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Warning; SEO confusion spreads PageRank madness

Written by David Harry   
Tuesday, 03 November 2009 14:36

Let’s put this to bed once and for all

Jeez… if there’s one thing that bugs me more than anything, is when seemingly sane people form apparently respected outlets, don’t seem to understand the fundamentals. Who cares when some blog in some far flung nether regions of the SEO makes a pedantic proclamation?  Not I… Heck, I don’t even get worked up when the latest round of ‘SEO sucks’ (‘is dead’ ‘is easy’ insert ignorant analysis here). Nope, that no longer irks me.

But those that should know better, the places where new search geeks and clients lurk for learning, I hold them to a higher standard.

Case and point; there is a big difference between (Google’s) PageRank, (PR) and ToolBar PageRank, (TBPR).

THe confusion between PR and TBPR

Now, as with past rants, this is not meant with malice, just a love for the game. Dear Titus, care of Site Pro News, stop confusing people with articles such as this one, it’s clearly madness of the highest order.

A lesson in the basics….

First of my wandering web warriors let us look at one of the more common misconceptions in SEO today. For me, well… it’s not something that needs saying, but apparently I’m fooling myself. Here’s a simple break-down;

  • PageRank – is the original flavour of link analysis at Google which deals with a random walk over the web graph. Since its original inception it’s been mutated with elements such as Personalized PageRank and more… but still, let us consider the core concept. We do not know the current state, but we do know it is still an important element of how Google ranks pages.
  • ToolBar PageRank – that is the little green bar that is a finite (non-floating point) number on a scale of 1-10 which is oft updated and when it is, can be as much as 3-4 month old (a snapshot not organic). Oh, and the TBPR has also been known to be manually corrected with no ill affects on rankings (aka PR).

They really are two different animals and need to be understood as such. All they really share is a name. Beyond that, there is such disconnect that we really shouldn’t be considering them synonymous and speaking of them in the same breath.

Some school yard examples

Let’s look at some of the specifics from that article (and believe me, this is not unique, the confusion is everywhere). This fine fellow was discussing Google’s move to take the TBPR numbers out of Webmaster Tools which is fine, if the distinction had been made. It had not.

And so we get statements such as;

Regardless of what Google wants to happen, PageRank is still extremely important to anyone marketing on the web,

Obtaining a high PR7 or PR8 simply means more business and revenues… regardless of how Google is or is not using PageRank.

Total and full elimination of PageRank would be an honest start but it will still be an uphill, if not an unwinnable battle, for Google to fully eliminate link selling.

Can you yet see the problem here? Actual PR, that stuff of link analysis lore, the mutated beast that still hums under the hood is alive and well. What Google was talking about was the fascination with TBPR, not PR. This is an important distinction unless we are saying that LINKS aren’t important anymore. Such lack of fundamental clarity makes ‘this thing or ours’ more confusing to others when it’s unnecessary.

And then we have;

For years Google has been downplaying the important of PageRank and states it’s only one of about 200 ranking factors

No, they’ve actually downplayed the importance of TBPR, (even if they said PageRank) you see actual PR calculations might contain a dozen or more factors all on their own. It is not ONE of them…it is many.

Followed by;

I have even had many times when my PR drops but my actual SERPs rankings in Google goes up, mainly due to building related relevant backlinks.

Erm, making my point here as the back links are creating greater PR and the PPR is likely playing into the anchor text scoring. The TBPR? Well, it’s a relatively minor metric.

So PageRank counts little towards your keyword rankings but it can’t be totally dismissed.”

No no no… in your own words we’ve just established that PR (and by extension PPR) do actually play a role. It is the ever useless TBPR that can’t be used as a serious indicator.

How people get it wrong

PageRank is dead!! Long live..??

Now, I won’t harp on that particular article, but it does very clearly show what is a VERY common misperception and confusion in the SEO world. Some people will go as far as to write that PR is dead, Google will stop using PR, PageRank is meaningless and other related oddities. The problem of course is that people are still talking about TBPR and PR in the same breath when in truth their distant cousins that only see each other on the holidays.

The reason all of this worries me is that if you are an SEO and can’t readily discuss Google without differentiating PR and TBPR, then what exactly are you thinking? I should expect that any SEO worth much of anything already understands the concepts related to PR and how important they are (in their evolved form) to modern IR. There should be no confusion in the vast difference that is the TBPR data.

You would think so… but no.

Ok Dave, who gives a shit?

Well screw you too ok? (dammit, talking to myself again, verbose even). I care because the more these types of fundamental misconceptions persist, the farther we drift from legitimacy (as an industry). This is often something I’ve noticed even more in the larger publications in the market. Often times the editorial integrity is skewed, or goes unchecked as the editors are just that, editors, not search experts.

Let me put it another way, I’m bloody writing about it ain’t I? This is a fundamental area of SEO and there really shouldn’t be any confusion nor misconception. There simply is no serious correlation with Google doing away with TBPR numbers from WMT and how they’re ranking pages… Furthermore there’s little consistency, nor real relevance of the TBPR and the real PR, the one that we can’t readily ascertain.

The problem arises when confusion reigns

When new SEOs, webmasters and others read poorly presented information the confusion meter goes mad throughout the industry. For the record, this particular little mind muddle is everywhere. Ol Titus just happened to come across my screen as the proverbial straw to this camel’s back side. People using the vernacular PR to actually reference the TBPR can be seen in some of the highest profile blogs and publications.

We really need some clarity on this one peeps… so puhleaaaaze… let’s start being more specific – m’kay? There really IS a significant difference.


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