Steve's Wrong: Pagerank is a Horrible Measure of Online Influence

Ian Lurie

Enough about Pagerank!

Steve, Steve, Steve. Pagerank? The ‘ultimate measure’? Really?

I tried to resist the urge to link to his recent post, where he says that Pagerank is the ultimate measure of online influence. But that’s like trying to ignore your kid’s stinky diaper in the hopes your spouse will take care of it: It only stinks more and more. At some point, the poop’s gotta come out.

The pagerank you see doesn’t matter. It’s worthless. OK? Are we done?

Just in case we’re not, here’s why it doesn’t matter:

The Pagerank You See Is An Illusion

First, the pagerank you see in the Google Toolbar isn’t real. Real pagerank goes from zero to who-knows-how-high: Billions? Trillions? Who knows. But it sure doesn’t stop at 10.

What you see in the Google Toolbar is like a horribly inaccurate Richter scale. It’s an attempt to convert a number that can probably wrap around the earth (or at least your house) to a tiny scale.

The pagerank you see is an illusion.

I'm the real pagerank. You can't see me

All Sites at a Certain Pagerank Aren’t Equal

You could sit at a toolbar pagerank of, say, 4, while your real pagerank vaults from 1,000,000 to 1,400,000.
And, 2 sites that both have a toolbar pagerank of 4 could have vastly different real pagerank scores.

Some are more equal than others

How exactly is pagerank a great measure of online influence?

We Don’t Really Know How It’s Calculated

Yes, we have a handy Wikipedia article that talks about the original pagerank formula. But Google’s added lots of other items to the formula, no doubt.

We don’t know what a site’s real pagerank score is. We can use the old formula to figure out a site’s old-style pagerank. All we have to do is find every link to the site, and every link to the sites that link to the site, and all the links that link to the links that link to the site. And so on.

And even if we kept our sanity at that point, we’d still be wrong.

Google Ain’t Telling

Google’s not going to tell us what our real pagerank is, either.

Google Isn’t Neutral

Oh, another thing: Trusting Google, or any other private corporation that earns a living by selling advertising, is insane. Crazy. Nuts.

Say your site gets a pagerank penalty. Yesterday, you had a pagerank of 6. Today it’s a 3. Your influence may be the same. But you pissed Google off, and they pissed back.

But your influence is still the same.

Again: How exactly is pagerank a good measure?

Find Another Model

If you really want to measure online influence, it’s going to require a more complex model. One that accounts for visits, pageviews, time on site, buzz web-wide and softer metrics.

Until then, I have to put ‘pagerank’ in the same category as ‘maverick’ and ‘bailout’. Terms that are utterly inaccurate, and make me want to rip out nosehairs so I have an excuse to cry.

Even no statistics is better than bad ones.

If you’d like to hear me splutter with rage in person, please sign up for my 10/16 internet marketing webinar. It’s worth it, I swear.

Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Let’s see: how about (keyword KEI x number of pages in top ten on Google) / [(number of twitter followers + friends on facebook)/average number of comments on your main blog for the last year’s posts)] x (avg. number of digg’s per post – posts buried)…
    Oh – that’s right, there’s a few hundred social media/networks right now – and no one belongs to the same set. Hmmm.
    I prefer a more rural approach: number of cowpies in your largest pasture divided by the number of birds which fly overhead and do not land in that pasture during the time you are counting. (Only this year’s cowpies count.) When you get home and can get a whiff of your jeans, you’ll know what sort of social influence you’d have if you went into town and visited the local saloon/bar/pub with those jeans on. 😉
    In other words, I agree with your rant. Influence, like dust on a windy day, is in the eye of the beholder. ;o)

  2. Your story might be true. And possibly that’ll be the reason that your pagerank has hardly no influence on your ranking. So why bother about having 6 yesterday and 3 today.
    Though I think pagerank is also related to the amount of competition in a certain specialism. A site about webdesign might have a lot more backlinks but a lower pagerank, in comparison with a site about a vegetarian restaurant. So I think you can’t compare pageranks between totally different sites.
    The real pagerank might not be something between 0 and 10 but somehow there has to be some logical solution to it… but who cares after all…

  3. Yeah, Page Rank is a useless measurement for a website’s *real* value.
    But it offers a simplified method to justify (a webpage quality) and to benchmark. Implementation: thanks to Google PR, lousy SEO companies can trumpet on their win when they bring client’s PR from 0 to X and charge big bills.

  4. I totally agree. What really pisses me off is the fact that Google is the God of the Internet, setting the so-called “standards” and giving grades like a 3rd. grade teacher. They also “punish” and “reward”, “slap” and god knows what else.
    The Internet should have been borderless, democratic and open to everybody – Google made it a dictatorship, where they dictate everything. I also happen to think Google is not such a great search engine. You get a lot of crap when searching, despite Google’s pretense to give the searchers what they are looking for.
    I don’t see the solution to this problem, since we all use Google and give them the power.
    A better search engine, which is also democratic and compassionate, is long due.

  5. Spot on Ian! Years ago when the concept of GP was introduced, it was a (relatively) easy calculation to figure out what was where, who’s linking what, and with a predefined set of rules. Sadly, today, I think way too many advertisers and marketers place a (perceived) value pagerank…but until a more valid and acceptable metric comes along, what other choice do we have?

  6. @gWallet I guess I’d say that only bad advertisers and marketers are using PageRank as the SOLE measure of value. And I choose not to work with them.

  7. I have been losing advertisers due to page rank.
    As far as I am now conscerned page rank is slander. I have a niche site for a niche business
    not nuts and bolts but wing nuts.. Quality traffic
    not quantity. Until the users understand targeted
    traffic I’m at a loss..
    “I asked my web guy to check out your page rank and he said you have nothing! So I’m not advertising”. I’ve gone from $6700 per month
    supporting a family in the woods to $800 per month. I’m upset about the misunderstanding.
    If I set a poll up on my site and ranked companies
    and came up with some bad reports I would probably would have to remove them or have a lawsuit on my hands.

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