At the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle this week, Google’s Matt Cutts revealed that Google has implemented two changes that may have an impact on your SEO efforts.

The first one has to do with the way Google deals with PageRank sculpting and the second has to do with Google’s following of JavaScript links.

Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has an excellent detailed explanation that’s well worth a read if you’ve been PageRank sculpting or using JavaScript to mask paid links but here’s the short version.

PageRank Sculpting

In case you’re not familiar with it, PageRank sculpting is quite simply the ‘blocking‘ of links (eg. using nofollow) to ‘sculpt‘ how much PageRank gets passed on. Using the concept of PageRank as money for an oversimplified example, let’s say you have a page with 10 PageRank dollars that it can pass on to other sites and this page includes 10 links. The idea with PageRank sculpting is that you could nofollow 5 of those links to pass on 2 PageRank dollars to each of the 5 unblocked links instead of passing on 1 PageRank dollar to all 10 of the links.

Some webmasters have reported good results using this technique.

But according to Matt Cutts, it doesn’t work this way. Sullivan explains:

Again — and being really simplistic here — if you have $10 in authority to spend
on those ten links, and you block 5 of them, the other 5 aren’t going to get $2
each. They’re still getting $1. It’s just that the other $5 you thought you were
saving is now going to waste.

Of course Sullivan notes that some of the theory around PageRank sculpting has been oversimplified from the beginning. As he puts it, “Google itself largely acts as the page’s investment banker” and has likely always looked at a variety of factors in determining how PageRank is passed on.

The long and short of it is that PageRank sculpting was a technique employed by a relatively small number of people and this change shouldn’t have any real dramatic impact on those who weren’t using it. It does, however, serve as a good example of just how quickly a Google change can destroy lots of effort. Those who were engaged in PageRank sculpting will need to await further details to figure out what, if any, action should be taken next.

JavaScript Links

Google doesn’t like paid links so one of the ways some have dealt with this was to use JavaScript’s onClick event to ‘hide‘ these links from Google. It was a decent solution: Google wasn’t following these links anyway and most users have JavaScript enabled.

But now that Google is following these links, the use of JavaScript isn’t a foolproof method for avoiding Google’s ire when it comes to paid links. According to Cutts, Google isn’t going to be doling out any penalties but as Sullivan advises:

…if you’re selling paid links and thought JavaScript was protecting you, I would
fairly quickly ensure that redirects are blocked by using nofollow within the
JavaScript itself or by going through a robots.txt block.

Or you could just give in and go the nofollow route.

Photo credit: Mykl Roventine via Flickr.