PageRank, HUH! What’s it Good FOR?! Absolu – WAIT – I take it back!
PageRank, huh, yeah. What’s it good for?! Absolutely nuthin! Say it again. PageRank!
Okay, it makes a good song, but I still haven’t ditched this once be-all-end-all SEO metric. Here’s why.
Do you notice sometimes how when almost any type of resource falls from being the king of the hill to having far less inherent value than it once had, that the masses are all to eager to burn it at the stake—almost out of bitterness? “I resent that you no longer give me a simple formula for success. Go away now, I don’t need a reminder of a time when it was that easy”.
Yes, well. Let’s keep things in perspective. Throwing baby out with the bathwater? Bad, mmkay?
PageRank – From Important Metric to Useful Metric
So Google’s toolbar PageRank no longer solves all the Web’s search visibility riddles for you. No problem (and what a relief; yet another easy-to-game metric has that much less weight as a ranking algorithm), that’s good news, in my book.
But in a largely non-exact science (which loosely translates to not a science) such as SEO, you need as many good troubleshooting tools as you can find. And in my opinion, Google’s toolbar PageRank is a great troubleshooting tool.
Now I may have lost some of you with that last bit. You know, about the science. Many aspects of SEO are scientific in nature: statistics, research, analytics, etc, but many aren’t. (The last time I checked, Google still hasn’t put their ranking algorithms up in a live Google Doc for us).
Websites have many layers that work with one another: information architecture, content, back-end and front-end coding, link popularity, and the list goes on. Some of the art of SEO involves paying close attention to each layer while ensuring that the others are complimented, not interfered with.
So yes, much of search engine optimization centers around details, but sometimes the most valuable tools are the ones that allow you to step back a bit to assess a site’s health up and down its hierarchy.
Google’s PageRank Tool can be one of the best alerts that something is hurting a webpage’s health.
Toolbar PageRank Can Help You Find That Structural Needle in the Haystack
Often, the first stage of optimization is an audit. Content, keyword targets, structure, you name it, it needs to be documented and evaluated. Some of the first considerations of a structural audit should be an evaluation of how the site’s architecture is affecting the health of its most important pages (if not all) across the site.
If you have 100 pages to optimize, you’ll likely have a spreadsheet documenting each page: it’s title, internal links, what needs fixing, which pages are complete, etc. Let’s say for example, most of the site’s internal pages have a PR of 4, but somewhere along the hierarchy, a group of pages have no (greyed out) PageRank—and you know the pages aren’t new. In fact they’re just as old as the rest of the pages in that section and just as important. Boom, instantaneous sign that something is up in this corner of the site. 9 times out of 10, if those pages aren’t new, it’s an immediate sign that there’s either:
- A serious structural problem preventing link-juice from flowing to those pages.
- Duplicate content issues preventing search engine from respecting and indexing those pages.
Sure, there are other ways to troubleshoot for duplicate content and structural or other problems and penalties, but few are as quick and efficient at spotting critical issues, quickly letting you know something is up right from the start.
Mix in the fact that the API is available, and you can roll your own first-pass structural audits that include PR data.
Compare Google’s Toolbar PageRank with SEOMoz’s MozRank, and you get even more value. For instance, if any given page has a Google PR of 3 and a MozRank of 6, Google has likely passed the page a penalty, since MozRank uses a very similar algorithm as PageRank, but can’t incorporate Google penalty data.
PageRank isn’t dead in my book—it’s just different.
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.
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.
I’ve been using SEOmoz’s Mozbar for about a month now, and am looking forward to getting a Pro SEOMoz account in the very near future. I enjoy comparing the difference in Mozrank and Pagerank on all the pages I visit, but I have to admit, I haven’t explored the toolbar as much as I probably should have. The features that interest me the most with it are available only once you get a pro account for $79.00/year. By the way, I have no vested interest in endorsing SEOMoz or their products (in case this is sounding overly promotional), this is purely enthusiasm, I assure you.
And there is now a lot more to be enthusiastic about with the new Mozbar release.
The new ‘analyze page’ button on the toolbar provides valuable off-page information and a wealth of on-page SEO information in one click, including data
- The URL
- Page Title
- Meta Description
- Meta Keywords
- HTML Text
- Alt Text
- Meta Robots
- Rel=”Canonical” usage
- IP Address
- mozRank (for the URL, subdomain and root domain)
- mozTrust (for the URL, subdomain and root domain)
- # of External Links (for the URL, subdomain and root domain)
- # of Linking Domains (for the URL, subdomain and root domain)
Because my on-page SEO strategies include coding pages in accordance with W3C standard recommendations, as well as focusing on semantic markup (often collectively refered to as clean code), this tool is a nice time saver. Quickly scanning a web page for semantically rich elements without having to control-f my way through oodles of nested tables and incredibly bloated HTML is very convenient when a client or colleague is on the phone asking for a quick opinion on the state of of their pages’ code. Sure beats the usual “mmmkay, one sec, let me just also check this.. yes, hold on one minute, just checking something else”.
