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Toolbar PageRank: Over-hyped?

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Last week, as Brittany tells us here, Google updated its Page Rank and backlinks. As I’m sure most of you know, every few weeks Google does a similar update and without fail -as sure as day follows night, the SEO community immediately starts humming with the excited chatter of their shiny new Toolbar Page Rank (henceforth TPR). When I see these updates and the ensuing furor that results from a little green bar moving 1/8th of an inch, four words come to mind: don’t believe the hype.

I submit for your discussion a few issues concerning the nature of the beast:

De-Mystifying PageRank: The 'Who Cares' Theory...
De-Mystifying PageRank: The ‘Who Cares’ Theory…

Such spectacle is made from moving up a point or down a point in the toolbar. However, what are the implications (practically speaking) of going from a 6 to a 7 or a 6 to a 5? The toolbar PR is not the real‘ Page Rank number for your site (that’s an older link but you get the idea). After all, the basic ranking of 1 to 10 for a site wouldn’t really be extremely meaningful when applied to a couple billion sites. Do a search on Google and you won’t have to look long to find sites with a low (or none at all) TPR outranking sites with high TPR. So, what really, does that green bar mean to you?

Here at WebProNews for example, we generally hold a 7. In the TPR update prior to this most recent one, we dropped to a 6. Guess what? We’re a 7 again now. What changed? Nothing. How were we impacted in the month or so we sat with a 6? Not at all. Minor fluctuations in backlinks here and there (nothing significant) and absolutely no appreciable change to our traffic. Had the 7 gone to a 6, then a 5 and trended down, I’d be a bit more concerned but as long as the numbers that matter to me (referrals, traffic & links) are fine I see little cause for alarm.

Then there are what I call the shifters’. Sites will sometimes get caught up in a turbulent toolbar limbo with their PR ranking bouncing all over the place from day to day and even hour to hour in some cases. There’s no shortage of head scratching being done about what’s happening with these guys. Synching datacenters? Gremlins? Theories abound. You can find discussions about shifters in most SEO forums; it’s not an extremely rare phenomenon (here’s one). What can these folks take away from their toolbar rank?

12:30 pm: “Woot! I’m an 8!”
4:45 pm: “D’oh! I’m a 3.”
8:33 pm: “Ok, now I’m a 5.”
10:18 pm: “Ack, I’m a 0!?”

So what do we have so far?
1. The TPR isn’t necessarily the real’ page rank.
2. It has a tendency to be, well, flaky (yes, that’s a technical term) and inconsistent.
3. Its impact on the SERPs is not easily observed or directly measurable in most cases.
4. A lot of people go nuts about it anyway.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not Google-bashing. I think 99% of the fuss and uproar surrounding the TPR are created and perpetuated by the people that use it far more than the folks at Google. I’m probably not alone in my opinion that it’s as much a status symbol as anything. It’s business now too; people buy and sell links from sites based on their TPR alone. As a result you’re going to have people optimizing for the toolbar ranking as much as they are the search engine I suppose. If there’s money to be made with a high TPR alone you can rest assured there will be plenty of folks looking to capitalize – and where does that leave it?

Is the toolbar a means to an end for Google -the proverbial carrot on a stick? Is it just enough of a draw that people will agree to send Google more usage data in exchange for the piece of mind the toolbar brings (enabling our friends at Google to avoid any Alexa-like mishaps).

Is the toolbar a legitimate tool for measuring your site against your keyword competition?

Is it little more than a novelty item – something you have an offhand look at every now and again – as an indicator of Google doing something’ when the bar moves?

What do you think?

I watch the bar. I admit it. Thing is, if I drop a number I’m not running around the building breaking the glass on the fire alarms. Then again, I don’t have 5 or 6 link partners’ paying me link rental fees either. That example aside, I would tend to think the rank and file webmasters would be far better served focusing on keeping good relevant content on their pages and developing good link networks rather than losing sleep over losing that 1/8th inch on the Google toolbar.

Mike is a manager at iEntry. He has been with iEntry since 2000.

Toolbar PageRank: Over-hyped?
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