Why Google PageRank Could Be a Thing of the Past

Why Google PageRank Could Be a Thing of the Past

Last updated on
google pagerank signs

Are you watching for signs?

Links, Pagerank and the Semantic Web – A Prediction

Most bloggers do their own SEO, often in combination with plug-ins, such as All in One SEO Pack or AVH First Defense Against Spam.

Still, it behooves each of us to have at least a working knowledge of what the search engines are looking for and try to find a balance between that and what our readers are looking for.

Even for those that work full-time in SEO that can be a challenge. Search algorithms are constantly changing, the “rules” seem to change nearly as often and the techniques that are most effective vary from one day to another.

Pagerank

One of the things that seems to confound many is Pagerank.

We’ve discussed here before the vast difference between actual pagerank and toolbar pagerank, so I won’t go into that again now. But part of it does lead in to the topic at hand.

Toolbar pagerank was last updated in April of this year.

This marks the longest time between updates that Google has ever shown us. Some are expecting to see the traditional New Year update, but personally, I think we may have already seen the last TBPR update.

The reason I believe that to be the case is that I think Google has been working for some time on developing an alternative to pagerank… something that can’t be so easily “gamed”.

Pagerank is determined solely by the quantity and quality of inbound links, and as such, has directly spawned such practices as link buying, link wheels and link networks. It has also indirectly given birth to pagerank sculpting.

In short, it has promoted link spam, which is something that all bloggers have to deal with.

My theory is that if Google came up with an alternative method of ranking pages that didn’t depend solely upon links to that page, they’d go a long way toward removing the incentive for link spamming.

There are some bright folks at the Google-Plex… I’m sure they thought of it long before I did.

Pagerank, however, was a very well thought out and designed program. It has certainly played an important positive role in the growth of the Internet. And to think about supplanting it with something else would imply a great deal of change to the way SEOs and site owners judge their performance.

So what could it be replaced with?

Again, my theory… nothing. At least, nothing fixed.

I think of pagerank’s replacement as more of a relevancy rank.

Where pagerank is one of many factors that enter into a page search engine ranking, relevancy rank (RR?) would actually be the end result. It would vary, probably greatly, from one search query to another.

Relevancy rank would be computed “on the fly”, by a somewhat expanded algorithm, which would judge a page’s relevancy to a specific search query, and assign it a SERPs ranking based upon that evaluation.

There’d be no indicator bar on the toolbar, because there would be no fixed rank assigned.

Links

Part of that transition would be to greatly devalue the impact of incoming links.

They could theoretically be devalued totally, but I really doubt that will happen.

I think there will always be a call for links, and I suspect they will still play some minor part in the relevancy evaluation. But greatly reducing their impact will effectively remove the incentive for much of the link spam that exists today.

When you think about what Google already accomplishes in mere milliseconds with their algorithms, I really don’t think it’s a big stretch to think that they’re capable to accomplishing this.

And as they (and the other search engines) get closer and closer to achieving the Semantic Web capability that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned when he made this statement in 1999:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.”

Step for a moment into a sci-fi scenario.

You sit down at your desk to make some calls, but first you tell your computer to compile a list of references for homestead law in Harris County, Texas. As your intelligent agent, your computer will set out to search for all possible connections to homestead law, Harris County, TX and while you’re chatting with your business associates, it’ll prepare you a document listing all references encountered on the Internet that match your needs.

A few years ago, you’d have assigned that task to your secretary or a research assistant. They’d have used their computer to sift through the tens of thousands of documents and try to select those that were appropriate, weed out the duplicates and compile a list for you.

Depending upon what other tasks they had to accomplish, that might take a couple of days. Your computer could probably accomplish the same thing in well under a minute.

You could further direct your computer to keep tabs on the results and alert you of any changes. A human assistant would have to go through the entire process again, plus identify and list the changes for you.

This is an extremely simple example.

If you needed to have a great deal more detail, your computer might need a few more milliseconds to deliver the results, while your human assistant might need a couple more days.

I’m sure you can easily see the difference in efficiency and time consumption.

