I just read yet another Request For Proposal from a prospect who’s concerned because his Google PageRank (PR) seems to have gone down. I’m guessing he’d probably be shocked if I were to tell him I couldn’t care less what the PR number displayed on his Google Toolbar is.
You know, I suppose I can understand to an extent why some people are so obsessed with that little green bar. It does seem as though it should mean something, doesn’t it? And it does apparently come from Google, so that must mean it’s important, right?
Here’s the bottom line, folks. The PR number you see displayed on the Google Toolbar is a worthless number.
Notice I didn’t say PageRank is worthless. Certainly, the "real" PR that Google uses internally has some value. It’s one of the hundreds of factors that Google uses when determining a page’s positioning in any given seach results.
The main problem is, those of us who don’t work for Google have no way of knowing what that "real" PR number is. And the PR number we see on the Google Toolbar is not a fair substitute. Here’s why:
Toolbar PR is rarely updated. "Real" PR fluctuates constantly. Toolbar PR is only updated a few times a year — and when it’s updated, there’s no way of telling whether the updated number was based on the "real" PR from yesterday, last month, or sometime last year.
Toolbar PR is (at best) a rough approximation. "Real" PR is a fractional number somwhere between zero and one. Toolbar PR is a whole number between zero and ten. Google has never told anyone how they handle rounding issues. So, for instance, if the "real" PR is, say, .451, would the Toolbar PR be rounded down to 4, or rounded up to 5? If we assume that it would round up to 5, what would happen if the "real" PR dropped to .449? Would the Toolbar PR stay at 5, or would the change of .002 in the "real" PR cause the Toolbar PR to apparently drop all the way down to 4? Nobody (outside of Google) knows for sure.
Toolbar PR may, in fact, be a made-up number. "Real" PR is based on links. Nothing more, nothing less. But what is Toolbar PR based on? Many people seem to assume it’s based in some way on the "real" PR. But to my knowledge no one from Google has actually said this is true. Without access to the "real" PR numbers for verification, we have no way of knowing where the Toolbar PR number comes from. For all we can prove, it might as well be randomly generated.
Worrying about changes in the Toolbar PR number is a waste of time and energy that could better be spent on more productive activities. While "real" PR is used by Google, the Toolbar PR number has nothing whatsoever to do with your page’s rankings. Nothing. It is — at best — a rough estimate of what your "real" PR might have been at some indeterminate point in the past, and is totally unconnected with any of the ranking algorithms.
In any case, to my mind, focusing on "improving PR" as a goal is misguided (especially if you’re talking about Toolbar PR, but even if you’re talking about "real" PR):
- Since we don’t know what the "real" PR number is, we have no way of measuring the success (or lack therof) of any efforts we might make.
- Since PR is only one of many factors used to determine a page’s position in the search results, increasing the PR may or may not have any actual effect on rankings.
- Even if our efforts are successful in increasing a page’s PR, what tangible benefit will this bring to the business? No one I know has yet been able to pay their electric bill with PR.
(And, of course, PR is a Google-only number. Even the "real" PR has nothing at all to do with rankings on Yahoo, MSN, Ask, or any other search engine. "Improving PR" cannot possibly have any effect on any other search engine.)
It’s much smarter in my opinion to focus our limited time and energy on the factors that matter — finding ways of getting better targeted traffic, and of better converting those visitors into customers — not wasting time chasing the PageRank will-o-the-wisp.