Loren Baker writes today on the damage you can do your site by applying the “nofollow” microformat to your own pages. He breaks it down to one core element: what are you saying if you don’t trust your own pages?
Using nofollow on yourself seems to be one pretty obvious way of sending the wrong signals — it may or may not be directly read as a “bad thing,” but it absolutely suggests something manipulative or untrustworthy about your site.
By using a NoFollow attribute to link to these [about, contact, privacy, etc.] pages, you’re basically telling Google that you do not trust yourself, you are not real, and you do not honor user privacy. Hence, the drop in ranking.
There are plenty of ways you can leverage search engines. Why make use of a tactic which obviously sends a message of manipulation? It seems pretty straightforward to me: your code should reflect your intentions. Nofollow suggests that you don’t have faith in a page; that you don’t actually WANT to help people find it. If you’re using it to point to your own contact page, you are effectively saying that you don’t WANT to be contacted. (Or maybe you just don’t trust that lousy contact form you’re using?)
You have little chance of making your business a success if you are unwilling to trust yourself. You may not have intended to send that message; but it is definitely one signal which can be picked up from the use of nofollow.
The idea behind using nofollow on your own pages was, I believe, to focus attention on your other pages: your content bearing, keyword rich pages. It’s the myth of “conserving PageRank” — I don’t know where it started, but it’s been talked about many times. This particular idea about nofollow is described by one publication as follows:
The other side of the nofollow tag, is that you can take advantage of it inside your own web sites. Think about all the low value, or no money pages on your site… pages like about us, where to find us, contact us. Every link leaving your home page “bleeds” PageRank to those pages and you’ll want to stop that!
Instead of using normal static hyperlinks you can use nofollow links instead. This lets the “human mouse clicking visitor” find the pages on their own, but totally blocks the search engine from finding them.
So not only can you provide visitors with a rich user experience, you can conserve your PageRank and link popularity within your home page.
“Bleeds PageRank,” eh? Simple point: PageRank doesn’t “leak.” If you link out to a page, that page gains a small portion of your PR — that portion is not, however, subtracted from your page’s rank. Even if PageRank were a meaningful metric, this argument would be patently absurd. (And I’m not getting into that argument right now….)
Every page on your site is important. Do you think that your “About Us” page isn’t significant because it doesn’t have any products listed on it? It’s not a call to action? Well, think again. You’re not just selling your product: you’re also selling trust in your company. People will buy from a company which they think will deliver on their promises. These “no money” pages convey important information to give your potential customers faith in your company. Don’t try and sell them short.
If you pick most markets on the web, you’ll always find dozens of options to choose from. Barring certain very tiny markets, you will have competition. The only real question is how much competition you’ll have and how YOUR site will be differentiated from theirs.
Some clients will claim that they are OBVIOUSLY different — company X uses 20% nylon fabric in their seat covers where OUR seat covers are 100% cotton!
Sorry, folks, but that’s fine print. Fine print is a good start, but even though your differentiating factors may be related to it, it’s not necessarily the right place to focus.
It’s a jumping off point, however. Knowing your products are fundamentally different in some way can give you ways to pursue a more visible, search-friendly means of separating your site from the herd.
Choose your focus
If you want to be unique, you should find a unique characteristic and stick with it. Don’t bill your site as the best source for safe children’s games but sell exactly the same products everybody else does. You’re diluting your message by allowing options which don’t fit your profile into your store.
Make it visible
If you’re selling children’s games, and your particular product focus is that they’re safe, make that OBVIOUS. If you downplay the importance of safety in your game selection, you’re lacking in clarity. Your visitors need assurance that you’re providing what they’re looking for. You can provide this assurance by writing text which clearly emphasizes your specialty and by repeating this information when appropriate on your product descriptions.
Identify your competitors
Not every similar site is necessarily a competitor. Not every site you THINK is a competitor is necessarily competing with you. Look very closely at the sites of those businesses who are:
- Selling the same products
- Located in the same area
- Advertising in the same publications
Look closely: examine every possibility. The worst thing you can say is “Company X is offering THIS function. We need to do this, too.” Instead, say “Company X is offering THIS function. We can do something else which is better.” You don’t need to offer a function just because everybody else in your topical area is providing it. You’re always best off providing better functionality than your competition. Not MORE functionality; BETTER functionality. Look for anything they provide which is useless, hard to understand, or just adds to site clutter without being useful.
So what does make a site stand out?
That’s a tough question, isn’t it? Being different can make you stand out – but doesn’t necessarily make you successful. Being unique will make you stand out – but if you’re TOO unique, you might not find your customer niche.
Ultimately, I’m not sure that it’s even your website which will make your site stand out. The products you offer and your service may do you more good in the long run than any website choices — but a good website may help you gain new customers faster.
Once upon a time, I wrote a short article for my web development business discussing the ins and outs of getting started planning your website. It’s not an extensive article, and doesn’t go into great depth on any particular points.
I’m considering just forwarding all my new clients on to Create Small Business Website On a Small Budget from Improve the Web instead, now. Yuri’s written an excellent and comprehensive beginner’s guide to pre-development web preparations.
There can be no question that the first steps on a website should be done long before anybody does anything so rash as to register a domain name. Yuri’s done a great job of touching on a lot of these bases.
Oh, and he also recommended me as a web designer with accessibility in mind, which I very much appreciate – although it just might bias me in favor of his article.