The truth about predictions

Like most things regarding the search engines, we know very little about what they are doing or how they go about doing it. Even reports of their past actions may be limited to the point of being questionable.

Consequently, trying to predict what the search engines will do next is, at best, a guessing game.

I simply try to look at the logical course of action, as I see it, and identify what I feel is the most logical path for them to follow. You may have other ideas, or perhaps see a hole in my logic.

I’d love to hear your point of view, either way.

Doc Sheldon

Doc Sheldon is a retired business management consultant, turned perpetual student of SEO. He has been studying SEO for a little under five years, and writing professionally for over thirty. You can see more of his writing on SEO on his website, Doc Sheldon’s SXO Clinic, and his blog, Ramblings of a Madman.

traffic generation cafe comment below

Google+ Comments

33 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. If the folks at SEOmoz are correct, and external links account for about a 33% weighting factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, it would explain why opinions on PageRank and the importance of links are so mixed. Getting incoming links is important if you want search engine traffic, but other factors also matter, and search engine visitors are not the only game in town. Here is an example of one of the obscure factors — Do you have secure pages on your site (https)? Bing monitors clicks from standard pages to secure pages as a factor in their PPC quality score. Seems if they use it as a PPC ranking factor, they probably use it as a factor in their organic rankings.

  2. raybak

    I never believe on Goolge PR and Alexa rank. One of my new websites earned PR of 4 after 2 months of its launch then it climbed up to PR6 and at that time me and my friend thought of working on this domain seriously and we started working harder from content update, link building, on-site seo and every thing but suddenly the PR dropped to 2 and now its back to 0 :-s. We still can’t figure out what we did wrong for this massive PR drop (we didn’t tried any thing related to black hat seo).

    • Hi Rayback,

      What happened to your new site is very unfortunate. Something really happened that make the PR dropped and I think you really have to figure that out so that it won’t happen again. I know you can so don’t get discouraged.

      All the best,

      Ana

  3. Always interesting to talk about Google PR.

    Actually since my PR dropped from 2 to zero almost a year ago, i prefer not to have PR now, because now, my traffics is more than when i had PR.

    Having Google PR is not my goal anymore, since it can be manipulated, and having PR does not mean you have traffics.

    Traffics are much more important to me.

  4. Khaleef

    As a website owner, I hate the fact that advertisers and other webmasters will judge you based on that little green line, rather than on your content, traffic, etc!

    It would be nice for Google to give one last public update before abolishing the system completely.

    The one thing that this has done is open up the door for other systems to fill the gap, such as mozRank. I actually never heard of it until a couple of months ago, but it’s great to have an alternative way to measure my relatively new site.

  5. I think Google are still a few years away from being able to stop relying on links (which is at the base of their algorithm). Same goes for devaluing them enough so that they represent less than 50% of ranking factors for competitive keywords.

    Sure, they are complementing / updating their ranking factors with new data (mainly social “noise”), but links still play an important part in that “noise ” (even if they are nofollow).

    I agree with your view on PageRank though, I think it’s dead in the current format especially since it makes it easier for people to try and game the system (wooooo, this blog has a PR6, let’s spam it vs oh, PR0 I won’t bother!)

  6. I just wanted to ask, what are your thoughts on seoMOZ and mozRank? They have developed an alternative to PageRank, but it will be interesting to see how far that goes should Google finally come out with some sort of update. In the meantime, I have been promoting mozRank as an alternative to those who feel bad about a PR0 since they started after Google’s last update. :)

  7. Count me as among those who are frustrated due to a lack of PageRank updates. I started my blog after the last update, and I am still a PR 0. People therefore think there is something “wrong” with my site or that I must have done something wrong, even though Google has not updated the PR! I wish they would be more transparent about this, and hope they will give us some information soon.

  8. Hi, Alex – thanks for chiming in!

    I don’t recall Google saying that PR didn’t enter into SERPs placement, only that it was just one of the over 200 factors that enter into it. Did I miss something?
    Still, I think its importance in SERPs placement in diminishing, and I’m glad to see it. Authority ranking, while only once-removed from popularity ranking, is an improvement, I grant.

