The (Un)Importance Of PageRank

    February 21, 2006

Another Google PageRank update appears to be underway or near completion. What that means for search engine optimization is a matter of debate inside the industry. But along PageRank toolbars, ranking has increased for lower ranked sites while it has decreased for previously higher ranked sites.

The (Un)Importance Of PageRank
Is PageRank Important? Depends On Who You Ask

This indicates that there is something to PageRank, even if the industry aficionados don’t always agree on what. The general consensus, however, is that PageRank is not as important for your site, as it is for other sites linking to your site. That is, if a highly ranked and trusted site links to yours, you get more credibility.

“Google seems to have expanded their differentiation between bogus links and links which are earned,” said Search Engine Journal’s Loren Baker.

“Earned links are links from authority blogs and web communities, well branded and trafficked sites, links earned via news or linkbaiting (the art of creating an idea or tool on your site worth linking to) and yellow page, local directory, user reviews, & local search marketing for brick mortar businesses.”

Ultimately that can mean higher search result rankings for competitive keywords. PageRank, therefore, seems to be only a very small (but somewhat important) part of the overall equation. PageRank is judged primarily on a website’s link volume, link age, and link value.

Most authorities in the SEO industry, including both individuals and companies have denounced the once mythical status of PageRank. At one time, PageRank was so valuable that companies were willing to pay to increase their website’s PageRank (through link buying). As recently as a couple of years ago, high PageRank meant high rankings nearly all the time.

Hundreds of posts in the more popular SEO forums and blogs, though, have shown that the PageRank update has had ranging effects. Like all PageRank updates new websites are seeing increases in PageRank. Most new websites we see are being indexed anywhere between PR1 to PR5. Many sites previously ranked PR3 or PR4 have seen a one point increase.

Like an update that took place approximately nine-twelve months ago, many higher-ranked websites are seeing a drop in PageRank by one point on several of the datacenters, particularly those in the PR5-PR8 category. A PR7 appears to have taken the place of the PR8’s and PR9’s of the past as the untouchable score, as even the number of PR7’s have declined overall.

With the recent launch of Google’s Bigdaddy datacenter and the overall public awareness of Google’s constantly moving rankings across a variety of datacenters, it’s no wonder that we are also seeing PageRank fluctuation now too. Most agree that this fluctuation should settle down within the next few days.

“People in the know are no longer chasing after a higher Toolbar PR.,” said SEO Company’s Bob Mutch. “The emphasis has shifted to getting links from relevant sites that are in DMOZ and Yahoo directories, press releases, links in news sites, and the highly prized .gov and .edu links.”

Mutch went on to pose two theories as to why PR has dropped, as in the past four PR exports.

“The main theory is that Google has changed the relationship scale between Real PR and Toolbar PR so that the 0 to 10 toolbar PR scale shows a lower value for the same Real PR value a Webpage has. This theory holds that this is being done to discourage people from acquiring links based strictly on the Toolbar PR value,” he said.

“The other theory is that as there are more pages in the Google index, the relationship scale between Real PR and Toolbar PR changes due to the increase of the pages in the index. With the increase of pages it takes higher Real PR to get the same Toolbar PR.”

SEO professional Andy Hagans downplays the importance of PageRank, placing more emphasis on link building.

“With each new Google update, it is apparent that PageRank counts for less, while other factors (trust, age, authority links) count for more,” said Hagans.

“Really, the importance of the green pixels is now negligible, aside from a very rough indication of a site’s link popularity and assurance that it isn’t banned in Google. But as long as Google continues to show PageRank in the toolbar, it will never die’ in the public consciousness.”

At Submitawebsite Inc., we really don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on PageRank for most clients, as different industries have different website popularity requirements needed to attain high search engine rankings. In our industry, the requirements to attain top rankings are very high, whereas a website looking to sell electrical semi-conductors does not need to be as concerned about having thousands of back-links, or multiple high PR sites pointing to them.

For us, PageRank is a good indicator of a website’s online value as seen by Google, but our concerns for a website with regards to assisting them with quality white-hat Natural Search consulting rely more in the area of traditional best practice SEO recommendations, unique content creation, press release and article distribution, and other forms of white-hat link building. PageRank has simply taken a backseat in the minds of our staff and clients.

It seems that the industry consensus is that PageRank really has taken a back seat, at least within the white-hat community, and that one should not be too concerned about their new PageRank score. Using PageRank as a measurement of a website’s popularity in the search engines still makes sense, and if a site has PageRank it will likely help your rankings if it links to you, especially if the website has high PageRank. Based on my read, and the read of the top players in the industry, website owners and webmasters need to stay focused on valuable content and being linked with authority sites. PageRank, really at the end of the day is just the icing on the cake.

At the same time, understanding that PageRank doesn’t have the same value as it once did, it can still be used for strategic link development.

“Instead of chasing PageRank I like to find the low PageRank sites that rank well in the search results,” says SEOBook author Aaron Wall. “What links do they have? Why are they ranking so well? If you get the types of links that those sites have, and if you have a compelling website that other sites actually want to link to the PageRank will naturally fall into place without you developing a wonky link profile trying to artificially boost your PageRank.”

Veteran link building expert, Eric Ward, agrees that trust and link building, not chasing PageRank, are the most important parts of the search strategy.

“My link building efforts are driven by subject affinity, and trust–the trust that the user will have for the site the link appears on,” said Ward.

“You do not have to have a bunch of (or for that matter ANY) high PageRank links in order to rank well for a specific search phrase (in more niche markets). You need to have a handful of perfectly placed subject specific trusted links. This is the core reason why I love but don’t worry about PageRank.”

This article contributed to and edited by Jason Lee Miller

Joe Griffin is the President of Founded in 1997, Submitawebsite, Inc., “The Industrys Original Submission Company,” is a leading provider of search engine marketing services including natural search engine optimization, xml feed syndication, contextual advertising, and search engine advertising/pay-per click management. Submitawebsite, Inc. also offers web design and development, credit card processing, and web hosting.
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