Google PageRank: Tool or Marketing Gimmick?

Google PageRank is an algorithm by which Google measures the relative importance of individual web pages. What most people know as PageRank is the little green guage in the Google Toolbar.

Shown in the image to the right, the green creeps across the guage from left to right, showing the PageRank of any given web page on a scale of 0 to 10. Zero being the lowest measure and 10 being the highest.

This is not actual PageRank, and so is often referred to as Toolbar PageRank. Google has not disclosed the exact method for determining the Toolbar PageRank value. But it is well known that it updates every 3 months or so, and so is based on historical data - not current ranking data.

The question is... Is it a tool or a marketing gimmick?

It seems pretty obvious to me. Here are the things that we know for sure: Toolbar PageRank does not display current data. Google makes a habit of not disclosing accurate (or I should say "complete") data of any kind - which is also evident in their backward link checker. And you get "punished" for making use of the Toolbar PageRank data (ie for buying and selling links based on PR).

They have their reasons, of course - their primary goal is to deliver relevant search results. Not to cater to Search Engine Marketers. If they gave away all of their data or the details of their algorithms, SEOs could easily manipulate the results. They make it more difficult by leaving much to speculation and by making constant updates.

And that's why you'll often hear me refer to Toolbar PageRank as "vanity green"... its not at all an accurage guage, though perhaps somewhat useful (relative only to very similar pages on the web).

If it is a marketing gimmick (my vote), Google has certainly accomplished their goal. They have everyone watching them like a hawk, discussing them across the web, and they've created a buzz full of speculation and debate that repeats itself several times a year.

A quick search at Technorati proves that:

This blogger (falsely) believes that losing 200 subscribers and losing 2 points on the PageRank guage seen on the Google Toolbar are a related phenomenon. I assume they are basing their subscriber numbers on FeedBurner's RSS subscriber count - which fluctuates daily according to how many of your subscribers actually accessed (or read) your feed. Not related.

This blogger (falsely) believes that a specific blog post caused a PageRank change within a few short hours of publishing that post. Toolbar PageRank is updated 3-4 times a year and contains historical data. It is not an up-to-the-minute guage. Besides, Google ranks individual pages, not sites. The ToolBar PageRank will be different for each web page on your site - new pages showing no rank at all until the next update.

Just one example of PageRank obsession, which Google has created simply by placing an outdated, inaccurate little green page ranking tool in their free toolbar.

Not only do people get completely obsessed with it, it also creates: mass hysteria, envy, pride, inflated pricing for link sales, and even dramatic loss of revenue. Particularly in the case of link sales or paid blog postings, where the brokers base their payout rates on false data like Toolbar PageRank and Alexa Rankings.

Ironically, those same two things that pay you more money for having "good pagerank", apparently cause your pagerank to get lowered. Resulting in a vicious downward spiral.

For example, if you sell text links through the Text Link Ads broker, you earn more based on your Google PageRank. And if you sell text links, apparently you get "penalized" with a lower PageRank.

Google is trying to discourage the "sale of PageRank", which is exactly what is going on when people buy and sell text links. If you purchase a text link on a web page with decent Toolbar PageRank, and use a keyword rich anchor text for the link, it boosts the web page you are advertising for that keyword phrase. This is an obvious manipulation of the search results - which is why Google is discouraging and penalizing sites who participate in such activity.

That doesnt discount the fact that PageRank is a true ranking criteria, when it comes to the ranking of individual web pages in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). But we're talking actual PageRank vs Toolbar PageRank.

To learn more about PageRank, and how it works, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank

and http://www.google.com/technology/

Basically PageRank is calculated by "link votes". Its more complex than just the quantity of links pointing to any given page. It relies also on the quality and relevance of those links. Two terms often associated with these link votes are Link Popularity and Link Reputation.

It boils down to this: When you buy or sell text links, you affect PageRank. Your link to another web page gives that page a "link vote", boosting its PageRank. When someone places a link to your web page from theirs, it gives your page a vote - and a resulting boost.

The relevance of those two pages, and the quality of the link itself, play into the Link Reputation. Unrelated sites/pages pass less of a vote. Highly related sites/pages pass more of a vote. Whether that link is on a "links page" or contained within the content area of the page also make a difference.

This is why companies like Pay Per Post became so popular. You could buy a keyword-rich text link within the content area of a relevant blog. This is an example of buying Link Reputation. Getting bloggers to create a buzz about your product or website throughout the blogosphere is a great marketing strategy. But purchasing text links within blog posts (a fine line) is manipulation of the search results.