    Thanks for the comment, Alex!

  9. Sheldon:

    Very well said. I agree with Heather as well…PR has been stuck since April and it makes it tough on those of us who have been diligently working towards increasing our PR. If indeed Google is getting rid of PR, they better make sure they get their new metrics out to the people, because like Heather said…alot more businesses want to give their business to the high PR sites. Great article!

    • Hello, Lisa. I appreciate you taking the time to comment, and appreciate the kind words, as well.

      When it comes right down to it, Google is going to make the decision that is best for THEM, as they should. I think most of us would do the same. Frankly, if I were in their position, I might do it the same way, just for business reasons. Their revenue comes from ad sales, and they sell ads by serving relevant search results. Everything else is just noise, and I would expect them to handle it in the way that least impacts their business. They have an obligation to their stockholders, not to the SEO community.
      Some, in fact, are of the opinion that Google sees those of us that practice SEO as the “enemy”. I don’t personally subscribe to that theory, but then, I don’t think they see us as “friends”, either. :)

      • Chris Burns

        I have to disagree with you there Doc.

        There is no ad revenue for Google if people don’t use their search engine. In order for people to continue using their search engine they need to be providing the most relevant results to their users. If their user base leaves they can kiss their income goodbye. The “rest” is what makes them the money it’s not just noise :)

        How do you serve the most relevant results? Well thats something your going to have to learn because Google isn’t going to tell you. Thats why people will likely need SEO guys now more than ever since they are openly valuing social media factors into the algo along with myriad other constant changes.

        Links will always be important and will never go away.

        • Hi, Chris-

          I guess I wasn’t clear, because you seem to have misunderstood me. I agree with all of your first paragraph, which is what I thought I said to Lisa, up until the last sentence. When I said “Everything else is just noise”, I was referring to everything that wasn’t relevant results (to keep their users) and ad sales (which are dependent upon those users). Beyond those, everything else is just noise for them.

          As for how to serve the most relevant results, Google has some of the finest minds in the industry, that have already proven themselves capable of developing some mighty impressive algorithms… I trust they can do that, given some time and effort to implement RDFa, to assist in achieving some semantic capability.

          Will that happen overnight? Obviously not. But I suspect that it will happen rapidly enough to shake up a lot of people. And given the number of “SEO is Dead” pieces that seem to surface after every new update, I think it’s safe to say that our industry is prone to being shaken up, even in the absence of cause. Give us a reason, and look out!

          You say “Links will always be important and will never go away” – define important, and to whom. ;) I agree they’ll never go away. I just said that I think they’ll play a much less prominent role in SERPs placement. But face it… they’re only important to Google until they have a better metric. The function of links, from their standpoint, can be performed just as well by other means. Citations, RDFa/GoodRelations, even the very basic FOAF…. which are not as easily gamed. If Ctags are implemented, the only person a fella can spam is himself.

          I just don’t think it’s realistic to make a pat statement about links being too important to lose their value in ranking. Anything can change. ;)

  10. Hey Sheldon,

    Very interesting post there. I think you’ve made some very valid arguments against having Page Rank. I think Google should get rid of PR totally. But I do appreciate your point on links. Link building should always be part of ranking but must not be the only means to rank a page higher. I see a lot of bad websites with PR of 5 with hardly any useful content. Spam sites like this is probably one of the reasons why Google is starting to devalue Page Rank.

    At the end of the day, it’s the average internet user who is at a disadvantage when searching for something on the internet.

    • Hello, Bryan-

      Personally, I think visible PageRank has created a lot of problems. Had it been an internal value, invisible to those outside of Google, it might have worked a little better. But when people know that they can increase that value by acquiring more links (by ANY method), some are bound to try to take the easy way out, and game the system.
      PageRank helped make possible the phenomenal growth of the Internet is a very short time, but like anything else, it needs to be reevaluated periodically to see if it’s still beneficial. My position is that it had gotten to the point that it does more harm than good. Get rid of it, replace it with a near-Semantic capability and you’ll remove the incentive for link-spamming. That’ll be better for site-owners, SEOs, search engines and the users!

