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Stephen Logan

Has Google’s Toolbar PageRank Been Shelved (and Should We Care)?

19th Oct 2010 SEO Blog 3 minutes to read

Google haven’t done a complete toolbar PageRank update in over six months, so does this mean it’s on the way out and if so, should we really care?

The last major update of the toolbar PageRank happened back in early April this year. As usual it caused minor ripples of interest amongst the SEO community. Whilst fortunes were mixed, many sites were rewarded with an improved PR rating – a job well done.

Since April though there have only been minor tremors. The PageRank bar has, by and large, steadfastly held firm and Google haven’t been offering much in the way of guidance on when that situation will be remedied – or even if it will.

This time last year we were questioning whether PageRank was still relevant following its sudden removal from Webmaster Tools; the recent toolbar inactivity would possibly suggest it could be facing the chop entirely.

The toolbar figure has always been a little controversial. It is offered as a guide to how strong a site’s link structure is. But this figure isn’t exact. It doesn’t even represent the far more complex calculations that Google does beyond the public gaze.

Traditionally, PageRank updates would occur four times each year. Whilst it’s not too late to hurriedly get in a few more by New Years Eve, the apparent inactivity from Google doesn’t suggest this is likely.

Does it really matter though?

Well, not really, no. There are so many ways to measure a site’s strength without consulting a green bar. If you want to know how many links it has, use Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer or a free/premium tool like Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz. You could even use our very own free Website Analyser tool.

PageRank is a ranking factor, nothing more than that. It is one of over 200 in fact. As such, a high PR alone doesn’t guarantee a decent ranking within SERPs.

For instance, the Koozai website currently has a PR of 0. Short of being N/A, that’s as low as you can get. But does Google really think that it’s weaker than all other competitor sites? Absolutely not, otherwise it would be impossible to find amongst a sea of PR 4 – 7 SEO sites.

It is there for guidance, nothing more. In fact it probably causes Google more problems than it solves. After all it was this that caused the whole no-follow, PageRank sculpting furore. Unscrupulous types also build strong PR sites (usually by plugging them into an inter-linking network of sites – or farm) and use them as bait for people looking to buy links.

Remove PageRank from the toolbar and you remove this temptation.

We all want an indicator of strength to judge our site’s progress and how it shapes up against others. Each time the metric improves, whatever it may be, it shows that hard work is being rewarded. PageRank has always been a popular choice despite the continued efforts by Google staff to downplay its accuracy and effectiveness as a strength indicator.

It’s a quick reference essentially. Useful, but not all-encompassing. In SEO terms PageRank doesn’t include the quality of your content, keyword targeting or navigation structure. It is simply an indication of your link strength.

The toolbar might be on the verge of an update, in fact there were rumours yesterday that it was underway already [see: Google PageRank Updating This Morning?]  – hence the delay in posting this. Equally, it might be getting phased out gradually. Either way, don’t expect Google to say much on the subject.

But whether it’s gone the way of the dodo or is having a temporary rest, a world without PageRank toolbar visibility isn’t the end of SEO. The quarterly ego-boost might be gone, but links are still being measured on strength and your authority will benefit as a consequence.

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