In this last Toolbar PageRank Update, Google penalized sites that sold links as well as those that bought them. I have never purchased text links myself, for example - but I have sold text links and I have also written paid reviews for companies like PayPerPost and Sponsored Reviews (during a case study). I lost a point in this update, going from a PR5 to a PR4 - while all other ranking criteria would have pointed towards an increase in PageRank.

Loren Baker, editor of Search Engine Journal, addressed this in a recent post titled Matt Cutts Confirms Paid Links & Google PageRank Update. According to Loren, Matt Cutts said:

"The partial update to visible PageRank that went out a few days ago was primarily regarding PageRank selling and the forward links of sites. So paid links that pass PageRank would affect our opinion of a site."

Personally, I feel that Google should "punish" the sites that purchase text links - not those that sell them. But obviously the best way to make a dent in the market is to devalue the text links to the point of making it less appealing for webmasters to sell them.

Smart move, Google.

I have been undecided as to how I want to respond to this update. My options are to take my "wrist slap" in stride and keep on cashing the checks from link brokers and ad brokers. Or to cut all ties with such sites and try to redeem my green.

I'm not one of those people that is obsessed with PageRank. And for me, its a serious decision to make. Google is basically asking me:

Which 'green' do you want? Cold Hard Cash - or ToolBar PageRank?

Would you trade $1,000/month in revenue for a notch on the TBPR belt?

That said, Google is pretty darn serious about this PageRank thing, and while the guage is truly just "vanity green"... what they are really doing is making a powerful statement. It's a wake-up call to the web, and webmasters are taking note.

It's unfortunate that it has come to this, in my opinion. I have been online for over 11 years and Online Advertising has always been a big part of Internet Business. It goes all the way back to paid listings in the Yahoo Directory (before they were a search engine) and beyond...

That era appears to be all but over.

Here's the underlying lesson people are getting (or should be getting) from all the recent PageRank buzz: Start focusing on Visitor Optimization instead of Search Engine Optimization.

What do I mean by Visitor Optimization? Simple: create websites that attract human visitors (vs bots), encourage unsolicited links, that convert well because they are highly targeted and tightly focused, and that keep your new visitors returning again and again (and bringing their friends with them).

If you havent already "Gone Web 2.0"... Google is basically forcing you to ;)

Above all do not rely on things like PageRank, search engine traffic, advertising sales or sponsored reviews and blog posts as your primary source of revenue. Branch out with multiple streams of income - and multiple types of streams.

In closing, and to return back to the original question - Tool or Marketing Gimmick? - this recent panic attack PageRank Update seems to have no affect on actual search engine rankings. It is also not an indication of site popularity or related in any way to your site traffic...

Not only is it a marketing gimmick to create (and keep) buzz going about Google, it is also a means by which they send strong messages to the masses, and sway the search industry in any direction they choose.

Best,

Related:

Also see Rae Hoffman's take on Google & Paid Links:
Warning: Strong language, but coming from the mouth of a top-notch SEO Pro

Note to Google: the above links were not purchased or solicited in any way shape or form. They are included merely for reference. ;)

Note to Readers: Interestingly, you probably wont ever get penalized for displaying Google Adsense and selling ad space to them directly ;)

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 17 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...more»

Discussion

  1. Whilst the toolbar PR may have been a marketing tool when the toolbar was launched, I can't help thinking it has become a mill stone around their necks, which has partly led to the less frequent toolebar PR updates, and the devaluing of link sell sites that you describe above.

    By devaluing those sites that sell links, Google hope to end the practice. But because the other search engines also look at links, and don't look at the little green toolbar, the practice will still continue.

    I leanrt a while ago to concentrate on traffic and conversions (cold hard cash), not the value of the toolbar PR, and that they are not necessarly related.

  2. I too think that this system really sucks ...
    A friend of of mine who spend months in b0okmarking, LINK exchange with high PR site just got PR 3 than my site craze4tech.com which got PR 4 even though I didn't spend much time in such...
    I kinda don't get the algorithm..

  3. Thank you for the article! Much information here as always! It is a "game" for sure it seems. I know I finally got a PR2 and was so excited...the minute I upped my blogging for cash with PayPerPost (not complaining, need this green)...my PR dropped to a PR1. It is odd because your "opps" on PPP are based on Page Rank for the most part at my lower level. So if they drop your PR because of it, you also get less "opps" on PPP. GAME ON!

  4. I will be ditching Text Link Ads across all of my sites, and I also plan to remove sponsor information on paid posts here at ClickNewz. Since the required amount of time has passed, I could simply delete all of those posts, but instead I am just going to remove the "sponsored by" text and leave the great reviews and content that I wrote.

    Whether that will "redeem me" or not, I dont know. And I'm not worried about it. But TLA is no longer the revenue source it was for me (by more than 50%), and those changes wont have a negative effect on my sites. So it seems like a smart move for a number of reasons at this point.

