Why Do Some SEOs Want Toolbar PageRank To Go Away?

Jan 31, 2007 • 6:55 am | comments (17) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates
 

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion over the PageRank score found within Google's Toolbar. So I thought I explain why I, and many other SEOs/SEM reporters would love to see the PageRank score disappear from the Google Toolbar.

Back in the good old days, SEOs used to do whatever they could to increase their PageRank. If you had a high PageRank, typically a 7 or higher - you were set. You could literally rank for almost anything, if you also followed that up with good, on-page SEO work. That quickly went away, I believe, with the florida update of November/December 2003. In any event, SEOs used to wait for the toolbar PageRank to update, to see how they did in getting links from high PageRank sites. If they did a good job with that, they would see their PR increase and immediately see their rankings improve. SEOs were able to see an update coming, when the various Google Data Centers didn't match each other. Google rankings would change on some data centers, the link counts would change and the PageRank would change. Hence, the term, the Google Dance. Those days are pretty much over. Google is now changing almost daily. Google's current link count is almost useless at the time being. Google's data centers are frequently updating.

Ever since then, top SEOs and even Google engineers have been pushing to explain that PageRank is not as important as it once was. In fact, some go to extremes to declare Google PageRank Lunacy, in Sweden, we had a Google representative tell us that the link command was not so useful, later we had someone quote Google as saying PageRank is for Entertainment Purposes Only, which was then refuted by GoogleGuy. We had two other posts that discussed GoogleGuy Once Again Responds to Link Command and Why Does Google Show Old PageRank Values?

All that understood, it is clear that many would like to see the PageRank score go away from the Google toolbar. I am confident, this won't happen soon. I would say that most engineers would probably like to see it go away. But the marketing folks probably would not. I am not talking for Google her, I am just throwing out my feelings on it.

So we see that people are or were obsessed with PageRank, and rightly so. Hence why SEOs and reporters and even some Googlers wanted to tell people to not live and die by it. Some were extreme in their message, but for good reason.

So what is the bottom line at this time on PageRank found within the toolbar?

As Matt Cutts wrote back in his more about PageRank post:

At some point we take our internal PageRanks, put them on a 0-10 scale, and export them so that they’re visible to Google Toolbar users. If you’re splitting hairs about the exact date that backlinks were taken from, you’re probably suffering from “B.O.” (backlink obsession) and should stop and go do something else for a bit until the backlink obsession passes.

PageRank in the toolbar does show you something about the site. But we are far past the days where a Google PageRank update in the toolbar would have almost an immediate impact on your rankings in Google. This is important and you should not obsess over it. It is an indicator of the quality of links you have to your site, but the indicator is old and is not real time - so you need to understand this.

I hope that explains some of the questions out there on Toolbar PageRank, why SEOs fight about it and what it really is at this point in time.

Forum discussion at Search Engine Roundtable Forums.

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Comments:

Jeff

01/31/2007 03:23 pm

I think there is a reason google keeps it out there. To catch people who try to manipulate rankings.

Jeremy Luebke

01/31/2007 06:00 pm

PageRank is now a smoke screen. As long as they leave it out there uninformed people will obsess over it and actually ignore the real ranking factors Google is most influenced by these days.

Chris Beasley

02/01/2007 02:05 pm

Jeremy, saying PageRank isn't a factor in rankings is ignorant. PageRank is google's term for link popularity. So you're saying link popularity doesn't matter? What are the real ranking factors Google uses? Meta tags? Every search engine uses link popularity, it is a major factor in every search engine. To see a search engine that doesn't use it check out AltaVista circa 1999. Hope you like spam. Toolbar PageRank is merely an indicator, an arbitrary number, and I would agree that it is mostly for entertainment. Actual PageRank, in which Google has probably invested millions in hardware so they can calculate it daily now (why would they do this if it was meaningless?), is very important. Incoming links are very important. They aren't the only piece of the puzzle though, and never were. Barry said "If you had a high PageRank, typically a 7 or higher - you were set." Which was never true, and that is the problem. The perception of that having once been the case is exactly what causes today's knee jerk reactions about PR. The truth is you can go back to Brin & Page's thesis written in what? 1997? And see that even then they had link context as a key component. So while it was true, you needed little more than PageRank and anchor text to rank back then, you did need the anchor text, and anchor text was specific. Having good links with anchor text for "Blue widgets" wouldn't help you at all rank for "purple dinosaur." What changed, mostly with the late 2003 updates, was that Google didn't downtweak the important of link weight (PageRank by a different name) directly, but rather they vastly increased the complexity of their link context algorithms. So all those links that previously were helping a great deal no longer did. You still had the trifecta of link weight, link context, and on page optimizations, just like you do now. The only difference was that links that once helped by pure virtue of their anchor text, no longer helped because there was nothing other than anchor text contributing to their link context. So, sites with high PageRank and good link context still prospered. Sites with high PageRank that was artificially gained with poor link context did not. This was not a neutering or a lessening of PageRank, it was a change in link context algorithms. PageRank also has direct benefits. A homepage with high PageRank can pass that PR to it's subpages, which can pass it around and to other sites perhaps owned by the same person. It can develop a good context in this path. PageRank is also the main factor in things like crawl depth, frequency, and whether or not you get stuck in the supplemental index. When Google detects duplicate content they will list the page with the highest PR. Etc etc. For more on the Google changes in 2003 I recommend reading this paper: http://www.seoresearchlabs.com/seo-research-labs-google-report.pdf It accurately explains the situation.

