June 15, 2015

PageRank: An Outdated Metric and a Closet Industry

PageRank was a pivotal algorithm in search engine history. It was the very basis upon which the way we organize the web was modeled because it used a metric no one before had thought of: hyperlinks (by some accounts, Baidu’s founder Robin Li explored this concept first). Because PageRank is a publicly updated Google authority metric, the emphasis that those in the industry place on it might seem well-advised. However, times have changed. PageRank is no longer frequently updated and an underground scam-like industry has formed around its perceived value. Today we’ll explore this industry and you’ll learn what to watch out for.

For a long time PageRank was the foundation atop which all other Google algorithms were built. That’s why, despite numerous updates Google made to adapt to changing circumstances, links have always been the key metric behind rankings. Even as more components to Google’s algorithms added new ranking factors, PageRank seemed like a decent measure for the authority of a site. It wasn’t perfect, but in the absence of other official authority metrics, it made a good scale to ballpark how authoritative a page was on the Internet.

Decreased Frequency of Public PageRank Updates

Something else changed though: public PageRank updates started to become increasingly rare. In 2013, Google webspam spokesperson Matt Cutts said that there wouldn’t be any more updates after the Fall of 2013 “because the PageRank export tool was broken” and Google did not plan on maintaining it. There was one more update after that, but we haven’t seen any since.

Pagerank over the last 10 years updates

PageRank as an Industry KPI

Prior to Google’s progressive dissolution of PageRank, it was the key performance indicator of choice for many in the SEO industry. This included those who sold or offered placement of links on pages and within content as well as professionals who were simply measuring the success of link building efforts on their site’s authority.

PageRank, being updated only several times a year, made a lot of sense to those selling SEO services: SEO is a progressive endeavor and it can take time to build up inertia. The time in between PageRank updates gave SEO professionals a window during which they could build up a site’s authority without excess client scrutiny.

Scams Emerge

SEO novices often read outdated information when familiarizing themselves with the industry. As a result, they’ll come across PageRank as a term often and mistake it for an accurate and valid metric. This demand forms the basis of the PageRank scam.

There are many ways a PageRank scam could work, but this is the most common sequence of events:

  1. Link seller buys an expired domain with an existing PageRank. The domain’s root URL was once an authority site, but hasn’t been for some time.
  2. Seller puts up a generic site and publishes some dummy content to start.
  3. Seller may proceed either by selling content containing links or selling the site outright at a markup on a platform like Flippa.

It’s worth mentioning that in some cases the seller of these “high PR” links and guest posting opportunities isn’t even fully aware that these links won’t have much of a positive impact on the recipient page. They might actually believe that they’re selling legitimate link equity.

In some cases these blogs could have some residual link juice to pass, but their poorly curated content is something that just isn’t worth associating a healthy site with.

High PR links being sold on Fiverr.com
High PR links being sold on Fiverr.com

In some cases these blogs could have some residual link juice to pass, but their poorly curated content is something that just isn’t worth associating a healthy site with. A note on Fiverr: That being said, there are opportunities for link building on sites like Fiverr, but they are needles in a very messy haystack. Fiverr sellers who present legitimate opportunities are often new sellers that try it for a few months, notice that it decreases the quality of their site and cease their efforts.

Domain Authority as an Alternative to PageRank

It’s time to come to grips with the fact that it’s unlikely that PageRank will ever be publicly updated again. Moreover even if it was, advancements like the Hummingbird update and the inevitable introduction of Deep Learning into Google Search will render PageRank inconsequential.

While there are no official comparable metrics from Google, there are good candidates from third parties. Although it has meandered and experienced challenges (especially this year, in 2015), Moz’s Domain Authority and Page Authority are 100-point scales that are some of the best metrics around.

pagerank logarithmic scale Like PageRank, Domain Authority is logarithmic (it’s a lot harder to increase DA from 50 to 60 than it is from 10 to 20). But what we really like about Domain Authority is that it’s updated monthly and re-calculated based on a control group’s SERP behavior. In other words, it uses real ranking data and changes within it to reverse-engineer Google’s latest behavior, ensuring that it’s always an accurate metric.

Domain Authority and Page Authority aren’t perfect, but they’re always being improved and, thanks to the Mozscape API, are easy to integrate and track. So the next time you’re evaluating a site or page on the web, head to Open Site Explorer and check its DA and PA, in place of hoping that its PR is still somewhat accurate.

Filed under:  Content Marketing SEO  ||  Tagged under:

Orun Bhuiyan

As SEOcial's marketing technologist, Orun loves to discuss his hard-won knowledge on topics like SEO, programming and design. He's an enthusiast in emerging technologies, including big data and the semantic web.
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Base Terminology

SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's un-paid ("organic") search results.
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