  5. It is sad that it has come to this. I don't take too much notice of pagerank, although I did enjoy seeing my PR going from 0 to 3 in the recent update.

    I do focus on attracting visitors and therefore have never used services like pay per post and text link ads. So pagerank has not been an issue.

    But when these types of 'punishments' are dished out there will no doubt be innocent parties involved. And that's when the hard part of convincing Google they are wrong starts. I have heard of this going on in the past couple of weeks!

  6. Sadly, there are a lot of people out there that depend on their monthly revenue from sites like PayPerPost that likely took a hard hit - losing half of their income overnight, I'm sure.

    Sad because the quality of their blog didnt change. The traffic they get didnt change. Their loyal reader base didnt change. Just their income.

    This is not the place to debate PayPerPost necessarily, but perhaps I'll share my opinion on all that in a separate post...

  7. Very good points, Lynn. I have neither bought nor sold text links, nor am I a PayPerPost blog.

    While my core blog is still considered a 'baby' in the terms of longevity, it did receive some PR in the latest Google changes.

    Big deal.

    At the same time, Google seems to be in a 'love-hate' relationship with my blog. In the beginning, all posts were indexed n a reasonable amount of time, then were suddenly no where to be found.

    Then, they were indexing all posts faster than I could type. Now, they've de-indexed them again.

    They 'award' (using that term loosely) me some PR, yet de-index my posts.

    I say, "whatever."

    My unique visitors and subscribers (newsletter and rss) are steadily increasing every month, which tells me I have real human eyeballs visiting and liking what they see.

    This is much more important and a much better indicator than worrying about a little green bar in my browser.

  8. I agree, Patty. But at the same time, Google remains the single largest traffic source for my sites too. I would hate to lose the rankings, I admit.

    That said, there are plenty more. Its just increasingly important to KEEP visitors once you get them to your site. I believe it would benefit site owners to invest time in that concept at least equally as much as they invest in "SEO" - if not more so.

  9. I do get some good search engine traffic, too, and while it is not my largest source, it is significant enough that I wouldn't want to lose that, either.

    As you said, I completely agree that it is very important to keep visitors on the site and engage them.

  10. IMO as long i feel google is doing a lof of good for the majorities of people i would follow their rules. anything that can be manipulated easily using money is not a good for internet communities as a whole. if you listen to people who are not are not making money online but use it for making their life easy you really feel sympathies for them.

    i got the feeling that a lot of people who are already making money online is getting to the point that they are only thinking about themselves and their groups. the way they talked like they don't care for anybody else because they felt they can make money easily. that usually happen when money can buys anything.

  11. Hi guys, I agree with Lynn. I personally do not think of PageRank as that significant in traffic. In fact other than showing post data, does it help the bloggers or searchers in a specific way? I have never heard of any Google users search for blogs by typing "blogs with page rank 7 or above" The PageRank also cannot prove that the author is providing fantastic stuff, other than the fact that he knows how to generate traffic tremendously. That's my 2 cents worth, hope you guys don't mind.

  12. No, its simply a webmasters tool - it doesnt help or affect searchers in any way. And honestly, it doesnt confirm traffic stats or success either way - just like Alexa.

  13. Hey,
    Good point raised. It more like a Marketing Gimmick.
    Thanks for sharing it

  14. Lynn you shared this page on today's Elite seminar, & I asked about the "FeedBurner’s RSS subscriber count". I've just now found my blogs ShortStat! (after over a year lol). Now to try to understand it...

    Page Rank: I have a site at #1 and #2 for the main keyword. Went down from PR1 to PR0. I'm still at #1 and #2, not added anything to it for over a year :)

  15. In my opinion the PR algorithm is rather pointless if you have a blog that actually has valuable content. By far the best way to engage in an active community is to have valuable content, and PR is quite irrelevant to that. If you have content that keeps readers coming back, you don't need intensive back linking or directory campaigns, simply continue your current efforts to providing valuable content. However, if your website does not have a blog, or you are working on a clients website, a high PR rank can indicate an active SEO campaign that is generating some results.

    I really think it goes both ways depending upon the most appropriate approach to marketing your website.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] related to the buying and selling of text links. I voiced my opinion in an article titled Google PageRank: Tool or Marketing Gimmick? While I can see both sides of the debate, I have come to an obvious [...]

  2. [...] is nothing more than a vanity tool. And I’m referring to TBPR (PageRank as shown in the Google Toolbar). It’s unfortunate that people even use it as a guage when [...]

  3. [...] highly recommend you read this post from my archives: Google PageRank: Took or Marketing Gimmick? That will give you a lot of insight into what PageRank is, and what it is not. More importantly, [...]

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