      Thanks for chiming in, Bryan! Your comment’s appreciated.

  11. I don’t know what you mean by calculating relevancy on the fly – this is what is already done (OK, with the cache) in the counting link votes and relevancy. So my question is, what is the difference in what you’re proposing and what Google is already doing?

    Sure, counting links is one way, but they already go deeper. There is a social component (talk of social media esp. Twitter and Facebook, at least on Bing’s proposal), there is a relevancy component (linking from like minded pages to like minded pages yields more link juice)…

    So I’m not sure what you mean that’s substantially different.

    • Hi, James-
      By on the fly, I mean the “rank” of a page – that which is currently referred to as PageRank – would be determined during the document retrieval process, much as SERPs ranking is currently performed. It would be based upon relevancy of the document to the particular search query, taking into consideration many factors that are already used, EXCEPT PageRank, which would no longer exist. In other words, the retrieval and SERPs ranking process wouldn’t really change that much (except for an increased utilization of Semantic technology, such as RDFa). The major benefit at the outset would be the elimination of any incentive for link-spamming, as the value of links would be greatly reduced. They’d still exist, in order to “connect the dots” between nodes in the graph, although citations could do the same thing, but their impact on SERPs placement would be minimal.

      I hope that’s a little clearer. It’s difficult to go into very deep detail here.
      Thanks a lot for stopping by and commenting, James!

  12. You know the most frustrating part of the lack of page rank update is for those of us who have just started blogging. I started in August and although I have decent traffic and a ton of backlinks…still a pagerank 0. It wouldn’t bother me much, but it keeps companies from working with me. They’ll take someone with less twitter followers, less facebook followers, less subscribers and a lower alexa score than me…all because I have 0 page rank. If google is going to stop updating it, companies need to get on board and stop using it as a way of qualifying who they will work with.

    • Hi, Heather-

      I can hear the frustration in your voice, and believe me, we’ve all felt it at one time or another. Unfortunately, our clients are rarely as up to date as we are on what’s going on in the industry. That means it’s up to us to try and educate them. As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, some are willing to listen, and some aren’t. It just goes with the territory. You might want to consider writing a blog post about the topic. Link to a few other pieces, such as this one, or others on my site, to show credibility of your position, and then share it with your prospects.
      Thanks for dropping by… best of luck.

  13. Hi Shrldon,

    this was really interesting reading. I think as you that the PR is becoming obsolete, there are simply too many ways how to trick it and Google will never be able to make it really fair for all.

    With the development of social networks we can also see that people still less rely on the Google search and trust more in content that is popular at these networks. Why? Well bounce the quality of the content is measured by real readers here and not by some algorithms.

    • Hello, Adam-

      I’m involved in a discussion right now in a chat room where the comment was made that “there is no technology you can develop that can’t be scammed.” That is probably a true statement, but my response was, “perhaps not, but some are a lot harder to game. Make it harder to do, with a smaller payoff, and the quantity will go down.” I believe that to be true.

      As far as people relying less on Google search and more on SM popularity, I don’t know if that is true. And Google has begun reading SM signals, and I suspect they’ll be doing even more of it.

      The Internet is evolving, and those that don’t evolve with it, run the risk of being left behind.

      Thanks for your comment, Adam!

  14. Hi Doc,

    Interesting post! I saw some people say on the forums that the toolbar PR was updated around August-September, but I didn’t see any changes to my blog so I assumed it was not happened. I didn’t know the official update was in April. That’s such a long time.

    But I don’t care about toolbar PR much. I only care about the rank of keywords and that’s certainly my main worry. I feel that the way search engines are performing searches right now is still ok because it judges the relevance of the content as well as the popularity of it. Links are still important in the future, I predict. The only thing that Google will need to work on is including expert article in the search engines.

    As you can see now, it’s quite easy to manipulate the search results with link building. Some results may contain good information on the topic. Some may contain biased and tricky information that is almost garbage to users. In the mean time, articles written by expert often not found by search engines because these articles aren’t optimized for SEO properly. So, I think it’s one of the problem that search engines need to solve right now, at least.

