Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

Google Drops PageRank Data From Webmaster Tools

Without warning, Google has removed PageRank data from the ‘Diagnostics’ section of their Webmaster Tools (WMT). The majority of the SEO community once considered PageRank to be the quintessential metric to track , but the last few years have seen a steady decrease in the little green bar’s popularity.
PageRank is dead
Long Live PageRank
Webmaster Trends Analyst Susan Moskwa commented in a recent thread on Google Webmaster Central, that PageRank data was removed from WMT simply because they felt it was silly to display data that Big G has been trying to wean webmasters off of for quite some time.

“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. :-)”

Moskwa concluded her brief, but to-the-point comment with a link to Google’s Webmaster Help FAQ on crawling, indexing & ranking that stresses:

“…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”

I agree 100%. PageRank isn’t the link popularity metrics panacea that it once might have been. But as Barry Schwartz points out’, why then, is PageRank data still displayed in Google’s Toolbar – too silly for Google Webmaster Tools, but not too silly for Google Toolbar? What gives Google?
Barry then goes on to ask:

“… how many people have the Google Toolbar installed compared to those who use Google Webmaster Tools? I assume a fraction of those use Google Webmaster Tools.”

Barry offers a possible explanation:

“Google cannot remove PageRank from the Toolbar, it is too much of their branding. No matter how much Matt Cutts and the Google search quality and webmaster trends team want it removed, I cannot see Google’s executives allowing it.”

I partially agree here. Yes, PageRank is a big part of Google’s branding, but this branding has made its mark primarily on search marketers and webmasters, at best. I don’t think Google would be too worried about hurting its brand by removing a once-relevant link popularity metric, especially if the majority of experienced search marketers have long since accepted that PageRank offers little if any value as an actionable or meaningful metric.

Marketing Pilgrim’s Andy Beal made a comment that’s a humorous as it is true:

“The problem is, Google’s not yet ready to remove the PageRank score from the toolbar installed on hundreds of millions of web browsers. This really leads you to conclude that role of PageRank has been reduced to nothing more than a comfort blanket for SEO noob. “

PageRank is Dead – Long Live PageRank?

My take here is that Google is “giving notice”, and perhaps PageRank is officially on its way out, one step at a time. Or, this is what they’d have us believe – one less road map on a huge ‘let’s game the search engines” safari.

I for one, hope PageRank sticks around – at least in the shadows somewhere – for one reason only; that little green bar doesn’t do many things, but one thing it does do really quickly is indicate if a site is suffering from a serious indexing problem. Andy feels the same way:

“I only use it as an early warning that a site is not behaving in Google’s index. Any green means ‘go.’ No green, means there’s something to investigate.”

Hang in there PageRank. It never was easy being green.

About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.