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Google’s Broken Heart: PageRank Under Attack

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“The heart of our software is PageRank.” This quote, from Google’s PageRank description page, contradicts opinions and hypothesis posted on forums, blogs and articles around the web. One search developer even called PageRank “a silly idea in practice.” Evidence points to Google not using “classic PageRank” in their algorithm at all these days, and many consider it all but dead.

Breaking up with PageRank...
Breaking up with PageRank…

So what’s really happening at the heart of the web’s most-searched engine? Share your PageRank speculations in WebProWorld.

First let’s take a look at some of the assembled evidence that points to the possible abandonment of Google’s classic “system for ranking web pages.”

Daniel Brandt, Google-Watch creator, pointed out that the monthly crawl update cycle, which he believes was related to PageRank, “stopped 12 months ago.”

“This crawling pattern,” he said, “characterized Google from at least 2000 to April, 2003, but it hasn’t happened that way for the last 12 months.”

Another indicator that “classic PageRank” is no longer a part of Google’s algorithm is, “in the last year there has been much more emphasis on, and rapid turn-around for, fresh content. Anything that is fresh cannot be assigned an accurate PageRank, because for the classic PageRank formula, the entire web has to be calculated at the same point in time.”

Brandt also mentioned that, “the toolbar has been showing somewhat erratic PageRank values for the last year. The backlinks shown by Google have also been erratic. There is very little consistency between the number of backlinks shown and the PageRank value shown on the toolbar.”

“The phenomenon of Google bombing,” said Brandt, “shows that anchor text in links is much more important than the mere fact of a link itself. The classic PageRank formula had nothing to do with either page content or anchor text. It was a score that was precomputed, and available before the content of the page or anchor text was even considered.”

Fathom, a well established SEO contributor to forums around the web, said, “to see ‘value’ in any attribute, technique or tactic you simply cannot look at any individiual components and say ‘that one works’ and use that one to gain advantage, that’s simply foolish and PageRank Development fits in this category.”

Matt Wells, former Infoseek developer and creator of the Gigiblast search engine (profiled here) is not at all impressed with PageRank.

“…It doesn’t work. Well, it works, but no better than the simple link and link text analysis methods employed by the other engines. I know this because we implemented our own version at Infoseek and didn’t see a whole lot of difference.”

Wells further discouted the value of PageRank to Google’s success: “I do not think Google’s success is due that much to its PageRank algorithm. It certainly touts that as a big deal, but it’s really just marketing hype.”

He also claimed PageRank didn’t even start with Google: “the idea predated Google in IBM’s CLEVER project [a search engine developed at the IBM Almaden Computer Science Research Center], so it’s not even Google’s, after all.”

“PageRank,” Matt concluded, “is just a silly idea in practice, but it is beautiful mathematically. …and because it is so much work, Google appears not to be updating its PageRank values that much.”

Mike Grehan, of eMarketing News, finds PageRank outdated. “PageRank was a breakthrough idea when it was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin as two students back in 1997, as was Jon Kleinberg’s HITS. But search technology has moved on considerably.”

Grehan, in his interview with Jon Glick, search manager at Yahoo, also spoke on PageRank obsession. “I always wonder about this whole PageRank thing and the amount of importance that the whole search engine marketing community places on it. I have my own view of PageRank hysteria and believe that it’s, perhaps, much like the story of the Emperors New Clothes. I don’t use the tool bar for that purpose at all.”

So if PageRank is less of a factor (or not a factor) in Google’s algorithm now then how should a webmaster change his seo techniques? I’ll leave you with a thought from Fathom:

“If you really want online success in Google, think about customers and how to attract them, develop for them, cater to them, and find others who share that methodology (in plain english: more ‘unique’ content and different approaches to display that content and linkage that extends that content ‘both ways’) and Google will reward you. Shortcutting this — Google consistently won’t.”

If you’d like to read informed speculation about the value of PageRank in Google’s algorithm please read “Weight of Pagerank?” You can read Fathom’s complete quote there too. Thanks to Daniel Brandt for this post, which got this article rolling.

Garrett French is the editor of iEntry’s eBusiness channel. You can talk to him directly at WebProWorld, the eBusiness Community Forum.

Google’s Broken Heart: PageRank Under Attack
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