crawled by Googlebot.
It's a good idea to do this on a regular basis, especially on dynamic websites with lots of content. I want to run my crawler on our sites every month to make sure that all internal links point to valid landing pages with no 301 redirects or 404 broken pages. This is a signal to Google that a webmaster is looking after the website and the website is high quality.
It is important to consider whether the content of your redirected pages is currently relevant to the old page. Universal redirecting 404s back to your homepage is lazy and not a good idea. Once you've identified the broken links pointing to your website, start looking for landing pages that you can redirect them to.
Also note that the PageRank algorithm is a "Damping factor”. Every time PageRank is transferred from page to page, there is a 15% loss, even across redirects. With internal links, there is no reason to lose 15% of your internal PageRank. For external links, a 301 redirect can capture 85% of the link equity, which is much better than a 404 getting 0%.
# 2: Focus your domain's PageRank on the pages that really matter
Google uses your website's internal link structure to calculate the PageRank on each page. Most websites have most of their PageRank on their home page which then forwards the link juice to the rest of the website. Pages that are closer to the home page, such as those linked in a navigation menu and footer, or pages that are often internally referenced, have more and more PageRank.
Image source: Linkgraph.io
Check in Google Analytics which of your landing pages are not receiving organic traffic to see which pages on your site should be removed or deepened. It's helpful to make a list of the pages you want to remove PageRank from, as well as the highest chance landing pages on your site that you want to move more PageRank to. Below are some strategies on how you can focus PageRank where you want it.
- Use your header and footer: They serve as a kind of buoy for the PageRank in your domain. So when you link the most important pages of your website in them, your PageRank will be focused on those important pages.
- Remove the worst performing pages: To make your internal linking more effective, you should not have any pages in the header and footer that have no traffic or rank. Remove links to them from the home page, nest them deeper in your site, merge pages, or remove them entirely.
- Create category pages: Category pages are a great way to create silos of PageRank that you can focus on on selected pages. Prioritize the elements on these pages and link them to pages that are most important at the top of the page.
- Use a website: search Google: The order in which your pages are displayed will help you understand which pages are considered the most important of PageRank by search engines.
- Use blog content: Blog Content allows you to link to your high quality landing pages in a contextual manner. This strengthens the current relevance, depth, and authority of your most important pages.
# 3: A / B test your PageRank sculpting
For those looking to try a large PageRank shift, it is important to take an iterative approach to your internal link changes. It is helpful to have a version control system (like Git) or site snapshots that you can stage and crawl in a staging environment. As I make my changes, I redraw my site every time in the staging environment to see how much more PageRank I get on the important pages.
As soon as I'm done, I'll deploy the new version live and then monitor my keyword placements for the affected pages within a week or two. Once you've picked the right pages to crop and promote, you should see a good improvement in keyword rankings when it matters most. If not, you can safely roll back.
PageRank sculpting works best when used on a website with high quality landing pages with good UI / UX and strong web core values. As with all SEO strategies, they work best when combined. If your primary pages are not of high quality or have poor UI / UX, no PageRank shift will bring them to Page 1.
Overall, with larger websites there is a higher risk that the link equity is too thin simply because of their size. For those who have high quality pages, PageRank Sculpting is an ideal strategy to help Google identify the most important pages.
What do you think about PageRank sculpting? Have you ever tried it? Feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments.
Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, an award-winning digital marketing and SEO agency that provides SEO, paid media and content marketing services. He is also the founder and CEO of SearchAtlas, a software suite of free SEO tools. You can find Manick on Twitter @ Madmanick.