Page sculpting: it sounds like an artistic pursuit, doesn’t it? This is the term used to describe the act of modifying your HTML links to dictate whether or not you will ‘reward’ the sites you link to.

This is done not with a chisel and mallet, but with the use of the ‘no follow’ link, a piece of code that tells the search engines that even though you are linking to a site, you don’t want your link to be considered a ‘vote’ towards its popularity.

Imagine, for example, that you are blogging about a company whose service you consider to be particularly bad. If you exercise a particularly aggressive form of marketing, you may even be pointing out a competitor’s higher prices (not something we’d recommend, by the way). Under those circumstances, you are very unlikely to want to boost their Google ranking.

The ‘no follow’ link has gained its own momentum: when it was originally conceived (by a rare coming together of the major search engines), its purpose was to help combat ‘comment spam’. If your code automatically puts a ‘no follow’ tag in any links inserted by commenters, there is very little point in them bombarding your site with comments containing links to their site.

Thus, if you examine the source code of many of the big newspaper websites and other popular forums, you’ll see the ‘no follow’ links in action.

These days, the most diligent SEO practitioners have even been experimenting with ‘no follow’ links within their own site, in an attempt to guide Google and other search engines to the pages they consider most important, at the expense of the rest.

Why am I thrashing over this fairly esoteric point? Well, because this week the SEO community have been mulling over the words of Matt Cutts, the famous blogging Google engineer, at SMX, an SEO event. Talking over some of the problems of including ‘no follow’ links on your website, he said:

The first-order things to pay attention to are making great content that will attract links in the first place and choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.”

Good words, Cutts. Personally, I take this as a reminder that you can tinker with the fine points of SEO all you like, and see minor benefits, but the really big gains are made by always making the (human) reader your first priority. If you make your content worthwhile, you’ll gain links – and the higher rankings will follow.

Cutts has an agenda of course: for Google to be of use, its results do have to reflect honest user opinion. Its basic algorithm is based on an inbound link being a vote for quality. Much as we SEO professionals might hate to admit it, when SEO ‘outsmarts’ Google , Google becomes a little bit less useful. That is why, at Notting Hill Web Design, we’ll always advise you to make your content as good as it can be, before you look at the finer points of SEO.