Obsessing with Google PageRank

Mihaela Lica

Google PageRankEvery time I write an SEO article I get a bunch of comments from web marketers who are obviously obsessed with Google PageRanks, so obsessed that they literally believe that PageRanks influence everything from rankings into Google’s SERPs to the overall online influence of a site.

Apparently it doesn’t matter how many times reputable SEOs like Michael Gray, Aaron Wall, Dany Sullivan and others advise not to obsess about PageRanks – there will always be people who proudly showcase their success in getting a higher PageRank, or get terrified when their sites’ PageRanks drop. Last week I had a commenter who was so convinced that scraper sites helped his site get a higher PR that he almost turned into an advocate of scrapers.

What many webmasters don’t know is that there are in fact two entirely different things that are called “PageRank”. The one everybody is obsessing about is the toolbar PageRank, which really doesn’t matter, because:

  • What you see is not what you get. PageRanks are computed continuously so when you see a PageRank 5 that site could in fact have a PageRank 7 or 2 (Matt Cutts).

    PageRank is computed continuously; there are machines that take inputs to the PageRank algorithm at Google and compute the resulting PageRanks. So at any given time, a url in Google’s system has up-to-date PageRank as a result of running the computation with the inputs to the algorithm. From time-to-time, that internal PageRank value is exported so that it’s visible to Google Toolbar users.

  • Toolbar PageRank updates do not influence SERPs (Matt Cutts)

    It’s just a toolbar PageRank update. Even if you don’t show much PageRank, Google still has 200+ other signals we use in our ranking. It’s definitely common to see lower-PageRank sites ranking above higher-PageRank sites–which tends to confuse the people who obsess too much about PageRank, and who don’t focus on other factors that search engines might use to rank pages.

  • Google lowers manually PageRanks for sites that are selling links (Danny Sullivan)

    So I pinged Google, and they confirmed that PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links. In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached to prevent them from ranking well.

  • It doesn’t determine your Google footprint. Criticizing Steve Rubel’s take on PageRank importance, Vannessa Fox writes:

    If there’s one thing that PageRank is not, it’s the determination of your Google footprint. The internal “real” PageRank isn’t even that. Lots of things go into determining your Google footprint. His discussion in the comments goes further down this path of misunderstanding what PageRank is. He agrees with someone in the comments who says that “PageRank is the sum of all other measurements.” It’s not. It’s one measurement added in with a whole bunch of others.

Don't judge a site by its pagerank

The only thing that does matter is the internal PageRank assigned by Google to a site, but that’s something no one except Google knows.

To make a long story short: there’s nothing magical about having high PageRanks, and definitely not if you obtain these by employing black hat or gray hat techniques (like using scraper sites or other bad neighbours to boost PageRanks). You will never really know what the real PageRank of a site is anyway, not even if you “test it” using such a tool that checks Google PageRanks in 700 data centers.

Sure, you can optimize your site for higher PageRanks, and for more traffic, and for better SERPs, but, as Vanessa Fox said:

If you “optimize the crap” out of your site so that you rank #1 for relevant keywords, but your site isn’t compelling to searchers, that ranking will be completely meaningless as those new visitors will click right back to the search results rather than engage with your site.