The issue of page sculpting has been a hot topic for the last few weeks, so we are going to take a look at it here and how it is related to various related topics which have also been pushed to the fore.
First of all, building a website isn’t page sculpting. The way you lay out your site isn’t page sculpting, nor is the manner of deciding what content to put on your site.
Many people have latched onto the phrase ‘page sculpting’ and decided that it means the entire process of building, maintaining and implementing your site.
Actually, page sculpting simply refers to the practice of trying to manipulate what pages on your site Google pays attention to. The most common form of page sculpting is using a no-follow tag on links that Google might look upon as dubious; paid links, traded links, excessive reciprocal links, links with no relevance to site content, etc.
This method can safeguard you from the possibility of Google penalizing you for what they view as an effort to manipulate PageRank. Multiple irrelevant or bought links don’t reflect the true value of your site, creating instead an artificial, inflated appearance that you are worth more than you really are.
Another form of page sculpting includes the next step up the ladder from the no-follow; the no-index. This directs Google to disregard a whole page, not just a link, and can be used to help control what pages are indexed.
Wait, you say. Don’t I want all the pages I can possibly create to be indexed?
Well, not if they don’t help you. PageRank is complicated, and I’m not going to tackle it here, but basically pages that are more valuable in and of themselves will be given PageRank and be indexed first, and then you may see a trickle down effect.
You don’t want to waste spider time that could be spent crawling your valuable pages letting them crawl a page that really is buried so deep in your site that it is not a true traffic generator.
This includes pages that you have to go through another specific page to get to, like a welcome page that appears after a sign up for something innocuous like an RSS feed or a newsletter. Another type of page like this is a checkout page, or any page where the consumer has to fill in any information.
While page sculpting techniques like no-follow and no-index are perfectly white hat, there are a few black hat practices that have grown out of this ability to redirect Google’s spiders and bots. One that has gotten publicity recently is the abuse of geolocation tools to divert Googlebot and keep Google from viewing the real landing page.
Every time a new message from Google appears warning about black hat tactics, there are a few people who jump on the bandwagon to say that Google will soon declare all SEO outlawed, and we shall be labeled black-hatters for any efforts to improve our PageRank or SERPs positions.
As Google (often through the mouthpiece of Matt Cutts) keeps reiterating, SEO isn’t bad. SEO is just the way you work on the usability, quality and value of your site, and your attempts to increase its visibility to the search engines. Just don’t break the rules, and you’ll be fine.