John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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June 29th, 2010 by john andrews

Page Rank Sculpting Still Doesn’t Work

Or maybe “Page Rank Sculpting Now Works Worse than Ever”

Matt Cutt’s latest video clarifies (again) his position on the use of the rel=nofollow attribute within your site. This time, it’s bad. It does harm. To quote Matt, “it does more harm than good“.

Like all SEO consultants out there (sans a very few), I have always advised webmasters to avoid the use of the nofollow attribute. Actually, that’s sarcasm. I kid. It seems these days everyone is claiming to have been an SEO since 1997 and to have never suggested the nofollow attribute was a good idea. Sad, but true.

I have never advised a webmaster to use the nofollow attribute on internal links. I have always stood firm in my belief that using nofollow on internal links was a bad idea, for several reasons.

And I have shared those reasons openly with my clients, whenever appropriate.

With the new “Caffeine” infrastructure, Google is able to annotate links in the web graph better than ever. Matt’s communications suggest that Google is reading the internal nofollow as an important signal, which it is assigning to the link in the link graph. So internally using the nofollow attribute impacts the external view of your links, as far as Google is concerned.

Rational thinkers suggested this years ago… if the nofollow attribute was intended to suggest a link could not be trusted, why tag your own links as un trusted? That’s what Matt is saying now… it will do more harm than good. Perhaps Matt had difficulty clearly communicating this in the past, because Google was not able to cleanly implement it in the past? Don’t know.

Not-so-rational thinkers assumed a level of granularity for the nofollow signal, which may or may not have been actual. They assumed it worked on an instance of a link… such as an internal link on a home page, without necessarily impacting the interpreted character of the destination URL itself (or the host site itself).

I never saw any real data suggesting “page rank sculpting” ever worked, but lots of casual references and, perhaps most importantly, sincere, authoritative recommendations IN FAVOR of its use from high profile SEOs like Rand, Stephan, and Bruce.

I’ve said it before. When you have a vested interest in having been right (because you have clients who paid a lot to be told to implement nofollow, and paid a lot to implement nofollow for page rank sculpting), you tend to develop a biased perspective.

In a  cab ride home from SMX Advanced in Seattle, I asked an SEO friend the following question about a high profile SEO consultant who sells an expensive SEO toolset:

“If Google changed something and that expensive toolset ceased to work temporarily, while the SEO tool vender re-writes it or otherwise updates the tool for the New Google, do you think the vendor informs it’s customers that the tool should no longer be used until it is fixed? Do you think the sales department stops selling the tool? Do you think they say

Sorry, we’re not selling our tools right now because they don’t work. But we’re writing new ones! They’ll be ready in a few months…

Of course they don’t. Caveat emptor.

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July 9th, 2006 by john andrews

How easy is Black Hat SEO?

Let’s say you learn of a Drupal security flaw. Let’s say it permits an unauthorized SQL injection. Let’s say you figure out how to insert a backlink into the Drupal link list using that exploit.

Drupal is a popular Open Source content management system, in use on hundreds of thousands of websites. Itis very good, and very flexible. It is free, but installation and configuration (customization) may cost a few thousdand dollars in consulting fees. Basically, it is free of licensing fees but a real, commercially used product.

So you go to Google, and search “password and instructions will be sent to this e-mail address, so make”, and you find a list of 167,000 URLs of Druapl sites. Then you hit each of the first 1000 of those with your exploit URL .. one at a time… from a free or cheap web hosting account. And then you hit a different Google datacenter for another 1,000 sites.

Or, you could have narrowed your search for on-theme websites (more valuable back links?) by adding a keyword to that Google search such as “seo”. That way you only get the best sites for your back link spam.

How long do you have to act on one of these newly-discovered security vulnerabilities? Many months, as many of the webmasters do not patch or update their Drupal installations once they are deployed. I can’t blame them too much, because once you have customized the installation there is often plenty of work required following any update process.

Often a patch can easily be applied directly to only that part of the Drupal system that was flawed. However, application developers who deploy Drupal for their clients don’t often see direct patching as economically beneficial to them, so they may try and bundle the patch in with some other unfinished (and billable) work for the client. No sale, no patch. In fact, many clients don’t even know they are running Drupal. They paid a consultant for a CMS, and got one that worked.

Spam is not rocket science. Consequently, spamming can be stopped by some simple (albeit tedious) attention to detail. Usually, we are too lazy. Do we therefore deserve to be spammed?

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July 7th, 2006 by john andrews

Stealth Link Building via Open Source Contributions

As I waited the two or three minutes Wordpress2 needs to post a small edit to this blog, I wondered why I was so casual about ripping backlinks out of the WordPress templates I downloaded yesterday. That issue is blog-worthy, I think. So this time, I smartly opened a second tab before hitting “save”. So while WordPress takes another 2-3 minutes to update the post slug, I can blog about stealth links in open source software.

I’ll go back and flesh out the issue later, but let’s just say there are plenty of direct backlinks hidden inside these “free” downloads. Some time ago I helped expose a case of user agent cloaking hidden within a front end re-write ruleset for the Invision Power Board forum. In that case, the author had inserted a cloaking script into the front end of a mod designed to make Invision’s forum “search engine friendly”. It quietly inserted 5 or 6 backlinks to his own pop culture websites, so only the search engines would see them. Nasty. We got him to fix it, though.

Now WordPress2 comes with a ton of themes. Each one is a set of code files, and each enjoys ample opportunity to insert backlinks. I always go and remove sitewide footer links because they are clearly not justified (except perhaps with a nofollow…haha) but this time I found myself stripping out several aditional links buried in the code. Some were in sections marked “do not edit anything here”. Some threatened “if you touch anything here, don’t even think of asking for support”. That’s fair enough, but disclosure would be much more…. ethical?

Yawn. Maybe I will start digging and see just how many free hidden backlinks are working for these people. And how many disclose, how many seem to hide the links, or gasp… maybe some or encoded? A task for a rainy day?

Alex King has promoted WordPress themes on his site for years, and gets many submissions. From this post I see some have computer virus/worms embedded, and others have hidden links. I’m not sure what the review process is today.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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