Chris Beasley

02/01/2007 02:09 pm

I should also say, it is equally ignorant to say PR is the only factor in SEs, as it is to say that PR doesn't matter at all. PageRank is link weight, link weight is a major factor, but consider it like multiplication Link Weight * Link Context * On-Page If any 1 of those is 0, the total is 0. You need all 3. You've always needed all three, Google has just gotten better at detecting artificial increases and dealing with them.

Barry Schwartz

02/01/2007 02:10 pm

Chris, there is no doubt SEOs, before November 2003, sat around for the Google Dance to watch their PR numbers increase. If their PR went up, typically, their rankings did also. Today, PR can go up in the toolbar and your rankings can and often do, remain the same.

Barry Schwartz

02/01/2007 02:12 pm

Who said "PR is the only factor in SEs, as it is to say that PR doesn't matter at all"?

Chris Beasley

02/01/2007 02:47 pm

I won't say there wasn't hype back in 2002 and 2003 about PageRank. You keep saying 2003 but really the hype started before. Anyways, yes, there was hype. Which is why I wrote <a href = "http://www.sitepoint.com/article/top-10-google-myths-revealed">this article</a> in 2002, notice what Myth #1 is. You should have seen how many attacks I got for writing that... and yet every point I made in it ends up being proved true (or explicitly stated as true by Google). Just like there are holdovers from the Meta Tag era still believing in them, there are holdovers from that era still believing PageRank is all you need. Just because some people out there believe the wrong thing, doesn't mean it is the opposite that is true. LIke I've said, PageRank hasn't changed, just the perception of it. PageRank is born, people start using it, Google releases toolbar. People start obsessing. People realize their obsession was unwarranted, people knee jerk into thinking PageRank is unimportant. Just because it was wrong to obsess doesn't mean PageRank is useless or unimportant. Your second comment I don't get what you're asking. I've repeatedly said in many places that it is as wrong to say PR is the only factor as it is to say PR doesn't matter at all. If you're quoting me you're missing the first few words of the quote.

Barry Schwartz

02/01/2007 02:51 pm

The quote is from your comment above at http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/007336.html#cm235832

Chris Beasley

02/01/2007 03:10 pm

Oh... so you're wondering who that quote was directed to? No one specifically, just in general all the PR naysayers out there who say Google does use it (PR/link weight) at all.

Tom Tom

02/13/2007 08:45 pm

IMHO, I think Pagerank is a good way to increase the ADD in webmasters and SEOs'. Rather than focusing on creating unique content, providing better customer service, and improving the product, Google wants to distract our attention by keeping our eyes glued to a green bar that goes up and down. I don't they like it when we keep complaining about the absence of previously acquired backlinks that doesn't appeared for our websites.

David Castle

02/14/2007 10:25 am

As well as being a Moderator at WebProWorld I have been outspoken about the gulibility of posters obsessed by the greenline in forums such as Warriors- where as much as I love the place trying to impart with basic SEO techniques is like doing your own dentistry. It is articles like this that make my job so much easier. And I thank Rustybrick who I think by memory shares a forum friendship with Michael Martinez, for bringing this debate closer to a conclusion. Regards to all David Castle

Keith D Commiskey

03/28/2007 09:57 pm

[quote]PageRank in the toolbar does show you something about the site.[/quote] Unless its zero. That can mean a variety of things nowadays. If its a PR1 or a PR2, I examine a little closer prior to linking, but still will if I can't find anything out of the ordinary (like finding hidden text with ctrl-a).

meeero

04/04/2007 11:46 pm

a good pagerank doesn't mean that the page is good too...

Andrew

04/25/2007 03:26 pm

Thanks for this article and thank you Chris Beasley for your excellent comments on this subject. I'm someone that knows consciously that the toolbar PR is just one indicator out of many but sometimes I am admittedly distracted by it. Your comments helped me get more congruent. That said, I'd like to reiterate the distinction made between toolbar Pagerank and Pagerank (this is obvious to most here, but I often see it get sloppy when people speak about it). Pagerank is like today's newspaper that we can't get a subscription to (this doesn't mean we can't look around and make a good guess at the news). Toolbar pagerank is like having a newspaper from months ago. This history is still useful information, but it's important to keep in mind that it's history. As the rate of change accelerates, the toolbar PageRank becomes an older and older newspaper. This isn't a perfect metaphor of course but it's roughly how I see it.

Matt Morgan

05/10/2007 02:10 pm

I've been staring at PR for only a year or so. I'm beginning to understand it has limited use, analogous to say, the "watts per channel" my hifi gear is rated at - which has nothing to do with how the gear actually sounds. The marketing guys will never let go of "watts per channel", and PR is probably here to stay as well....

Frank Gainsford

01/25/2008 09:28 am

PR or Page Rank is one of the many (more than 1200) variables used to calculte your page position for any search request. (SERP's or Search Enfine Results Pages) A good Page rank does help, but it is only a tiny piece of the puzzle. you need to get as many of the pieces as possible to rank well for your selected key words. then you need to ensure that the page content relates properly to your selected key words, and that the lay out of your page conforms to your expected viwers taste, other wise you will get ZERO second visits because your viewer will close the browser. You do need to remember that many people open the search results in a new browser, specificaly to be able to close it quickly if it is not what they are looking for. I do this myself. this is done by right clicking on the search results then selecting "open in a new browser" If you do a lot of searching this saves an awful lot of time, and you know how precious your time is.... so remeber viewer behavior is the real issue, and you want to controll this by any means to ensure that the viewer goes to your sales pages and purchases your product or service. PR or page rank is important, but not exceedingly so, conversions are what counts....

adam

05/01/2009 12:17 pm

will it took alot of space and i dont like tHAT

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