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by Stephen Logan on 22nd October 2009
…For that matter, was PageRank ever relevant? After Google’s decision to remove the PageRank feature from its Webmaster Tools without warning, have we finally witnessed the death knell for the ever popular site strength tracker?
For some time Google have been telling the SEO and webmaster communities not to focus too heavily on PageRank; so perhaps this is their more explicit way of telling us all to forget about it. But whilst PageRank isn’t the only determining factor in how well a website has been optimised and will ultimately rank on SERPs, does it not still have some merit as an indicator, no matter how loose?
The alarm was first raised nine days ago on the Webmaster Tools question board. One observant user questioned where the PageRank feature had gone, prompting this response from Susan Moskwa, a Google employee:
We’ve been telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t focus on PageRank so much; many site owners seem to think it’s the most important metric for them to track, which is simply not true. We removed it because we felt it was silly to tell people not to think about it, but then to show them the data, implying that they should look at it.
In her reply, Moskwa also pointed the reader in the direction of the FAQ section for Crawling, indexing & ranking. Here the answer to a question regarding the shift in a website’s PageRank is even more blunt (and not just because it doesn’t include a smiley face), stating:
Don’t worry. In fact, don’t bother thinking about it. We only update the PageRank displayed in Google Toolbar a few times a year; this is our respectful hint for you to worry less about PageRank, which is just one of over 200 signals that can affect how your site is crawled, indexed and ranked. PageRank is an easy metric to focus on, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s useful for you as a site owner. If you’re looking for metrics, we’d encourage you to check out Analytics, think about conversion rates, ROI (return on investment), relevancy, or other metrics that actually correlate to meaningful gains for your website or business.
The message seems clear enough, PageRank just doesn’t hold that much sway. Becoming blinded by endlessly chasing that next PR number isn’t as important as the actual content and how it performs for visitors.
PageRank Sculpting and the Nofollow Debate
So why do we actually still have PageRank at all? Is it a sign of how websites are developing in the eyes of Google, or just a bit of an ego boost? PageRank was supposed to show how popular a website was, how well it was regarded within its sector and the strength it had within SERPs as a result. In fact there were huge debates over the necessity of nofollow tags and the possible detrimental effects of PageRank sculpting within the SEO industry. That was until June this year, when Google finally revealed the truth, as covered in our blog post ‘Google Finally Address PageRank Sculpting’, which was that nofollows were, for all intents and purposes, useless.
Okay, a nofollow to a site that you wouldn’t trust with a barge pole or unmediated blog post comments is still very much advised; but the rest, well they’re supposedly ruining the natural flow of online linking. But why had this managed to cause such a groundswell of debate? Essentially it was down to webmasters, bloggers and SEOs worrying about leaking their link juice to other sites and devaluing their own website’s PageRank.
But there it is once again, PageRank. Whilst Google may downplay the importance of their link-based valuation structure, it appears that many professionals within the search engine marketing industry still find it an unavoidable lure. It has become engrained, rightly or wrongly, into the functionality of SEO. Even if it isn’t the ultimate determining factor, PageRank does at least show that a site is moving in the right direction and provides a marker with which to test yourself against competitors.
PageRank No Substitute for Quality
The bottom line will always be the performance of a site. Anybody with any sense will know that a website that has a high PageRank score but doesn’t actually translate that into any meaningful custom, is failing. Equally, a website with a fantastic linking structure but woeful on page content, won’t automatically be presented with a high ranking within the SERPs. This is where PageRank may be misleading
The big question though surely has to be, if PageRank isn’t all that important, then why is it still used? You can still see a web page’s PageRank using the Google toolbar, so why hasn’t this hit the skids too? PageRank is as relevant today as it ever was; however much that may be though is up for debate. It does still have a purpose, but certainly shouldn’t be used as the sole indicator of a website’s success.
So how often do you check on your website’s PagRank? Do you still think it is important to know what your rank is, or has it always been of only passing interest? Finally, is it still relevant today? As always, we’d really appreciate hearing what you’ve got to say on the matter.