In what is arguably the biggest SEO news so far this year, Matt Cutts announced yesterday that using nofollows is no longer a solution to preventing loss of a site’s or page’s link juice, and hasn’t been for over a year!
When the rel=nofollow attribute was introduced in 2005, it was meant as an annotation for not “vouching” for a link. Virtually all forum and blog pages have nofollow attributes associated with visitor generated content, as a means of instructing search engines not to follow (crawl) these untrusted user comments or guestbook entries. Not long after the introduction of rel=”nofollow”, we learned to minimize leakage of our sites’ total allocated PageRank by ‘sculpting’ PR with the attribute as well as to push it to more important pages of our sites. We can now cross this technique off the list.
In Google, nofollow links don’t pass PageRank and don’t pass anchor text. However, we find out now through Matt Cutts (who else) that nofollow links no longer conserve the linkjuice from an outgoing nofollow link in order to be be divided among other links on the page in question.
Old PageRank Algorithm
2 separate cases of a page with “x” amount of available link juice.
As a somewhat simplified example: In the original PageRank algorithm, a page of PR10 would have passed PR2 each to 5 regular links (fig.1). The same page would have passed PR2.5 each to 4 regular links and PR 0 to the nofollow link in fig. 2.
New PageRank Algorithm
Page with “x” amount of available link juice
As you can see in fig 3, nofollowing a link no longer passes extra juice through to the remaining live links. Many SEOs are now considering cutting down substantially on outgoing links, or going back to previous PR Sculpting methods such as:
- Embedding robots.txt-blocked iframes containing certain links
- Embedding Java, Flash or other non-parseable applications to contain certain links
Many SEOs are disillusioned by the fact that using internal nofollows were advocated as best practice by the powers that be at the Big G, and now feel they’re being told the opposite. There will be a lot of speculating, calculating and theorizing in the SEO community on this one in the upcoming weeks. I’ll be back with news on this one soon enough, because I know there’ll be some.
Yesterday, Google launched SearchWiki, the biggest news in Web 2.0 since sliced Wikipedia. Once logged into your google account, SearchWiki allows you move search results up or out of Google’s index, for your own personalized results on return visits to the Goog. As well as allowing users to edit, reorder, and remove search results to their liking, SearchWiki allows public commenting on search results, letting others know their opinions on individual web sites [Insert scary music here]. Google’s reasoning here is to make it easier for you to find the results that best suit our needs, with these custom indexed results stored in your Google Account.
Well, for those of us with hearts already 100% dedicated to Google, we’ll now have to find other parts of ourselves to dedicate to our beloved search behemoth.
Of course, these pseudo-bookmarked, tailored search results fit nicely into our relatively recent, present day social-media-heavy virtual existence. In the same vein as Del.icio.us, Stumbleupon, Digg, Sphinn, Reddit, Technorati, and countless others, Google now allows us to share our thoughts amongst each other – on the good, bad, and the ugly of all the sites in the Interverse. But wait. Google tells us that
The changes you make only affect your own searches. Well, we’ll see how long until Google revises that statement, because
once if those changes did affect public indexing, we might never have to leave Google for online bookmarking or social-networking communities at all. The comments you leave however, will be public.
I don’t know how I’d feel if Google did incorporate the voting system into their results. Actually, I think I do. Personally, I prefer to surf recommendation engines such as StumbleUpon, or other social networking sites such as Digg when I feel like browsing social media. The way I see it, the thing that sets the internet apart from all other forms of media is that the “hits” don’t necessarily prevail in search engines; instead, the Long Tail of media, including the “misses”, have as much of a chance of producing results in the SERPs – as long as the results are relevant. Granted, “relevant” results – while being based on indexing algorithms – do rely on some forms of indirect user input. One site linking to another, for example, counts as a vote in the eyes of Google’s Pagerank algorithm. I just don’t know if I’m ready to welcome the fact wholeheartedly that ‘what mainstream internet deems to be the best results’ could affect my Google experience in such a direct way. In any case, for now at least, the changes we make only affect our own searches.
So Google, you still do it for me, but…
As Googey-baby states:
SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively edited the search results by clicking on the ‘See all notes for this SearchWiki’ link.
I don’t remember ever seeing an online
grafitti feedback system that wasn’t chalk full of gorilla marketing. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.
This week Google added another source of useful data to the crawl error section of their Webmaster Tools. The original addition of this feature to the popular tools in August 2006 allowed account holders to view the types and counts of server crawl errors such as URLS not found, not followed, restricted and timed out. Due to popular demand, this feature is now complimented by the internal or external sources of ‘Not found’ (404) crawl errors
Whether you choose to view the data in the online application, or download all your crawl errors for later analysis, webmasters may use the data to track down exactly where the 404 errors are coming from, fix the internal ones, and attempt to fix the external ones
Crawl Error Sources Data Benefits Search Engine Optimization
If your server spits a 404 error because of an external linking error, the valuable link juice need not go to waste. Knowing the source of the 404 allows you to either contact the site owner to request a correction, or, you can simply 301-redirect the misspelled URL to the correct version. Presto, the vote for your site as an authoritative source of content is restored, earning you the valuable natural Pagerank points that your site deserves from the incoming link
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