March 31, 2016: SEO and digital marketing blogs have been ablaze with the news that Google will no longer allow PageRank to be displayed in browser toolbars.
Two questions immediately arose in the minds of many people reading these stories:
1. Is this really news?
2. Is PageRank dead?
The answer to both questions is a definite “no.” Google has been hinting that Toolbar Rank will go away for more than two years.
Unfortunately, many SEO blogs — knowing that Google rewards frequently updated, keyword-rich content — are far too willing to post content which has no actual news value. (My hope is that Google will someday invent a stern penalty for sites that publish items with zero news value. Such a penalty would demote them from their coveted “news” status — which allows their content into Google’s high-trafficked News feed — to the “just another blog” category).
More importantly, PageRank isn’t dead at all — the only thing that Google is doing is removing PageRank as a metric. Again, this isn’t news. Nobody doing serious SEO relies on Toolbar PageRank as a metric: once upon a time this might have been true, but today’s 3rd party tools provide a much more informative picture of actual link equity than Toolbar PageRank’s aggregated score could ever provide.
PageRank Will Never Die
PageRank is, and will be at the heart of Google’s organic algorithm for the foreseeable future. Although the original document introducing PageRank to the world is now 18 years old, it’s still linked to from Google’s help areas, and unspoken mandate: that if you want to get links from worthy sites, create worthy, link-worthy content, is as valid today as it was in 1998.
At the risk of hyperbole, PageRank is one of the most important original inventions to emerge from the U.S. in the past half-century. Its influence has changed – in just a few years – the way that information is created and consumed as profoundly as the printing press or the telegraph. And while PageRank has been augmented by other signals that Google uses to weigh the probability that a given web page has a given qualitative worth, these augmentations are nothing more than footnotes to the original intellectual masterwork.
Elegant, simple, and transformative, PageRank’s power lies in its amazing ability to separate the strong from the weak, and the wheat from the chaff, by examining both the content and external structure of every publically available of every spiderable web resource. Here’s the simple – but revolutionary summation of PageRank in Google’s original paper.
Using PageRank, we are able to order search results so that more important and central Web pages are given preference. In experiments, this turns out to provide higher quality search results to users. The intuition behind PageRank is that it uses information which is external to the Web pages themselves – their backlinks, which provide a kind of peer review. Furthermore, backlinks from “important” pages are more significant than backlinks from average pages.
Now go get yourself some PageRank!
None of this is rocket science. The concept behind PageRank (that links matter, and that important links matter more than unimportant ones) is a highly intuitive. And so are the implications for marketers: If you want to be linked to, create something link-worthy. If you want to rank for terms relevant to your business, create something relevant and of genuine value to people likely to be using these terms. If you can’t get enough traffic via earned media to meet your KPIs, go buy some search media.
But please folks – let’s silence the chorus of voices – confused by the overgranular press hype over developments that aren’t really developments – claiming that PageRank is dead or has been deprecated.
To paraphrase one commenter on an SEO news blog, “just because the speedometer has been removed from your car doesn’t mean you’re not going 60 miles an hour.”