SEO

New Google PageRank Algorithm Debunked

In my recent article on SEJ about Google PageRank I suggested that a new formula could be in action. The article has gone big on Twitter and LinkedIn, with hundreds of shares. And from some comments, it looks like many people accepted it for a fact.

Now I hate to break it but I have to admit that I was most probably wrong. So I need to write this follow-up article to prevent yet another SEO myth from spreading. Let me explain what happened:

  • I saw an unreasonably low toolbar PageRank value for my blog after the last update;
  • I started looking around for possible reasons;
  • I noticed many people observed similar effects;
  • I found an article by Bill Slawski about Google’s Reasonable Surfer model, which seemed to explain my observations and other people’s rankings well;
  • I decided to share my findings for consideration and discussion.

And the discussion followed! My article collected about 100 comments, and a few SEO experts came up to correct me. The problem is, too many people accepted the alleged news without doubt and spread it further, so now it is my responsibility to get things straight.

So what was the real cause of poor ratings?

Special thanks to Donna Fontenot for providing the most likely explanation for the effect that I and other webmasters observed. The toolbar PageRank value is known to lag substantially even after an update. Matt Cutts mentioned it in his blog post about what is a Google update.

Please note the difference between the toolbar PageRank (TBPR) and Google’s internal PR value used as one of their 200+ factors to rank pages. I should have made this distinction more clear in my original article, too. Toolbar PageRank is more or less useless today because of how rarely it gets updated, and how much it lags. You can safely ignore it. If you are good with your link building, you will notice that from improvements in your search rankings first, and toolbar PageRank value will catch up eventually.

This devaluation of toolbar PageRank even makes quite a few people declare that “PageRank is dead”. This includes some industry experts. Be careful when listening to these proclamations. Those people know what they are talking about, but they are referring to toolbar PageRank value, not the Google’s internal formula. Internal PR is still a significant ranking factor, albeit only one of the hundreds.

And what about the Reasonable Surfer model?

I based my previous explanation of poor TBPR ratings after the recent update on Google’s Reasonable Surfer patent. But the thing is, a patent does not equal implementation! Google has hundreds of patents. They even seem to have a weight loss related patent. This does not mean they are secretly crafting weight loss into their ranking algorithm.

On one hand, some parts of the Reasonable Surfer model could have been tested by Google even before they filed the patent (and that was in 2004). On the other hand, some parts of it may still not be implemented, either because of engineering difficulties, or because of too much noise in the suggested signals. I don’t know the current status of this model’s implementation, and I’m afraid Google will not disclose it.

I, for one, would welcome the change if they crafted this model directly into the PR and TBPR formula. That would make the link building efforts of those webmasters who are focused on TBPR more productive. It’s an easily observable single indicator, and it is often used for bragging and comparison, so it would be nice if it correlated more with the true quality of the page’s link profile.

In any case, it is worth your time to learn about this model, because it has a good chance to influence your rankings one way or another, now or in future. Just don’t take this for a hard fact. Here is one more good article about this model: The reasonable surfer; makes for unreasonable thinkers.

What practical conclusions you can make from this?

Number one conclusion is: do not trust everything you read. If someone publishes an article on a reputable site, that does not make him an expert. If someone is an expert, that does not mean he is always right. And even if someone is right, that does not mean the same applies to your situation. Be especially careful about trusting any anecdotal evidence. Double-check any information you plan to apply to your business or communicate to your customers.

Next, while the Reasonable Surfer model may not be fully implemented yet, the work performed in that direction indicates that search engines are not happy with simple mechanical ratings, and want their rankings to match the human behavior closer. While for now you may still enjoy some results from link spam, rest assured that search engines will be fighting to make it obsolete. So do not make your business or your customers depend on cheap links entirely.

One more reminder: don’t pay much if any attention to toolbar PageRank values. If you want to brag about your site, talk about unique visitors and conversion rate. If you want to find influential online partners, ask them about the same. That green bar just doesn’t mean too much today.

And finally, if you write an article about a high-impact subject like PageRank, make all the necessary terminology distinctions very clearly, and consult real experts in the field before publishing, even if you have years of relevant business experience under your own belt.

Credits

Thanks to Barry Adams for raising an alarm about my previous article in a way that no-one could ignore. Thanks to David Harry for dissecting it at SEOBS and for reviewing this follow-up (Editor’s note: the link to SEOB post was added by Ann. Cheers, Dave!). Thanks to all the readers for your support and understanding!

If you retweeted or otherwise shared my previous article, please share this one, too. Don’t let yet another SEO myth spread over the Internet. In fact, share it anyway, it will not hurt. Thank you!

aa11c1fb85401bc873635072c029cafb 64 New Google PageRank Algorithm Debunked
Val Danylchuk is the author of Web Tracking Guide - an easy, step-by-step tutorial on tracking and maximizing your online profits.
aa11c1fb85401bc873635072c029cafb 64 New Google PageRank Algorithm Debunked

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45 thoughts on “New Google PageRank Algorithm Debunked

    1. This sometimes looks a little irresponsible on Google’s part. Of course they can’t guarantee fresh and accurate rankings for everyone all the time. But in this case, TBPR is more often useless than not. If they make it available and so highly visible, they should really keep it up to date better.

