Why PageRank Lost its Value For SEO

As a search engine specialist I spend a quite some time convincing people that the mythical PageRank isn’t as important as it used to be. To make my own life easier (and perhaps yours as well) I’ve collected several articles on the internet that show why PageRank can be pretty much ignored from now on.

What is PageRank?

Google PageRank is a topic that received a lot of discussion both amongst professional search engine specialists and ‘ordinary people’. What we do know for sure is that it is was invented by one of the two people that founded Google, Larry Page (of which the name PageRank is derived) in the late 1990’s. The definition of what PageRank is however, will probably depend a lot on whom you’re asking. As a starting point, let’s look at the definition made by Google: “[PageRank is] a technology that determined the ‘importance’ of a webpage by looking at what other pages link to it, as well as other data

Google (being notoriously vague about the inner workings of their ranking algorithms) didn’t really clear things up for me with that definition. Fortunately, Wikipedia adds to the clarity of the definition by stating that “PageRank is a link analysis algorithm […] that assigns a numerical weighting to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents, such as the World Wide Web, with the purpose of ‘measuring’ its relative importance within the set.” (That’s still quite a lot of long and general words. To simplify things I’ll try to rephrase that definition in my own words: “PageRank is a way of assigning a value to each web page on the internet, with the purpose of being able to rank these pages in relation to each other“.

Is PageRank still relevant?

The definition isn’t the only aspect of PageRank that’s the subject of a lot of discussion on the web. Many say PageRank is a measurement that was only useful in the past, while others point out the value that PageRank continues to have in the field of SEO. Looking at the evidence presented below, I tend to believe that PageRank is just a number showing up in the Google Toolbar, informing you about the global value that a page might have (or had) as seen by Google. No more, no less.

Why PageRank is irrelevant

Hubspot made it crystal clear what they think about PageRank: a completely irrelevant metric to track. They give us five reasons for that (more details on each of the reasons are given in their blog post:

  • Metrics are useless unless you can track them, and you can’t track Page Rank.
  • Page Rank has nothing to do with SEO rankings or results.
  • Page Rank is not relevant for real time search and social media results.
  • Page Rank is not a results metric.
  • Even Google says Page Rank is not important.

That final reason mentioned by Hubspot caught my attention. Even though Google has a good reason to mislead us on this topic (because the more we learn about the algorithms, the more ways we can find to game it), I’m really interested in what they have to say about the topic of PageRank relevance themselves.

What Google has to say about PageRank

Google Employee (Webmaster Tools Analyst) Susan Moskwa says “We’ve been telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t focus on PageRank so much; many site owners seem to think it’s the most important metric for them to track, which is simply not true. We removed it because we felt it was silly to tell people not to think about it, but then to show them the data, implying that they should look at it.“.

Furthermore, Google states in their FAQ that:

“Q: My site’s PageRank has gone up / gone down / not changed in months!

A: Don’t worry. In fact, don’t bother thinking about it. We only update the PageRank displayed in Google Toolbar a few times a year; this is our respectful hint for you to worry less about PageRank, which is just one of over 200 signals that can affect how your site is crawled, indexed and ranked. PageRank is an easy metric to focus on, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s useful for you as a site owner. If you’re looking for metrics, we’d encourage you to check out Analytics, think about conversion rates, ROI (return on investment), relevancy, or other metrics that actually correlate to meaningful gains for your website or business.” .

Search authorities on PageRank

But as I mentioned before, I can’t blame you for being a bit skeptical about what the big G decides to publicly state about PageRank. In order to get a less biased view on PageRank, we’ll have a look at what several authorities in the search industry have to say about PageRank. Let’s start with what Rand Fishkin (CEO of the well renowned SEO company SEOmoz) has to say about the relevance of PageRank (more details found in the original blog post):

There’s so many reasons why PageRank shouldn’t be a primary metric for SEO:

  • Infrequently updated
  • 1 of 200+ ranking signals
  • Applies to pages, not sites
  • Imprecise
  • Intentionally Inaccurate

Chris Smith and Eric Enge from Search Engine Land chip in by busting PageRank as a myth in an excellent article on SEO myths:

If only [it were true that Your PageRank score, as reported by Google’s toolbar server, is highly correlated to your Google rankings], our jobs as SEOs would be so much easier! It doesn’t take many searches with SEO for Firefox running to see that low-PageRank URLs outrank high-PR ones all the time. It would be naive to assume that the PageRank reported by the Toolbar Server is the same as what Google uses internally for their ranking algorithm.

The list goes on and on with more and lesser known authors stating how irrelevant PageRank is these days. I’ll add another three to prove my point and wrap things up:

Aaron Wall posted on SEO Book (as early as 2006): “Google have also significantly lowered the weighting on raw PageRank scores over the past few years, because too many people know about it and manipulate it. Just looking at PageRank is nearly as useless as a meta keywords tag.

Keith Bloemendaal adds that: “If you want to get traffic to your site that converts into sales, then FORGET about PageRank. Instead of drooling over something you really don’t even understand, maybe you should concentrate on writing something people want to read, or working on your on-page SEO, or maybe even market and promote your site.

And finally DoshDosh boldly summarizes the following: “Stop complaining. Pagerank is simply a webmaster fetish. It’s a inside joke that’s gone too far. Washington Post and Forbes were penalized. But do you really think Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe will give a toss about it? They’ll still type in the URL or click on the bookmark icon faithfully because they want to get the info-fix they need.” (source not available anymore).

Conclusion

In my opinion, these last remarks are nailing it. Why would you worry about a mythical number that may or may not influence your rankings, but that you have no way to accurately monitor, let alone change? Focus instead on what you can change (creating quality content, nurturing good relationships with influential people on the web, getting high quality links etc.) and see your rankings (and maybe even your PageRank!) rise over time.

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