Long ago, before the rise of man, there was only Google. Google saw the world, and decided it needed to rank the importance of all it surveyed. It gathered the metrics it knew and could measure, and it knew them and measured them. What it developed was the mythical algorithm, the first of its kind. What it created was PageRank.
Now, eons hence, PageRank has lost focus and importance. It is but one factor among many, one voice among the chorus. What once was the core, the focus of all the world’s SEO, has now become one minor aspect of the secret whole. Mankind now wonders, with a collective holding of breath; is this the end of PageRank? Is the giant dead?
The Fall of PageRank
None can deny that PageRank has been on the decline for many years. Once, it was used as the primary indicator of the authority of a given site. It was based primarily upon the measurement and analysis of links. Incoming links made up your PageRank; more links from higher quality sites meant a higher rank. It was a powerful indicator.
Like all powerful metrics, unfortunately, PageRank was analyzed and broken. Links became a commodity which could be bought and sold, begged and snuck into the dark corners of website comment boxes. PageRank became more sophisticated, to analyze the source and authority of the link. Spammers became more sophisticated as well, finding ways to legitimize links and give them all the appearances of a valid, authoritative link without the benefit to the users.
Furthermore, PageRank was one of the most famous aspects of Google’s vaunted algorithm. This meant that webmasters focused on it as a primary indicator of how well their site would perform. A high PageRank site was judged to be of higher quality, and the dream was to make a sit reach a high PageRank. The truth, as Google tried to make it, was the other way around; that a quality site would gain a higher PageRank, not that a higher PageRank made a quality site.
PageRank has fallen in importance over the last year or two. Where once it was a primary part of the Google toolbar for webmasters, now it is missing. Chrome never received a PageRank measurement toolbar, and the bar for FireFox was quietly dropped. Only Internet Explorer maintains the PageRank toolbar, and even that is of questionable utility. Google has updated it only rarely, with the most recent update coming last December.
One Metric of Many
PageRank is just one of many, many ranking factors. It is a measurement of the number and quality of incoming links. What else is a factor?
- • Keyword presence, targeting, positioning and density.
- • Domain name and age, WhoIs blocking, TLD and URL format.
- • Content in all its forms; length, keyword factors, value to users, off-site duplications, etc.
- • Page code optimization and server load speed.
- • Age of the page, domain and content.
- • Presence of multimedia on the page, including images with alt text.
- • Whether links present are broken or point to spam pages/
- • Indirect social metric measurement, including shares and brand mentions.
- • Formatting that breaks up content and makes it easy to digest.
- • The presence and organization of a sitemap.
- • The presence of site security (SSL).
- • Easy navigation, including breadcrumbs, paginated search results and other ease of use factors.
- • A responsive design to allow mobile user access.
- • Public reviews on third party sites.
And much more. As it stands, PageRank is just one of many factors, some of which have as much weight or more than PageRank itself. PR is not the top dog in the algorithm, it’s one member of an organized team working together.
Will PageRank Survive?
Google has taken a recent stance, and the conclusion seems to be a qualified yes. Some of what the company has said, summarized:
- • A lot of regular users – those not involved in Internet marketing – use the Google toolbar and pay attention to the PageRank of a site. They don’t use it as an indicator of how valuable a site is. Rather, the use it as an indicator of whether or not they can trust the content on the page. Essentially, PageRank falls into a similar third-party rating category as the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Reports.
- • Chrome, which lacks the toolbar, and Internet Explorer 10, which does not allow toolbars at all, are contributing to a decline in the users that use the Google toolbar and pay attention to PageRank. If, over time, these browsers dominate the market, the utility of PageRank to a normal user will fade.
- • PageRank maintains a position as a utility feature for users, but that utility is dropping. If, over the next year or two, PageRank utility drops, it’s entirely possible that Google will drop support of the toolbar and publication of the data. This is already happening, slowly, in that PageRank data is not commonly refreshed.
So the moral of the story is this. PageRank, which was once the core of Google itself, has been relegated to a side feature for users and one part of many in the algorithm. Among SEOs, the utility of PageRank is nil. Data is not current enough, nor is it valuable enough, to base an entire strategy around. It is also too commonly used by spammers as a metric for link sales, so a focus on PageRank can come with negative association.
Will PageRank survive beyond the year 2015? Eighteen months from now, will PageRank be active? The answer is yes, in a way. Remember what PageRank is; it’s a measurement of the quality and quantity of incoming links. Those are valuable metrics that Google will never entirely drop. Therefore, PageRank will remain, at minimum, part of the overall algorithm.
As for its public face, its presence on the toolbar and its utility for normal users? That depends on the future of browsing. If IE10s extension-free experience catches on, the Google Toolbar will die a swift death. If users prefer their extensions, the Google Toolbar may live on beyond 2015. It will, however, continue to decline in utility for the average user.
As a webmaster and SEO professional, what’s the answer? PageRank will survive 2015. However, as a webmaster, you don’t need to care. As far as utility goes for SEO, PageRank is already dead.