  1. I agree with dazzlindonna too.

    When you guest post especially on such a famous blog you reach to a wider audience one has to be prepared for the bouquets as well as the brickbats.

    I like your conclusion:
    If someone publishes an article on a reputable site, that does not make him an expert. If someone is an expert, that does not mean he is always right. And even if someone is right, that does not mean the same applies to your situation.

    Well said and well managed .That’s the spirit. Huge props to you for that and kudos to SEJ for giving you the opportunity for this post.

  2. Hi Val,

    Regarding the Reasonable Surfer Model, we have had a number of statements from people at Google that not every link on a page carries the same weight, and that PageRank itself has transformed in many ways over the years since it was first introduced. Reasonable Surfer Model? Who knows?

    What intriqued me about the patent when I first read it and wrote about it was that it provided an intricate approach that a machine could use to make decisions about how much weight each link might pass along, and gave us some insight into the assumptions behind those decisions. Many of them made a lot of sense. For instance, a link with text the same color as the background it appears upon probably doesn’t pass along much PageRank at all.

    But, writing about search patents is a little like walking in a field filled with landmines. It’s really helpful to keep in mind that what your writing about may come to pass, or may already be in place, or may be implemented but transformed in many ways, some of those with some serious implications, or it might never see the light of day. Some patents that impact user interfaces are easier to see when implemented, while others that involved mostly algorithmic changes are much harder to recognize. (One of the words that appears in my Webmaster Tools list as a major keyword for my site is “may,” and another is “might,” – you can see how often I used them in the previous sentence alone.

    A number of Google’s patents have provided me with actionable steps that I could follow that made a big difference in how well pages ranked in certain areas, especially when it comes to local search. Many end up providing questions and ideas to be tested, poked, prodded, and experimented with. Most provide a view of search, search engines, and searchers from the perspective of people working at search engines.

    What I want to say to you is don’t be afraid to write about what you’ve found, and share your views, even if sometimes it seems like people are grabbing torches and coming after you as if you were Frankenstein’s monster. But also, don’t take something that you’ve read in a place like a Google patent, and take it as proof that the search engine is doing something. Take it as a possibility, and use it as a springboard to explore what they’ve actually come up with. As a primary source, directly from the search engine, it’s often better information that anecdotal information spread from one SEO to another, and transformed in the process often into nothing resembling the original tidbit of information.

    You’ve handled the criticism that people raised against your original post very well. I hope that you do keep writing, and questioning, and raising points for people to respond to, even if it’s with criticism. The discourse is what helps us all grow.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Thank you for taking the time to explain your view on this in such detail. I’m also pleased to hear your words of support.

      I think it is actually the biggest strength of the social media, that you can hear the feedback immediately, discuss and learn together. So I always welcome criticism, especially when it is well grounded and constructive.

  3. Hi Val,

    Regarding the Reasonable Surfer Model, we have had a number of statements from people at Google that not every link on a page carries the same weight, and that PageRank itself has transformed in many ways over the years since it was first introduced. Reasonable Surfer Model? Who knows?

    What intriqued me about the patent when I first read it and wrote about it was that it provided an intricate approach that a machine could use to make decisions about how much weight each link might pass along, and gave us some insight into the assumptions behind those decisions. Many of them made a lot of sense. For instance, a link with text the same color as the background it appears upon probably doesn’t pass along much PageRank at all.

    But, writing about search patents is a little like walking in a field filled with landmines. It’s really helpful to keep in mind that what your writing about may come to pass, or may already be in place, or may be implemented but transformed in many ways, some of those with some serious implications, or it might never see the light of day. Some patents that impact user interfaces are easier to see when implemented, while others that involved mostly algorithmic changes are much harder to recognize. (One of the words that appears in my Webmaster Tools list as a major keyword for my site is “may,” and another is “might,” – you can see how often I used them in the previous sentence alone.

    A number of Google’s patents have provided me with actionable steps that I could follow that made a big difference in how well pages ranked in certain areas, especially when it comes to local search. Many end up providing questions and ideas to be tested, poked, prodded, and experimented with. Most provide a view of search, search engines, and searchers from the perspective of people working at search engines.

    What I want to say to you is don’t be afraid to write about what you’ve found, and share your views, even if sometimes it seems like people are grabbing torches and coming after you as if you were Frankenstein’s monster. But also, don’t take something that you’ve read in a place like a Google patent, and take it as proof that the search engine is doing something. Take it as a possibility, and use it as a springboard to explore what they’ve actually come up with. As a primary source, directly from the search engine, it’s often better information that anecdotal information spread from one SEO to another, and transformed in the process often into nothing resembling the original tidbit of information.

