Google made a surprising update to PageRank this morning. It hasn't been updated since February, though it's usually updated every three months. PageRank, a tool used as a browser toolbar, was never supported by Chrome, Google's own browser. Support for Firefox ceased in 2011. The only browser to currently support the toolbar is Internet Explorer. Many SEO professionals assumed it was dead after Matt Cutts made many statements telling people to not expect an update for a while. Matt Cutts also addressed it during his keynote at Pubcon, saying that it was proving tough to support, and the time and effort needed to invest in it wasn't a priority at the moment. Watch today's Daily Brown Bag to learn about PageRank's latest update, and what it might mean for the future of the tool.


Hello, and welcome to our Brown Bag. Today, we’re going to be talking Google’s announcement that they’ve updated PageRank today. I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Yeah, good morning, Chad, and welcome, everybody, to the Brown Bag. It’s a hot topic today. PageRank values have been updated. That used to be something that traditionally was done every three months, and SEOs who have been around for a long time used to hang on these numbers quite a bit. Traditionally, they were very, very important in the algorithm, although over the years, they’ve been downplayed as other factors like page-specific factors, spackling factors, and perhaps social signals have come into play. This is the first update for PageRank in ten months, so this is sort of a big deal because people were starting to scratch their heads and wonder if Google had moved away from this core value. Here are some of the important stats, Chad, that we are following today.

Many figures in the SEO industry thought PageRank was really dead. Google had never developed a toolbar for Chrome, Google had dropped the toolbar for Firefox going back several years, this was in 2011, and the only browser with a toolbar offered by Google is Internet Explorer, ironically. Again, these values in here are very old and crusty, going back about ten months for anything you’re seeing there. Google also removed PageRank scores from their Webmaster Tools back in 2009. So, all indications seem to be that this core value that was traditionally kind of what the Google algorithm was built on, sort of the foundation, if you will, might be going away. But, in February of this year, Matt Cutts actually came out with a video saying that PageRank is not something that Google will get rid of. They’re keeping PageRank around not for SEO, as he said, but they think it’s actually an important signal and value for actually end users, maybe, to tune in to so they can know how reputable a website is.

Now, I think that’s a little far-fetched, Chad, because I don’t think an end-user knows what PageRank is or cares. What are some of the reactions today? Let’s get into this, Chad. Let’s debate what we think. Reactions are mixed. Some people are happy to see that the values are updated and use PageRank as a global indicator of the overall strength, and some people are upset that this is still alive and are saying, “Google, I thought that you had moved on from this,” and they were hoping that it was dead particularly because it’s not a very useful day to day tool, traditionally updating every three months and now only updating once a year. What are your reactions, Chad?

Well, I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. So if this is basically them moving toward making it a more refreshed metric that we get every three months, then I think it could be a signal that they maybe are trying to figure out how to make this something that’s presented as really trying to drive in through authorship. PageRank was originally sort of an authority score, so maybe they are going to try to push that metric a little bit more. But, I think it really depends on whether it’s a once a year thing or if it’s something they update more often. The other thing we talked about, Adam, is that there’s been a lot of talk about some of the most recent updates like Panda and Penguin which are really trying to figure out and eliminate webspam as well as the websites and tactics that Google doesn’t like in terms of trying to improve your rankings.

Really, I think what this comes back to is that this is really the original algorithm that you talked about, Adam. It’s really the original core work that Larry Page and Sergey Brin put together when they built Google. It used backlinks, or really, votes, and that’s how you determined whether sites were authoritative or not. So, it’s interesting that we’re here going back to that original thing that they built and talking about that today, because really, for the last couple of months, all that we’ve talked about, as you’ve said several times, is shadow algorithm, which is Penguin and Panda looking for things that devalue links and remove them so that the webspam isn’t as prevalent in search results.

Yeah, it is fascinating, and really hard to unwind. Part of me thinks that the PR for Google is maybe a little ahead of where the technology really is. PageRank, I believe, is still very much in there, and that the foundation is built around those concepts that you just described, Chad, but they’ve spent so much time on their PR on not manipulating, building links the right way, and high quality content, that people assumed that that foundation has moved along, but it may not be. It may be, and we’ve said this in many videos, that there’s the algorithm that giveth and the algorithm that taketh away, and the PageRank update is really about the core one that gives the domain authority and the ultimate rankings.

Then there are all these sub-routines that, it seems on the anti-spam side, look for signals of manipulation, and we all know that those lines are fairly arbitrary, but that Google has set them where they think they should be. “Every time we see them,” Matt Cutts even says this, “We just tighten them up. If we didn’t catch enough of the bad guys that we think are bad, we tighten those parameters up.” We know some of those parameters are really built around anchor text, IP addresses, common ownership, and all these other things that they kind of use as signals.

So, it is hard to get your head around this, but I also know that there’s the age-old dilemma that sometimes sites with great PageRank don’t carry great rankings. We’ve seen that. You might have a PageRank 6 site that isn’t on page one for its head term, and you might have a PageRank 2 site that does very well on a couple niche terms, so there are a lot of factors in here, and I think they all bear remembering that PageRank is really sort of a blunt instrument, and I think that’s why a lot of SEOs don’t like it. It can’t speak directly to the specific rankings that you might achieve with a very low PageRank site.

On the same token, to have one score that says, “Overall is this a strong site? What can we use?”, you can’t say, “Well, what’s the sum value of all the traffic that they have?” which I know we’ve tried to do, Chad, with our WebGrader, and people gravitate to the simplicity. A scale of one to ten is as old as it gets, so it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. I’m sure there will be a lot of controversy. I, for one, am glad that it’s still around, but I think with caution for all the reasons we’ve talked about. We’d certainly like to hear your feedback.

Do you like to use PageRank? Do you think it confuses customers? What do you think of this idea that the end user might actually ever tune into this metric? Is it just far too geeky? So that’s our Brown Bag for today! Share your thoughts, and we hope to see you back here tomorrow. Please subscribe to our feed.