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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.


SEO Training for Search Warriors



0 # Andy from FirstFound 2009-11-03 15:03
I wouldn't call that a rant. More a well thought out analysis of why we need to stop confusing something VERY IMPORTANT with something MEANINGLESS.

Keep fighting the good fight man!
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0 # JMorris 2009-11-03 15:14
I wish this post was not needed, but it is. I cannot count the times someone has said to me that their Rankings have increased. I'd ask what position in the SERPs they jumped to. They'd say, no no, my PageRank went up to #.

....slaps forehead.

Yeah, this post was needed.
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0 # Dave 2009-11-03 15:14
lol... thanks. At the time I was ready to pull my hair out actually (no worries, I have it to spare). This one has been going round and round for ages and I've just finally gone mad.. They are such distant relatives, but referred to synonymously, it creates mass confusion. =D

I just had to get it outta my system once and for all... (now I can simply reference the post and say READ IT!!)...
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0 # Fred Munoa 2009-11-03 15:40
Excellent post Dave and very clarifying as well. I guess most people talk about TBPR because it's measurable, as they can see if it goes up or down, while they can't do the same with the actual PR.

TBPR a way to separate True warriors from SEO wannabes.
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0 # Dudibob 2009-11-03 16:10
Is the best way to describe this =D

Tired of people believing that TBPR is the law of the web in rankings...
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0 # Mike Wilton 2009-11-03 17:30
It saddens me that every 6 months or so you have to do a post like this. Posts that say, hey wake up and look at the world around you and pay attention to the obvious. These misconceptions are the exact kind of things that poison our industry, confuse our clients, and cause more headaches for us than needed.

Hopefully one day it won't be like this, but in the meantime at least you are willing to speak out against these things.
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0 # SEO Wanna Be 2009-11-03 23:59
Hi your post is amazing, It's incredible, I learned a lot about SEO and Man, this thing's getting better and better as I learn more about internet marketing. Also as part of my ongoing mission to find the absolute best tools to make money, this is without a doubt at the top of my list. Everything happened so fast!
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0 # Bob Loblaw 2009-11-04 04:37
In the beginning when everything revolved around information, link popularity made sense. But now if I just want to find a dentist in a particular town who can fix my mug I'm only going to find the guy who has a million backlinks to disney and a budget for SEO engineer or some third party link portal with a list of dentists halfway across the country. Guess thats why people still use phone books.
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0 # Dave 2009-11-04 07:20
@Mike, Dudi and Fred... my fellow warriors, it is certainly a common problem and because of all the posts we see about the TBPR being a not-so-important metric people start to believe that actual PageRank isn't important, dead or something along those lines... which is just silly. It's akin to saying links aren't important.. DUH

@SEO wanna be - uhm... thanks... ?

@BlaBlaBla... funny handle, always used to use that one for fun hehe...Well, that's the internet for you... just another marketing channel and businesses need to learn more about SEO I guess. For the record, the 'phone book', at least the yellow pages, is no different. You have to pay for inclusion and pay a premium for larger more visible listings...soooooo

@Roland - it's hard to say 'why' they keep the ol TBPR around. It's entirely possible that they've done some qualitative research and found consumers actually DO pay attention to it. As far as the representation, it is certainly based on the actual PR data, but the problem is that the updates are infrequent and the data, when pushed, is already a few months old... THAT is what makes it less than useful for us...

Thanks for the comments gang!
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0 # Roland 2009-11-04 09:32
I agree that a focus on the Toolbar PageRank is pointless. Google repeats over and over again that this number is different from the PageRank they use internally.

But... I aks myself, why would Google waste resources to compute a number that is useless for everyone? That does not make sence. Google has a very strong focus on efficiency. They never waste resources.

I think the Toolbar PageRank is maybe some sort of abstraction from the internally used PageRank. Maybe they use several topic-sensitive PageRanks internally and aggregate these to compute the Toolbar PageRank.
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0 # Rob Woods 2009-11-05 23:26
Has anyone ever heard of the ability to spoof the toolbar pagerank? I was sent a link exchange request from a dodgy looking site the other day. The page that my link would supposedly have been on showed a PR of 5. This was a deep page on the site, showed no backlinks in any link tool that I could find, the home page had a 0 pagerank and also had 0 in links. Is it possible to send a false signal to the browser toolbar as to the PR of a page?
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0 # Ian 2009-11-06 09:18
I agree that TBPR does not equal the actual PR and should not be treated as such. But since we can't check the real PR (or can we?) we're left with just two choices: either we use the TBPR as a relative metric or indication of the real PageRank or we dump PR as a factor in our link analysis and other SEO activities altogether. Any thoughts on this?

