I’m sorry you had to hear it from me . . . but it seems that Google PageRank is dying. Though not yet dead as a doornail, it is almost certainly on its death bed. PageRank’s support has slowly been waning over the years. Google doesn’t offer it on most web browser toolbars anymore and it hasn’t been updated since February. Most recently, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, replied to a follower on Twitter who asked, “Will there be a PageRank update before 2014?” His answer? “I would be surprised if that happened.” By all accounts, it appears that PageRank is fading away. So is Google PageRank dead? Not quite, but its public display may be soon.
What Is Google PageRank?
Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute, so that anyone unacquainted with the program can get caught up. PageRank was developed in 1996 by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were still students at Stanford University. It is an algorithm that ranks websites according to their importance. From the mouth of the great search engine itself: “PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the page is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites” (source).
Although PageRank is joined by many other algorithms that work together to rank Google’s search results, PageRank was the original, the algorithm that started it all. At its essence, it is a probability distribution that represents the likelihood that a person randomly clicking on links will arrive at a particular page.
How Does It Work?
Making use of Googlebot, a web crawler that scours the Internet, counting links and gathering information, PageRank analyzes the relative importance of web pages and assigns them numerical weights. When a high number of links point to a page, that page is considered to be important. The links act like votes. However, PageRank also takes into consideration the authority of the pages posting the links. So if the only link to your website appears on cnn.com (a reputable, authoritative website), your website will rank higher than another website whose only link comes from the creator’s brother’s blog. It’s a bit confusing to explain, but maybe if you look at the diagram below, you’ll get an idea of what I mean. The basic idea is that links are not equal. Authority and importance also factor into the equation.
PageRank is featured on the Google Toolbar. It gives every website a number between 0 and 10 that reflects that site’s overall page ranking. So a very popular website would have a 10 and an unimportant, unpopular website would have a 0. This feature is available to people who maintain websites as well, through the Google Webmaster Tools interface. PageRank helps everyday Internet searchers (even those who are not tech-savvy) determine if a site is trustworthy or not.
However, in the past few years, the support for PageRank has faded away. SEOs have determined that it is not very relevant to their work because it is updated so rarely, its ranking is neither current nor useful. A Google Toolbar was never offered for Chrome, was dropped from Firefox in 2011, and is currently only offered on Internet Explorer (though it hasn’t been updated in over six months). All of this begs the question: is Google PageRank dead?
Is Google PageRank Dead?
Earlier in the year, Matt Cutts spoke in a video about PageRank’s decline. He stated that because a lot of people do still use the program, Google will not be dropping it from their toolbar. However, Cutts also said that if Internet Explorer (which doesn’t allow toolbar add-ins) becomes more popular, Google Toolbar may not get much use. So over time, PageRank may become less popular and Google will be less concerned about maintaining it.
Just last week, Cutts spoke on the topic of PageRank again, admitting that PageRank is getting less usage, is updated infrequently, and will probably start to “go away a little bit.” However, I should make clear here that Cutts is referring to the public display of PageRank. The algorithm PageRank is still an important part of Google’s overall algorithmic foundation.
So is Google PageRank dead? No.
Is Google PageRank dead insofar as its public display is concerned? Not yet, but it probably will be very soon.