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Why Page Rank is Useless for SEO

Google Page Rank and SEOLast week I posted about an idea I’ve been mulling over and working to that I called “website tuning“, and in that I promised to expand a little more on the idea and to explain why page Rank is useless for focusing an SEO campaign around.

This post is the explanation of why Page Rank (or PR – which is what I’ll call it from now) is a BAD measure of the value of a website or page or link.

If you frequent the seedy online “speakeasies” or SEO and internet marketing forums as they are otherwise known, then you will always be hit by the ceaseless obsession with PR and more specifically how important it is to get backlinks (links to your website) from either websites with a high PR, or more preferably from actual pages with a high PR.

For some people a high PR is the be all and end all, and with little idea and even less thought, they pursue the same tired old dogma of obtaining links from high PR pages and websites just because that’s what people say that they should do.

However, remember that Page Rank is publicly visible to anyone with a toolbar installed on their browser, and if it were just so easy to see how Google measure the importance and value of a page, and then take advantage of it, then SEO and life would be so sweet!

But if there is one thing that Google are not, it is stupid, and they are hardly likely to stand by and give every Tom, Dick, and Harry a handy tool that leads to an easy methodology for manipulating the rankings.

When you look at some of the ideas and advice banded around on these forums and sites you have to wonder if they even know what PR is. So to this end let’s just have a quick recap.

What is Page Rank?

Contrary to the supposition of many so called “SEO gurus” Page Rank, despite it’s name, is nothing to do with the rank or importance of a page on a website.

Page Rank is/was a mathematical formula that calculated the value of any given online document according to the principles devised by Larry Page, one of the founders of Google – hence why it contains the name (not word) Page.

It is an adaptation of the early forerunner to Google, “BackRub” as it was known, whereby site A (with some calculated value) links to site B, site B (with some calculated value) links to site C, etc, and as time and links go by some of the value of A flows to B, some of the value of B flows to C, etc until you can create a value per site based on the value of the sites that link to it.

In the early days this value was almost certainly calculated by numbers of links alone since, for example, CNN would attract far more links than the website of “fisherman Joe, Kipper Skipper of Great Yarmouth, England”.

So link volume would be a great measure of the weight or importance of a website.

But over time as things have changed it has become possible to buy software that will churn out millions of links per week if you so desire, and to this end quantity of links has to be discounted, with quality being the true measure of the importance of a website.

How Do You Define The Quality of a Website or Webpage?

This is a great and really important question.

If in the beginning the value of a site was based on link quantity, but it then became easy for people to rapidly and massively inflate the link quantity to their website, then any previous calculations become invalid in determining quality.

Instead a new model needs to be found, and this new model would require a major overhaul of not just the calculations, but necessarily the resulting SERP’s, or in other words you enter a phase of continuous “algorithm updates”.

This is the great dilemma that I believe Google are facing. Whatever step they take there will be someone who figures it out and then everyone will copy, resulting in the need for continuous (sometimes successful, sometimes not so successful) change.

There are numerous methodologies that could be incorporated, from manually defining a series of high value “authority sites” and then recalculating the values of all subsequent websites from there (as per the “Hilltop Algorithm” referenced in my “Website Tuning” post, which seeks to do just this), through to the (perhaps inferred from this) introduction of a series of new variables that measure things like “trust”, “reputation”, and “authority”, that you will hear continuously from Matt Cutts, and that I referred to in my “website tuning” post as being like the dials on a radio that can be de-tuned, re-tuned, or turned off completely.

The thing with trust, reputation, and authority is that you can’t very easily fake them – either you are a world leading oncologist, or you aren’t, you can’t very well pretend to be if no one has ever heard of you.

And this, I believe, is where search and Google in particular are heading. If a large number of people seem to be doing “X” then turn down the “X” dial, if they are blatantly abusing “Y” then turn off the “Y” dial, etc.

Real brands and real experts with real trust and authority and reputation will always prevail.

If This is True Then Why Do Google Still Update or Even Show Page Rank?

I suppose that Google could do 2 things:

  1. Continue to run calculations based on the old model and display those old values, if for no other reason but to lead the idiots down the wrong path, or;
  2. Create Page Rank 2.0, and 2.1, and 2.2, etc to reflect their true measure of any given website or document – which would just make their job even harder;

Which would you do?

It is ironic in a way because it is still going to be true, even using the original Page Rank calculations, that all authority sites with high trust, reputation, etc measures WILL have a high PR…

However, NOT all sites that show a high PR will have high trust, reputation, authority, or any other “good” qualities.

You might for example consider an article ezine website with a high PR where you can go and write something glowing about yourself and obtain links to your website, and compare it to a major news outlet (like the BBC or CNN) where a seasoned journalist with no connection to you has investigated a topic and decided that you are worthy of mention and given in his piece a link to your website.

Which would have the most weight or should have the most weight?

The link from the ezine site (lets say it’s on a page with a PR3) where you or I or anyone you choose could create that link, or the link from the CNN or BBC website on a brand new page with a PR0, where there can be no chance of manipulation or coercion?

There really is no comparison when you think of it in these terms – I know who I would rather comment on my website, and which would make me proudest, irrespective of Page Rank or some other artificial measure, and I’m sure you can see it too.

Maybe this should be the measure you work to, the “ego” or “proudness” rank – the more your feathers are fluffed by the links you get, the more they are worth – Page Rank by itself means nothing at all.

So in summary, in my humble opinion at least, chasing Page Rank links is the folly of amateurs, idiots, and cheats and will get you nowhere fast, except into the trash can of history as far as the main search engine is concerned.