Why Toolbar PageRank is Worthless

Ian Lurie
the pagerank banana peel

Soooo, a few readers asked me why I don’t use PageRank as a statistic.

I thought about writing a long, angry, ranty post about Toolbar PageRank, bank bailouts and the moron on NPR today who said the USA has reduced its carbon emissions since 2000, etc. etc. but stopped myself.

Instead, I’ve got a nice clean list of well thought-out reasons:

  1. Toolbar PageRank does not equal true PageRank. Toolbar PageRank tries to distill this humungous, universe-encompassing scoring system (true PageRank) into a 0-10 scale. Imagine buying a house based on a photo of a 1ft by 1ft square of green grass. Same thing.
  2. It updates infrequently. Actually, it updates slightly more often than the Department of Homeland Security’s threat system (‘High’ since 2003, I think).
  3. Toolbar PageRank ignores onsite factors. OK, that may be an exaggeration. But that little green bar has little to do with relevance, and a lot to do with authority. It leaves out half of the SEO equation.
  4. It makes you focus on the stupid. Toolbar PageRank ignores your traffic, your sales, conversion rates, visit quality and the key phrases actually sending traffic your way. Aside from that and its total inaccuracy, it’s perfecto.
  5. Back in 2008, Steve Reubel said that PageRank is the ultimate metric. He’s also heralded the death of SEO at least three times. It’s like a zombie movie, where the government tells everyone to go gather in a football stadium. Run. The other. Way.

So, if you want to slip on the proverbial banana peel. Otherwise, avoid PageRank and use some more reliable SEO metrics, k?

By the way, I wrote about PageRank and it’s utter worthlessness in 2006, too. I also wrote a more succinct post on the subject in 2009.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, 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. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Good points about page rank. It’s ok to use it as an indicator of the authority of a site rather than its relevance as you pointed out. For the relevance we would use the other metrics you suggested and look at the quality of the backlink profile.

  2. About your first point, yeah it may be imperfect but check out the highest PageRank scoring websites online. Now check out the PageRank of new sites, and then check out the PageRank of medium sites. What you see will match the truth. It may not be perfectly spot on, but it’s close enough, I feel.
    And about your third point, PageRank ignores on-site factors and doesn’t tell you anything about relevancy, yes, but it was never supposed to. I mean, that’s like knocking relevancy because it doesn’t take into account site authority. Well, yeah, but it’s not supposed to.
    Don’t you think you’re being just a tad bit hard on poor little PageRank? 🙂

  3. I agree 100%. – however I don’t see the industry’s obsession with PageRank going anywhere soon. The concept is far too easily explained and just loosely correlated enough to be dangerous. It’s the age old problem of correlated Vs. causation (ie: “well, Microsoft has a PR of 9 and they rank well so it MUST be a ranking factor…”)

  4. Love this post thanx. One tends to “forget” that that little green bar is not a true reflection of anything. Once you are in the bad habit of scanning for website’s PR bar its difficult to kick it…

  5. It’s a funny little thing that page rank. For a while we made it of such importance, that now that we are telling clients not to weigh so heavily on it, they look at us like we are crazy. There are so many more factors out there that dictate the success of your website, and page rank has just fallen to the wayside. More importantly is how relevant your site is, is it a site that people are flocking to, sharing your information, or is it an e-commerce site that people are shopping from, are you a site that converts? Those are factors that weigh more than your page rank. It’s true, that little green bar doesn’t really mean much.

  6. Ian,
    Thanks for a good post. I recently encountered a Google PageRank Toolbar situation and the weaknesses you describe were all part of the problem.
    Simplifying the value of a webpage is much easier said than done and many online businesses don’t have time for sifting through grey when they want “black and white.”

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