Link Sculpting For SEO – Yes It Works, Here’s How To Do It

This is a guest post by Daniel Cuttridge, he is a fellow On-Page Optimization geek. Daniel is a ex front-end web developer who has spent years working in client SEO, as well as building his own affiliate sites.

He recently sold his shares of an ecommerce agency he built with Charles Floate. Since then he’s been working on the second version of his On-Page Mastery Course.

There’s one Optimization that I’ve done to every site that I’ve worked on in the last 5 years. Without fail it’s improved each of those sites rankings.

This Optimization is called Link Sculpting.

It works for two very good reasons, and the first one is that it improves Link Flow.

The second reason is Optimizing your websites Link Flow improves the Crawl Efficiency of your site, minimizing Crawl Wastage.

crawl difference

How Link Flow Works

The way that Link Flow works is actually a little complicated which is because of something called Link Weight.

A lot of industry bloggers will say that Link Sculpting no longer works, but I’ve got five years worth of data that says different.

The reason people say it doesn’t work is because there’s a lot of variables due to the Link Weight Factor.

Link Weight is how much value is given to a link based on certain factors such as Anchor Text, Proximity, Relevancy and much more. Essentially we don’t know exactly how those algorithms work, so we can’t know the value of a link. Therefore Link Weight isn’t something we can use to Link Sculpt effectively.

What we do know though, is that we can count the number of links on a page. We also know that more links means less link flow.

It can get pretty out of hand…

link flow

Let’s explore an analogy…

A web page has 125 links on it, 15 in the Navigation, 10 in the Footer and 20 in the Sidebar. The other 80 links are in the main content of the article. With 20 OBLs (Outbound “External” Links) and 60 Internal Links.

The main web page has 100 points of power… As does every page, it has 100% of its own total power and it’s going to divide that between the pages it links to, whether internal or external.

Since we can’t score each link with Link Weight Factors, we must assume that each page is given an equal amount of power.

So there’s a simple equation we can use to help us understand how much power each page will receive…

100 / Total Links (120) = 0.83 recurring.

So what happens if we can remove 50 of those links?

We turn to our equation again, 100 / Total Links (70) = 1.42.

This may not seem like a lot more, but actually when you do the math that’s an increase of 41.5% more value per link.

1.42 – 0.83 = 0.59 / 1.42 * 100 = 41.54

This is a significant increase, especially when you can create these kinds of link reductions sitewide. Which in many cases, especially with WordPress you can.

How To Improve Link Flow:

The easiest way to improve link flow on your site is to remove links that commonly occur on different page templates.

If you aren’t able to remove the links totally by diving into the code it’s probably worthy of your time to use a plugin like NoFollow Internal Links (WordPress). You will also want to Disallow those URLs in your Robots.txt file, and ensure they are removed from the Sitemap.

There’s a good reason why setting your links to NoFollow isn’t as good as removing the links totally. Let Andrew Explain;

Some excellent points.

What I have also been telling people for absolute years, is that Matt Cutts did actually confirm that NoFollow Links do indeed effect Link Flow. Regardless of whether they are followed or not.

So while there are some obvious benefits to setting a link URL to NoFollow, Disallowing it and removing it from your Sitemap, such as improving Crawl Efficiency, it’s not really going to do the job when it comes to Link Sculpting.

You will also find yourself needing to manage an ever growing amount of URLs when it comes to templated links, which is just plain inefficient. So removing these links entirely is the only real way to go.

Here are the templated WordPress links I recommend removing:

– Author Links

– Read More Links Or Featured Image Links

– Image Links

– Tag Links

– Category Links

– Comment Links

– Archive Links

It’s worth saying as well, that you can remove the link while still displaying the actual string/text. So you can still display the category, the author name and all that good stuff, but without providing the link.

Depending on how your site is setup, this can reduce link volume by a huge amount on any given page, and when that is rolled out across your entire site, as we saw with our equations that can have some dramatic increases to the value of each remaining link.

This is why it’s one of the most powerful optimizations you can make that can have truly dramatic effects to your sites rankings.

I like to use Check My Links, a Chrome Extension to quickly analyze the links on a web page. It not only counts the total amount of links on your page, but it checks them for errors as well.

Running this extension, and planning on how you can reduce the amount of links on a site is one of the first things I do with any audit I do, and it’s a natural part of my processes and workflow for setting up new sites.

Taking it a step further:

I said we can’t really factor in Link Weight, and that’s true, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a good idea of what some of those factors might be.

I already pointed to Anchor Text, Proximity and Relevance. These three are particularly important…

We know that using a more optimized Anchor Text can help Internal Links pack more of a punch, and this is in part due to the way it will affect the Link Weight. This is especially true if the page it links to is very relevant to the page, and the Anchor Text itself.

As for Proximity, I’m talking about how close that link is to certain important elements on your page, such as H1s and even other Links.

Being strategic about Link Placement is actually an important way to go about ensuring that your most important Internal Links can potentially drive the most value that they possibly can.

As I said, this side of Link Sculpting is difficult to quantify, so a lot of it comes down to experimenting and doing testing of your own. Make some changes, monitor the SERPs and see what happens!

Without a doubt though, try to approach your Internal Linking with those 3 Link Weight Factors in mind as they are the most likely ones that you’ll have success with.

In Summary

Link Sculpting works, and while it’s difficult to get it 100%, the factors that we can manipulate and optimize have been enough for me to improve the rankings of sites again and again using this method.

This is because it helps Link Flow by increasing the value of each link to the pages that really matter, it also helps your site on the Technical SEO level by optimizing your Crawl Efficiency.

Without a doubt it’s the best thing you can do today to improve your rankings.

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7 thoughts on “Link Sculpting For SEO – Yes It Works, Here’s How To Do It”

  1. Great post Daniel. I actually remember you talking about this before back at BHC and possibly BHU. You mention “that you can remove the link while still displaying the actual string/text. So you can still display the category, the author name and all that good stuff, but without providing the link”. My only question is, what happens if the user wants to visit these pages, but they can’t access them because the links are not there?

    Also, one last question if you can’t remove the links entirely, will you get some benefit from just no following them? Thanks.

    1. Hey mate,

      Yeah BHC, BHU and maybe BUSO.

      I think that you make a good point, what I always say to clients is check your analytics and see if those pages ever get visited in good volumes.

      Usually very few people actually do, and I personally optimize sites for the majority of users rather than the minority, so I do think that is a good way to approach it.

      NoFollow is an acceptable compromise, but it’s not nearly as effective. As I sourced in the article, it was confirmed quite a long time ago that NoFollow links still divide Link Flow even if Bots aren’t going to go through to those pages and crawl them.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Many thanks for this helpful post.

    Does it help to no follow any links in the main site navigation menu on the home page eg contact, out team, about us etc etc

    Thank you 🙂

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