Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

PageRank Dead? I Still Feel a Pulse.

PageRank, HUH! What's it Good FOR?!
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:

  1. A serious structural problem preventing link-juice from flowing to those pages.
  2. 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.

About matt

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