    You’ve handled the criticism that people raised against your original post very well. I hope that you do keep writing, and questioning, and raising points for people to respond to, even if it’s with criticism. The discourse is what helps us all grow.

  4. Good for you coming out with this backtrack, but the trouble is that in the SEO industry there are too many people attempting to be chiefs – over-anlayzing every minute detail, attempting to garner interest in their own expertise, get links to sites, blogs, create linkbait and (sometimes intentional controversy), all to jockey themselves into positions of authority for the good of their business and websites.

    I’m am in no way saying there aren’t enough indians – but rather that 90% of what is put out there as original material by SEO’s when writing about SEO is regurgitated whether it be right or wrong.

    As you’ve rightly pointed out – make judgements for yourself based upon reasonable observation and supporting evidence, and learn to separate what does work from the plethora of nonsense.

    1. I think it’s okay for some writing to be regurgitated as long as it’s reasonably accurate. There are always more people to reach who might have not learned about the particular facts yet.

      Still, your point is very valid. There are dozens of myths about online business and SEO which are floating around only because they have been repeated many times before.

      You should always test and verify any new ideas you apply to your business, as much as possible.

    1. That’s interesting. They could actually provide some useful data, I just hope they don’t over-hype it and claim to be some sort of prophets. Honest analysis based on available knowledge with full disclosure of calculations could be useful to someone who has enough time/budget to research that.

  5. Kudos. Not everyone has the “bells” in admitting when something went out that was not totally 100% accurate. Fact is, it is never really 100% accurate as proven many times over. However, you invoke very important things here that is worth a lot – (practical conclusions)… Thumbs up

    1. Thank you,

      I think it makes sense to post an update when you learn more about the subject. Even more so if you had it wrong. And you are right, SEO knowledge is often hard to test, so it’s hard for anyone to be accurate 100% of the time. That’s why I believe we should be very open about our new findings, evidence and mistakes.

  6. Kudos. Not everyone has the “bells” in admitting when something went out that was not totally 100% accurate. Fact is, it is never really 100% accurate as proven many times over. However, you invoke very important things here that is worth a lot – (practical conclusions)… Thumbs up

  7. Val, I’ll add my respects to the pile. You stepped in it, but you’ve cleaned off your boots, and moved on, wiser for the experience. Well handled recovery!

  8. Val lots of respect for you! DiTesco is right not everyone have the “bells” to admit specially when things get out of control.

    The great part is you seriously respect the image of guest blogging and also shows others the way on how to handle the situation when things go worst.

  9. Hi, Nice article. I just posted something related to this subject. I happen to believe that pagerank has little value other than to those who sell links, but maybe I’d feel otherwise if my site (which I’ve tried to follow Google’s rules to the letter) wasn’t still a zero after experiencing exponential growth in referrals from Google. Google in essence says my site “sucks” but they refer more and more traffic. (note to goog: I am grateful)
    Sincerely,
    The DisplacedGuy (aka Rich)

    1. Hi Rich,

      Thanks for your feedback. You’re right about toolbar pagerank, it is mainly used for bragging and bargaining when you want to sell or exchange links, attract advertisers and guest authors, or otherwise use it to boost your website’s credibility. It has little relation to your today’s rankings on Google.

      However, the fact that you see an increase in Google traffic probably means that the internal pagerank values for your pages are actually good, and you will likely see the toolbar pagerank catch up in a while.

  10. I respect your candor in writing “do not trust everything you read”. But, even not so helpful help with SEO in helping some of us. Thank you

  11. Val,

    Congratulations on having the willingness, courage and desire to set things straight. You did an outstanding thing here. It’s one thing to acknowledge things in comment threads. It takes it to a whole new level with a follow-up article of this nature. You, sir, are a true professional.

  12. At the risk of saying nothing new in this conversation, kudos to you for stepping up and setting the record straight. Not many people would have the character to do that.

  13. when someone reads seobythesea of Bill Slawski take care of words “may and might…” whatever google has the patents, it may or might implementing but no one is 100% sure… Thats why bill always use may or might…

    @ Val Danylchuk good is see that you have written immediate post.

    you got to thank @thegypsy, @bill Slawski, seo bullshit for an eye opener participation

  14. I’m an SEO noob from the Philippines and I would like to say thank you to all of you. Thank you so much Mr. David Harry, Mr. Val Danylchuk, Mr. Bill Slawski and Mr. David Addams. I’m a huge fan of all of you, specially Mr. Addams ( I thought you were kind of harsh but I started to “warm up” to you when I read your blog.)

    I would’ve misinterpreted a lot of things in Mr. Danylchuk’s entry if you guys didn’t take action.

    Mr. Danylchuk – kudos to you for this awesome post. =)

    Well…I guess I will be seeing (reading) you around and I can’t wait foryour next entries, sirs. Again, thank you.

    1. OMG! I’m so sorry that was supposed to be Barry Adams. I’m so sorry Mr. Adams =) I kind of mix and misspell names a lot. Again sorry and more power. =) This is so embarrassing. I’m so sorry.