Recently Google confirmed that it is going to remove the toolbar PageRank, which means that the tool or browser that used to show us Google’s PageRank data will soon become invalid. The search engine giant explained that it will still be using this data internally as a part of the ranking algorithm, but we will no longer be able to view the external PageRank values that used to be displayed on the toolbar. This is a pretty big change considering the PageRank feature is what made Google stand out in the beginning. Through this tool, we could see the numeric rating of a webpage based on its importance in the eyes of Google. But this is information will not be accessible by the public anymore.
Many of the experts are seeing this as a good change. Although this tool significantly reshaped the web, the results of which will still continue to prevail, it also caused some major disturbances along the way. For example, if you have ever received junk emails requesting links, it was because of PageRank. Remember the useless comments with links? You guessed it right, because of PageRank! And if you are tired of learning the how and why of the nofollow link attribute, be happy because you don’t have to anymore. In fact, Google shouldn’t have made the PageRank visible to the public in the first place! When the search engine was still new and competing against the likes of Lycos, Yahoo and AltaVista, the PageRank feature gave it a rather smarter appearance. It even helped the search engine to win against these well-established rivals of that time.
How it all began:
Search experts blame PageRank for more than one reason. It all went wrong back in 2000. Google had released its first ever version of the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer. This feature made it easier for people to search Google directly from IE. There was also the option to enable the PageRank meter, and whoever did that was able to see the PR score of any webpage they would visit. The search engine later released updated versions of the toolbar that was available for Firefox as well. The appearance of the PR meter was changed in the later versions, and it offered a score between 0 and 10.
Although the general population that used Google toolbar never bothered enabling the PageRank — which was offered as an incentive to users as a way for them to understand the value of a web page — one group of was especially interested to make use of it. We are talking about the SEO professionals!
Why was PR meter so favoured by SEOs?
For SEO professionals and search marketers, the PageRank toolbar was an invaluable present. It offered them an idea of how their websites were doing. The PR meter would show a numeric rating of web pages based on their worth in the eyes of Google. So, the SEOs figured that the higher the rating, the more important the web page is for Google. What seem sweet at first turned out to be sour later; not only for the SEOs, but for the web in general.
PageRank was and still is only a tiny part of Google’s search algorithm, which is essentially the system that determines the rank of web pages. Aside from the PR, there are other ranking factors that the search engine takes into consideration. A higher PageRank score does not mean that the page will rank high on the search result. Even a page with a lower score can bet a high PR page if it meets the other necessary requirements.
Problems started arising when marketers started obsessing over this one search metric instead of making an effort to build high end strategies. Back then, the rule was simple, more links meant better PageRank. Links started to get sold like hot cakes, and companies would even sell links to those who needed them. Networks were built to make it easier for SEOs to buy and exchange links so that they can improve their PageRank score, and eventually get a higher search ranking for different keyword.
This led to a massive crisis. Nobody would care about the quality of the links they were using, and Google was filled with such trashy links. The search engine was not happy with the situation to say the least! So, it started fighting back, and gave its first huge blow when it penalised the network “SearchKing”. This prompted this network to sue Google, and the search engine giant won. That, however, did not stop the act of link selling and buying.
SEOs would still try to improve their PR scores by using fraud techniques rather than by working towards earning them naturally. The link networks went off the radar, and Google could not track them for a while. Whenever Google spotted one, the site would get banned. However, as one of them closed, a new one took its place!
That’s the story of the link spam!
The link selling and buying phenomenon lead to link spamming. Marketers, who were after higher PageRank scores, started dropping low quality links wherever and whenever they found a chance, including into forums and blog posts. Eventually, the spamming became such a huge issue that Google was demanded to take action against it. And the search engine did so in 2005 by releasing the nofollow tag feature. This was a way to prevent spam links from getting PR credit. Although the nofollow feature did not end link spamming, it somewhat made people feel as if Google did something to stop it, and can no longer be held accountable.
The eventual death of PageRank score:
The Google Toolbar, which was responsible for the beginning of the PageRank craze back in 2000, became a fading memory when the search engine launched its own browser — Google Chrome. With Chrome people could search the web directly from the address bar built-in. So, they did not need to use the toolbar. In fact, Google never released a Chrome version of the toolbar. The PageRank meter in the toolbar received many subsequent blows. Back in 2011, Firefox support was dropped, and the search engine last updated its PR scores for the IE toolbar back in 2013.
In retrospect, it would be fair to say that the PageRank feature was led to a slow death since about 2010. Disabling it from the toolbar only made it official, and put the final nail on its coffin. Very few would still check PageRank using IE toolbar, but the numbers were dramatically insignificant.
So, the absolute removal of the PageRank score from public viewing was sort of expected. And it is not necessarily a bad thing. The post PR score world is not as scary as you may have feared. As long as you are doing great overall work and not just stressing on PR scores, you will fare well in the world of SEO!