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:
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.
- More info on PageRank from Matt Cutts
- PageRank Explained by Yaro Starak
- The Google Page Rank Pendulum Swingsâ€¦. Again by Darren Rowse
- Penalty Confirmed, But I Dont Sell PageRank by Andy Beard
Also see Rae Hoffman's take on Google & Paid Links:
Warning: Strong language, but coming from the mouth of a top-notch SEO Pro
- Why Google Shouldn’t Penalize Us for Their Incompetence
- Google Shouldn't Tell You How to Run Your Website
- Google Doesn’t Know the Face of â€œEvilâ€
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