Is PageRank still relevant to SEO?

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SEO can sometimes appear to be a convoluted world; differing opinions abound and trying to figure out who is telling the truth can be rather hard.  As much as I can sit here claiming to tell the truth (I do) why not cross reference the information you come across from the horse’s mouth?  Google’s webmaster guidelines are clear and concise, along with the regular video posts made by Darth Vader himself….Matt Cutts.

PageRank was one of the first metrics that Google took into account and was what set them apart from other search engines.  But is something that was developed pre 2000 still relevant in the world of search?

Let us start off with a very very brief history lesson:

In 1998 two very clever chaps called Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google.  They wanted to change the way that people searched (and found) information on the web.  At that time, search engines has been around for a number of years but were fairly primitive in their selection of which websites to return for any given search term. Google entered the market looking to change the search landscape.

One of the main search engine innovations that Google implemented into their algorithm was PageRank, and it was a game changer.  Instead of focussing solely on the content of a website, they also considered the relationship between sites.  A certain authority (PageRank) was assigned to websites on a 1-10 scale.  Links pointing to your site from other websites passed a little bit of this authority to your site thus increasing your PageRank.  The issue was that this was too easy to manipulate; gaining a link from a PageRank 8 website was incredibly difficult (sites such as BBC, CNN, etc) but this could be mitigated by getting 100’s or 1000’s of links from PR1 sites.  The effect was the same.  The algorithm was not complex enough to determine if the links were from sites set up purely for SEO purposes or whether they were genuine links.  It was because of the non-discretionary nature of PageRank that the world of search fell into a dark age of extensive manipulation.  Link farms and networks were all the rage!

Onto the present day:

Over the past couple of years Google has looked to put an end to the manipulation of their algorithm by updating it with such amusingly named updates as Panda and Penguin.  Google’s algorithm is continuously improving and although Panda and Penguin have stolen most of the spotlight Google brings out many smaller updates on a regular basis.  The main aim of these updates?  To make sure that when a someone uses Google to search for anything that Google returns the most useful and relevant result to that user, thus leaving said user with a warm fuzzy feeling towards Google.

It is because of these updates that Google has become a much more complex and discerning system compared with the Google of 1998. Ranking factors (a.k.a metrics) have been added to the algorithm to the point that Google now takes into account over 200 factors when ranking websites.  So is PageRank still the number one?

The short answer is no.  Although the fundamental principle behind PageRank was revolutionary (or should I say evolutionary?) it was simply too easy to manipulate.  In the modern world of SEO link volume is now lower down on the priority list than relevance and quality.  Even after the multiple updates to Google’s digital penguin, spam is still far too prevalent for PageRank to be an effective ranking factor.  Spammy sites can still attain considerable PageRank scores and therefore if you wanted to use Black Hat tactics, gaining a high PageRank is not particularly difficult.

So why do Google still update PageRank?

Every so often PageRank is updated .  Is it nostalgia?  Are Brin and Page desperately clinging onto the eureka moment that facilitated the growth of Google?  Some websites gain PR, whilst others might stay the same or even lose PageRank.  Surely if Google updates PageRank then it is still a factor?  I’m not so sure.  It may well still affect rankings to a minor extent, but its influence is in rapid decline.  I personally think that this is the crux of the argument.  SEOs around the world are far too eager to concentrate solely on one particular metric when in fact they should be considering SEO in a more holistic fashion.  Furthermore, those who are maybe investigating SEO get caught up in the more popular discussion subjects and convince themselves that one particular metric is the holy grail.  This only adds to the confusion surrounding SEO and it is our responsibility as experts to ‘clear the mist’ so to speak.

Make sure that you have covered all the angles.  Research should be thorough, onsite should be perfect, right down to the nitty gritty detail.  Content should be awesome and backlinks should be from high quality, relevant sources.  PageRank is still useful (to an extent) as a quick glimpse of a site’s backlinks.  However, it should be viewed as inaccurate and mostly indicative.  Certainly not something that one would want to base an entire SEO campaign around…

 

As a side note to PageRank; everybody loves talking about links, and I will be addressing this subject shortly.

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