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Dec 27, 2007 | 3 minute read

Killer SEO Trick only 1% of Online Retailers Use

written by Linda Bustos

UPDATE: Page Rank sculpting is no longer a recommended SEO tactic. Major search engines have changed the way they handle the nofollow attribute, details here.

Link JuiceStephan Spencer wrote an excellent article for Search Engine Land last week that explains how you can use the rel=nofollow attribute on your internal links to control the flow of "Page Rank" throughout your site. If this is all Greek-geek to you, I'll explain in a moment what this means. But you should read this post because this is one white-hat SEO tactic that hasn't been milked to death by all your online retail competitors. Out of Internet Retailer's Hot 100 online stores, Stephan found only one using this technique, and even that store could go a bit further with it.

Page Rank (think Larry Page) is Google’s way of assigning authority to a web page. Your home page is likely to have the highest Page Rank because it’s linked to more often by other websites than your other pages. Page Rank flows between pages on your own site, flows in from other sites’ links to you and “leaks” through links to other sites. If you need more information on this, check out SEOMoz' Whiteboard Friday on the subject.

Sculpting Page Rank is really plugging up leaks that don’t need to be there, and controlling the flow of “link juice” within your site, sending more juice to important pages like product pages and cutting off unnecessary pages (that you don’t need to rank in search engines) like contact, view cart, privacy policy, terms and conditions and so on.

When you selectively add rel=”nofollow” to links like “add to cart,” “buy now,” “submit,” for example, you tell search engines not to follow the link as they crawl your site and not to include the link in the overall (and highly complex) Page Rank calculation.

Stephan found that outdoor gear retailer Altrec was the only Hot 100 retailer that uses nofollow on sizes, expanded views, duplicate pages, and hot links which has won Altrec top placement on a number of keywords for category and product pages. Stephan found some product pages with Page Rank of 4, higher than many websites’ home pages! But Stephan suggested Altrec could go a bit further by nofollowing “Today’s Deal” and “Give Us Your Feedback” among others.

Sears, for example, has thousands of product pages. Some of its Web 2.0 goodies use javascript links which don’t pass Page Rank anyway, so not to worry. But it does follow links like “Add to Wishlist” -- for every product page! NOT necessary. If you use the site: command in Google (to show you if a page is indexed), the URL for adding a Black Craftsman 4-Drawer Ball-Bearing Griplatch Utility Cart “Add to Wishlist” is indeed indexed. It doesn’t need to be.


You can plug in site: (use your domain instead here!) to discover what useless pages Google's found of yours, too.

Here's a nofollow checklist that is by no means exhaustive:

  • Legal Notices
  • Privacy Policy
  • Order Tracking/Status
  • FAQ / Customer Support / Help / Live Help
  • Submit Review
  • Testimonials
  • Contact Us / Feedback
  • About
  • View Cart
  • View All
  • Add To Cart
  • Add to Wishlist
  • Tag This Item
  • Click to Verify (VeriSign and HackerSafe seal)
  • Register
  • My Account / Sign In
  • Enlarge Photo / Mulitple Views
  • Size Chart
  • Shipping Info
  • Return Policy
  • Careers
  • Investor Relations
  • Affiliates
  • Click to Verify" VeriSign and HackerSafe seals
  • Permalink (blog)
  • Archive (blog)

It's important to note that these pages can (and should) still show up for internal searches - customers seeking this information on your site - just not in the major search engines that recognize the nofollow attribute. We know that many online retailers’ internal search already excludes this and users sometimes resort to external search engines to find the information they need, (like “PuppyPalace + international shipping). So if you block off important pages through Page Rank sculpting, be sure they can still be found with internal search.

When you nofollow these types of links, you’ll apply the attribute to the site wide links, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still pass real links to certain pages and get them indexed, either. You can pass real link juice through a site map, or if you have a separate corporate site, you can for example link to your affiliate program page on your ecommerce site from the About Us page on your corporate site.

Though this all sounds complicated, it's one of the easiest and ways to optimize your site for search engines and can really help you capitalize on long-tail traffic and gives you a competitive advantage.