If you opened up your website in Firefox or Chrome over the weekend, you may have been pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised to find that the Google PageRank tool , which has been static since February 2013, finally had some news for you about your site’s PageRank. Hopefully, that long awaited extra point or two has rewarded your efforts to improve your site’s online visibility.

Hold your horses, though.

As lovely as it would be to determine a site’s performance with a simple symbol in a browser’s toolbar, there is significant controversy in the SEO world about the PageRank tool’s actual worth.

First, the basics

PageRank (PR), aptly named after Google’s cofounder, Larry Page, is one of many algorithms that Google uses to determine where a site will rank in the search engine results. (emphasis on “one of many.”) It relates to the number of links to a site and the quality of those links, as well as the efficiency of the website’s internal link structure.

Historically, a high PageRank means that the site is fairly trustworthy according to Google.

However, the ‘pipeline’ of information that had previously been the source for Google’s PR tool had been broken for close to a year. It hasn’t been a priority for Google to fix because the search engine doesn’t want website managers to get tunnel vision and rely too heavily on PageRank to improve their position in search results. To be clear, Google was still internally monitoring PR—that information was simply not made public via the toolbar. The only reason that the update even occurred was that Google was working on a different issue within Google’s back end and decided to correct the PR tool while they were at it.

And that’s straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

A little backstory…

Many SEOs have reached the conclusion that the PageRank Tool has become rather obsolete, not just because of its buggy, inconsistent history, but also because PageRank is just one itsy bitsy factor that determines a website’s value. Meanwhile, Google develops new, highly complex algorithms that define and redefine search result rankings every day. “PR” has shifted from an emphasis on PageRank back to public relations, meaning that user-friendly, quality content sites are going to come out on top, theoretically.(That said, organic link building and healthy site structure are still important factors in a site’s success.)

Google has long been warning webmasters not to rely too heavily on PageRank to improve their sites’ visibility in the rankings, and back in October, they put their weight behind that warning by removing the PR statistics from the Webmaster tools altogether. Matt Cutts himself has been fairly dismissive about Google’s PageRank tool. In October, when asked via twitter whether there would be a Google Toolbar PageRank update before 2014, he responded “I would be surprised if that happened.”

Still, Google has refused to acknowledge one way or the other what the fate of the tool will be. According to Cutts, it’s because they still want to give the everyday user the opportunity to judge a site’s worth at face value. This decision has left many scratching their heads. What’s the point of informing users if the information is generally outdated? Many experts in the field have predicted the ‘death’, once and for all, of the PageRank tool. This recent update may just prove them wrong…but it may not.

Will Google resurrect Toolbar PageRank for good, or is it simply a fluke? The jury is still out. Either way, if you are using an SEO strategy that heavily relies upon the Google Toolbar PageRank for affirmation, it’s time to evolve.



Matt Cutts explains PR (video)

Barry Schwartz, Google Shocks Webmasters by Updating Toolbar PageRank Before Year’s End

Jennifer Slegg, Is Google Getting Ready to Retire PageRank?