Google's Matt Cutts posted one of his webmaster help videos discussing Google Toolbar PageRank, why it's only updated a few times a year, and why webmasters might see their PageRank drop. He also talks about how to get back in Google's good graces if this happened because you were selling links.
Typically in these videos, Cutts is responding to a user-submitted question, and that is the case here. The question was: "I use the Google Toolbar to monitor PageRank. I read on the Internet that it gives old and quite unreliable data. Can I have reliable realtime PageRank information about the sites I administer? And how can I idenity causes of a PageRank drop?"
"The information that you get from the Google Toolbar is updated about 3 or 4 times a year, and the reason we don't provide it every single day is because we don't want webmasters to get obsessed with the green in the Google Toolbar, and not pay the attention that should be spent on titles and accessibility, and good content, and all those kinds of things," says Cutts. "A lot of people, if you show them just the PageRank and update it every day, they're just going to focus on that. So we didn't want that kind of obsession or backlink obsession to take hold where people would only pay attention to the PageRank in the toolbar."
This is not the first time we've seen Google de-emphasize the need for webmasters to focus on PageRank. Ultimately, while it may be a strong signal used by Google in determining search result ranking, there are over 200 other ones, and the formula changes every single day. Social and location factors have certainly played bigger roles in recent memory. You can bet that Google's +1s are going to continue to play a strong role.
"The question that it's 'quite unreliable' - it's not unreliable, it's just rounded to a zero to ten sort of scale, so there's nothing unreliable about that necessarily," says Cutts.
"Then, the question of 'how can I identify the causes of a PageRank drop' - well, if the only PageRank that you had, for example, was from one very reputable link, and that site stopped linking to you, that could lead to a drop in PageRank," he continues. "If you've done something really weird with your internal linking, and you canonicalization is very strange, so we don't know - maybe there's a completely different site on www vs non-www - so you know, those kinds of canonicalization issues, that can also lead to a PageRank drop."
"But one of the most common reasons we see for a PageRank drop, at least in the Google Toolbar, is if a site is selling links, and so if your PageRank dropped 30% all of a sudden, and you were selling links that passed PageRank, the reason for that is selling links that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines," he says. "And if you think about it, it's a pretty understandable thing. It's a lot like payola, in the sense that you pay somebody money and that you get a mention, and it's not adequately disclosed to the search engine. If some site is doing that, that can account for a drop in the Toolbar PageRank."
"So if that's what might have happened, all you have to do is remove the links that you were selling, and then do a reconsideration request, and say, 'Hey, I was selling links, they passed PageRank, I saw my PageRank dropped, and so I've removed those links, you can verify it, and please let me regain my trust with Google.' And so if we see that things look good, and it looks like there's a good faith effort there, and we're reasonably convinced the selling of PageRank won't happen again for example, then often times your PageRank will return."