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Google PageRank Fading Away, But the Sky Isn't Falling

  |  December 11, 2013   |  Comments

PageRank is only one of the ranking factors Google uses. Now that it's updated only infrequently, where should webmasters focus to improve a site and URL's perceived authority?

shutterstock-126896993There was a time in SEO where Google PageRank was a big influence on the decision making process when pursuing links to a website. There was even a statement from Google saying "Webpages with a higher PageRank are more likely to appear at the top of Google search results."

Naturally, site owners and webmasters took this guidance to heart and in time, became hyper-focused on PageRank as an indication of a page's value. Many site owners lost sight of the fact that PageRank was just one of hundreds of elements that impact a URL's ability to rank well.

The Problem with PageRank

In fact, it is very common to see websites with lower PageRank ranking higher than websites with PR4 or higher. That's because PageRank is only one of the ranking factors Google uses. Still, PageRank was an easy to grasp metric that could be validated and demonstrated conveniently so SEO's clung to it.

In a recent video, Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, talked about the fact that Google PageRank is only updated a few times a year and over time it is used less and less. Lack of support by browsers such as Internet Explorer and less use of the toolbar has led to Google avoiding updating the PageRank often.

The last two verified Google PageRank updates were on February 4th and December 6th, 2013.

Does it mean Google has stopped measuring the number of links that point to a website? Certainly not, this is just a way to make SEO professionals stop paying as much attention to PageRank -- and rightfully so. Instead, website owners should be paying attention to good site architecture, quality content and use of social media and the impact that's having on their site's performance.

Are There Alternatives?

There are well respected sites like Open Site Explorer that provide tools based on their own algorithms to evaluate the trust and authority of domains and URLs. These tools can be valuable in providing an alternative measure of a site or URL's relative strengths or weaknesses. It's still important to remember that those metrics are just one aspect to consider.

A Better Focus

Rather than focus on this single external element, SEO should focus on maximizing the elements that are directly within one's ability to control:

  • Develop great site architecture that's fast and allows users and engines to navigate your site effectively and efficiently. 
  • Remove the technical barriers that confound the users and prevent them from engaging thoroughly and completely with your site. 
  • Write compelling engaging content that provides your users exactly what they want and need from your site. 
  • Engage those users through any combination of social media channels. That engagement will foster community. That community will then share that compelling content and signal the engines about your site's growing authority.
  • Take the time to assess your site's analytics. Find the pages that perform well. Figure out what's making them work and adopt those same strategies and techniques wherever possible throughout your site. Reduce bounce rates for problem pages.

Managing all of these elements directly within a site owner or webmaster's ability to control will improve your site and URLs' perceived authority, regardless of the tool used to measure it.

Remember, Google's representatives have continually repeated that PageRank is just one of "more than two hundred" signals the engine applies to the rankings equation. Don't get too absorbed in that one aspect.

Title image courtesy of Shutterstock

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Crispin Sheridan

Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.

Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.

A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.

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