I've never been obsessed with PR. When checking a sites authority I mostly rely on the traffic, the sites rankings for relative keywords and other metrics. After reading your article I searched a bit for tools that claim to check the 'real' PR. The 'real' PR value they show is the same as TBPR which further spreads this misconception.
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0 # Joel 2009-11-06 23:18
First off, my WebMasterTools PR almost always differed from the TBPR. Does anyone actually know how WMT PR differed from TBPR? My sense is that it reflected a snapshot of Google's internal PR calculation as of the beginning of the reported month.

We can also surmise that Google's PR calculation is a reflection of a webpage's relative authority (as dictated by Google's internal calculation). However, it is only one piece of the puzzle, as one must consider the subject page's target keywords and other non-PR calculation factors (such as? Some feedback on this would be great too).

So, TBPR is only helpful in the sense that it reflects a snapshot of Google's historic (2 to 3 mos. prior) internal PR (rounded to an integer). Correct?

Finally, TBPR can be gamed, so any reliance on it should be accompanied by analysis of external factors (as noted earlier).

Is this an accurate description? Thanks in advance for any feedback.
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0 # dj 2009-11-11 00:50
"...However, it is only one piece of the puzzle, as one must consider the subject page's target keywords and other non-PR calculation factors (such as? Some feedback on this would be great too)."


Very confusing 'industry' this. Lots of cowboys out there.
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+1 # jignesh 2009-11-07 13:14
I would like to rise one more point about TBPR and back links.

So far we all have conception that if we want to improve TBPR, we should get back links from higher pr pages.

I had seen one website having PR-5, and Google shows no backlinks when i checked with link:domainname .

You will think that domain may have fake pr but i am sure that PR is not fake for this website.

here is the status of website:
- it is 2 years old domain (active blog working since two year)
- It was pr-4 previously (before 4 months) and also had few backlinks.
- in recent pr updates, home page pr improved to 5 and internal pages also got pr to 3 and 4.

Now my question is, when you check back links in Google, it shows zero. why?

This is what i am thinking about PR updates:
- Only back links is not important
- Google may not display backlinks which actually works for that site.
- it may happen that the website may have quality content which leads to improve the pr.

Kindly share your thought on given point.


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0 # David Harry 2009-11-09 08:28
@Rob I doubt there is really a way to muck with the TB data without hacking into Google. It may be that they've recently received a manual adjustment on the home page? Hard to say really..

@Ian ok, well we have no really way to know the actual PR of a given page (at the time of viewing) the closest we can get are the metrics from places such as MozRank or Majestic's A/C Rank... although both are problematic. While they can analyze the link data, none of us know the actually weighting that Google gives to the links at the end of the day...

@Ian - you've pretty much nailed it. It is a defined numbers, as oposed to the flaoting point one (actual PR), it's only updated 3-4 times per year and when the data is exported, it is usually 2-3 months old...sooooo... therein lies our problem with it as a strong metric.

@Jignesh - your first problem is that link data from Google is generally just a snapshot, not ALL the links they've found. I would use Yahoo, LinkScape or Majestic to get link data. And really, TBPR should never be a metric/benchmark for a SEO campaign. Targeted rankings and traffic (referrer data) is far more important.
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0 # JamesT 2009-11-09 09:34
You say the actual PR is not readily available. I am assuming you mean it can be inferred somehow using a combination of other metrics. Is this the case? If so what kind of metrics?

If not how do you guage the quality of a site in terms of its value as a backlink source?


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0 # Frank Jiang 2009-11-09 11:52
People still care about TBPR as they used to do, despite most of the top search results are not from sites which have TBPR 8 or 9.
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-1 # Hampry 2009-12-04 13:15
Nice blog post,i think you want any website google page rank,you just download Google Toolbar and any other help this toolbar.You want back link,cached snapshot of page in your web site this google toolbar.
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+2 # Cristian 2010-01-05 13:29
Hope this article released some of your unexpressed SEO emotions you've been accumulating for a while now =)

Now reallly... Great post Dave! And thanks for making a serious stand on the topic.

Here what I've learned about PageRank:

> every webpage is launched with a certain amount of its own PR; when it was first established, back in the '90, this initial -real- PR equaled (1-d) where d is the "damping factor" and = 0.85, thus making the initial PR of any webpage 0.15;

> the Real PR has the same building principles as the TBPR but is much higher as a numerical figure (going up to milions) as compared with the 11 levels PR Toolbar;

> Basically, Google takes all those real values and separates them into these 11 different ranges.

> Although a webpage has a toolbar PageRank of 2 it doesn’t mean that it has twice as less real PageRank compared to a webpage with toolbar PageRank of 4. In reality the difference in PageRank between the two webpages is much higher.

Nobody knows the actual real PageRank base that Google uses to express the values in its PR Toolbar.

Hope you find this extra info useful!

Thanks for the revigorating post, once again!
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