8 reasons I don't care about (toolbar) PageRank

Ian Lurie

Google rolled out their latest Toolbar PageRank update today.

Yawn. I said it was stupid last year. I’ll say it again this year.

Toolbar PageRank is 50% meaningless, 25% misleading, 20% useless and 5% worth tracking. It has slightly more impact than Google +1.

Here’s why I wouldn’t use it to measure page value if my life depended on it:

  1. Toolbar PageRank is not an accurate reflection of true PageRank. I wrote about this last year (see above). There’s even evidence that Google hand-edits toolbar PageRank. Think about that—somewhere in Mountain View, someone’s tweaking the little number you see in the Google toolbar. By hand. How accurate is that gonna be?
  2. It updates every six months. But Google updates true PageRank continuously. Yeah, I know I want to base major marketing decisions on data that might be 180+ days out of date. (that’s sarcasm)
  3. It’s also not the whole picture. Toolbar PageRank may reflect a site’s authority, if your authority hasn’t changed in 180 days, and if 100% of your authority is derived from links. But:
  4. It ignores visibility. Yay! Your homepage has a 6 PageRank! High fives! Too bad every product page on your site has a 0. Site visibility matters, and PageRank doesn’t provide much insight there.
  5. It ignores relevance. You might have an 8 PageRank, according to the almighty toolbar. If you never use the phrases people use to find your products, though, you’re still not going to get found.
  6. It ignores traffic. Which is kind of important.
  7. Toolbar PageRank appears to reduce otherwise intelligent marketers to babbling idiots. I’ve seen folks spend thousands of dollars per month on links or advertising on a site simply because ‘the site has a great PageRank’. I’ve also seen people buy sites based on toolbar PageRank. Not smart.
  8. It’s one metric. Even if toolbar PageRank had value, it’s just one metric. It’s one tiny piece of a far larger dataset that impacts your rankings, your site’s performance and your business success.

Don’t use PageRank to guide your strategy. It’s a huge mistake. If you’re a search nerd like me, have fun learning the formula. Use your knowledge to impress your friends.

Then learn to do real SEO, and real marketing: Look at the whole picture.

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 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. Amen, brother!
    I kinda touched lightly on this on my blog today.
    Then I threw up a little, and couldn’t bring myself to continue. 😉
    I suspect there are many of us that get exceedingly tired of having to explain the difference between PR and TBPR every other day!

  2. Hear, hear. Your PR 0 website jumped to PR 3 overnight? Who gives a crap. It doesn’t mean ANYTHING. Did your traffic or conversions increase? What about the usability of your website or the relevance of your content to your audience?… Yeah. That’s what I thought.

  3. so… I’ve historically used pagerank on sub-pages of a domain to track their relative strength- for example, some aged blog posts have higher toolbar PR than others. Without doing a full analysis of each page’s external link count, social metrics, etc, I can quickly assess which pages may have more value, and may be a good candidate to place an internal link on that has some nice anchor text. Do you think that technique is flawed? Is mozRank, aC rank, or another metric a more valuable way *quickly* assess the strength of a particular page?
    I completely agree that having some directory or link broker try to sell placement on a PR5 domain and then places a link on some $hitty 4 deep subdirectory with some oriental spa links is deceptive and wrong… and I also agree that the data is weak and rarely published accurately, and easily spoofed. But can’t it tell us *something* at least directionally, that we are doing right or wrong with our content?

  4. People citing TBPR is one of the things that makes me cringe in the industry…
    “8. It’s one metric. Even if toolbar PageRank had value, it’s just one metric. It’s one tiny piece of a far larger dataset that impacts your rankings, your site’s performance and your business success.”
    That point has to be my favorite! Excellent post here! Google +1 just for sarcasm’s sake. 🙂

  5. I agree with all 8 reasons that you’ve mentioned, but you can say that for each one of the other 200+ factors. If we’ll take “domain age” metric for example, we know that it doesn’t either reflect traffic, relevance, visibility etc… But it still considered as one of the rankings factors.
    So I think that we do should consider this factor, but IN ADDITION to all other factors.

  6. @Pavel I agree on the other 200 (2000?) factors. But TBPR is unique, because it’s inaccurate and almost always out of date. Plus, it’s attempting to distill a scale of billions/trillions to 1-10. It’s just not a trustworthy metric.

  7. I totally agree. But although it doesn’t even close to the real number, it can help with some basic indication. For example – drop to 0 or any other sharp drop/increase. It helped me once to discover that some strong backlinks were mistakenly removed so i had a change to get them back.
    By the way, if this number doesn’t reflect the reality (and not even close to it) – why Google decided to show it in their toolbar? Answer (my guess) – because it caused millions of webmasters to install the toolbar in their browser, and this way Google expended their tracking reach (for browsing behavior). Think about it – it’s genius 🙂

  8. @Pavel Agreed – pure genius 🙂
    Google’s often said the only reason they keep Toolbar PageRank around is because SEOs would scream if it went away.
    I DO use it to diagnose total penalties: If you drop to a 0 something’s wrong.

  9. Totally agree. PR is useless.
    So why after all these years of good marketers knowing it’s useless do we still discuss every single update?
    I think it’s because it’s so dang simple.
    SEO’s love comparing their sites to others. And what’s simpler than “ha ha! I’m a 6 and you’re a 4! loser”
    Plus for some god-awful reason, PageRank seems to be the one metrics many clients can understand (again, simplicity).
    It needs to die though.

  10. Hi Ian,
    Great post on one of my favorite subjects. I completely agree with you that TBPR is of little use. I take issue with your conclusion however:
    “If you’re a search nerd like me, have fun learning the formula. Use your knowledge to impress your friends.”
    Understanding the PageRank formula and its implications for how PageRank flows can be useful in developing information architectures. I have written a series of posts on the subject which I invite you to read and comment on:
    From one search nerd to another – thanks for the great post! -Jim

  11. Totally agree that page rank is just one metric and not the be all and end all, it’s massively overemphasised by some SEO’s however, it still has a place in a fully rounded SEO strategy.

  12. so… I’ve typically used authority on sub-pages of a area to observe their family member strength- for example, some old information have greater plugin PR than others. Without doing a complete research of each page’s exterior weblink matter, public achievement, etc, I can swiftly analyse which websites may have more value, and may be a good selection to place an inner weblink on that has some awesome core words material. Do you think that approach is flawed? Is mozRank, aC list, or another complete a more beneficial way *quickly* analyse the durability of a particular page?
    I absolutely accept the fact that having some index or weblink agent try to provide location on a PR5 area and then locations a weblink on some $hitty 4 deeply subdirectory with some far eastern spa links is inaccurate and wrong… and I also accept the fact that the information is weakened and seldom publicized precisely, and quickly spoofed. But can not it tell us *something* at least directionally, that we are doing right or absolutely wrong with our content?

    1. I think what you’re doing is OK – it’s just a little slow, because you’re getting data that could be 6+ months old.
      I’d use MozRank instead.

  13. I think the SEO blogs need more people who write as good as this. Love the humor and tone of the post.
    I have a few clients that download this tool bar and treat it as it is the spoken word of god. And every time all over again I refer them to this post (or explain it to them my self).

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