    • Hi, Mike!

      Try as I might, I can’t find a thing in your comment to disagree with, except your opinion that links will retain their importance in the future. I don’t necessarily think they’ll lose ALL their impact, but I think their impact will have to be lessened greatly, in order to lessen the incentive for link-spam. ;)

  15. Lately I’ve seen a change in attitude concerning SEO. So many bloggers are pushing their Social Media presences and not paying much attention to SEO. They say they are after readers and not ranking and using Social Media to get readers.

    Frankly… I’ve enjoyed the free traffic I get because of my SEO efforts. I find that it’s not all that hard to include both Social Media and SEO in my promotion strategy.

    It will be interesting to see what Google does about the PageRank toolbar… and it will be fun to see if your predictions are correct.

    • Hi, Kathryn. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      I have mixed feelings on that. While I have also seen a tendency among bloggers to concentrate more on cultivating their readership (which is definitely a good thing!), I have also noticed that more bloggers seem to have become aware of the need for SEO, and are making the effort to address it.
      Social Media is certainly a valuable tool for getting traffic, and I don’t expect to see that trend change very soon.

  16. I’ve been thinking this as well. It has been so long since PR has been updated. My site is still a 0 up against a whole bunch of 4’s and 5’s. I feel that if the update happened, I should be able to pop out of spot 9 and move into the top 3.

    Awesome post though, makes me feel like I’m not alone in thinking that PR may be dead.

    • Hiya, Ryan!

      It seems as though the people that have seen any toolbar PR change since April were few and far between. And bear in mind that even if your PageRank changes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your SERPs ranking will change. PR is just one of over 200 factors that the Google search algorithm uses to decide SERPs ranking.

      Also, not being alone doesn’t mean you’re NOT crazy… it just means you have company. ;)

  17. Hey there, what’s up Doc? (I love saying that)
    I’m somewhat confused when I see people mention that the last Page Rank update was in April. Have you seen that info published by Google? One of my blogs saw a change in page rank in early July that’s why I’m confused. I’ve even seen some people say that the April update was only a “partial” update – Well what does that mean? (Nevermind don’t answer that one) ;)

    I think the best thing to do is wait for the official news from Google which I’m sure they will announce in January. Either way it will be nice to see what impact Google Instant and Google Caffeine has on sites that are focused on SEO. I’m more interested in seeing that than I am for my own blogs.

    Talk to you soon!

    • Hi, Ileane! Great to see you pop in and comment, as always.

      I saw a bump in toolbar PageRank on one of my blogs in September, as well, so I’m inclined to think that it may have simply been a change in the “public” nature of the updates. Whether that is the extent of the changes to come, or the harbinger of something more remains to be seen.

      If there IS a major change to be announced, I agree that January would be a logical time to expect them to make it, provided it meets their schedule. Again, as you say, it’s probably best to just wait and see.

      I like to try to guess what’s coming, and take action accordingly, if such action won’t be counterproductive in the event I guess wrong. This is one of those instances where I feel that acting upon my conjecture can do me nothing but good, either way. That’s why I intend to implement RDFa on my site… it can’t hurt, regardless, and should bring me great benefits even if I’m wrong.

      Wouldn’t it be great if EVERY gamble was a win-win situation? ;)

      Thanks for your comment, Ileane!

  18. Sheldon – Interesting points here. I agree with you 100% on the Page Rank thing. For the last few months, I’ve had this suspicion that things are seriously going to change when it comes to what Google’s doing next. Knowing this, I’ve stopped really worrying about a site’s PR. When it comes to commenting/networking, I like to interact with people who are “thought leaders”, NOT because the have a nice little green line in the Google Toolbar.

    Great, thought provoking read!

    • Hi, Steve. I appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to comment.
      I share your feelings that we’re likely to see some major changes. I wish I had a crystal ball to know exactly what those changes will bring, but I suppose that would take a lot of the fun out of it, eh?
      I like your idea of “thought leaders”… I think that’s why I enjoy following Ana’s blog so much!