Eliminating Toolbar PageRank Would Be A Mistake
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Back in October of 2007, some significant changes were afoot with the PageRank scores assigned to various high-profile sites (check out Search Engine Journal for a recap of which sites were initially hit). This change, mostly a reduction in PageRank scores, prompted a flurry of blog posts and further intesified the debate about paid links and Google's disdain for them. I'm going to leave the big picture discussion to others who have already thrown their hats into the ring and have made arguments for both sides that are at least as insightful as anything I could come up with. Instead, I want to zero in on one detail that struck a chord with me when I read on Search Engine Roundtable that Matt Cutts made public his belief that Toolbar PageRank should and would (hopefully) disappear. I think doing so would be a mistake. That and I wanted to be the first to write about PageRank in 2008!
A Good Tool for Google
All of the reading I did about the recent PageRank reductions suggests that there was little or no impact to rankings or traffic. Step back a bit and you may agree that what Google has here is an excellent tool for communicating with webmasters that they're doing something wrong (according to Google's definition of wrong). This communication device turned out to be incredibly effective because everyone's PageRank score is available for public viewing which prevented webmasters from keeping their decreased scores quiet. Instead a variety of blog posts circulated detailing which sites took a hit all of which resulted in a very bright spotlight becing cast on the debate about paid links. And the change even prompted many sites to do exactly what Google wanted and slap nofollows on paid links e.g. TechCrunch added nofollows to sponsor links despite previously defending their practice. TechCrunch, and others, chose to to ignore the warnings about paid links because the threat wasn't real until Google turned the PageRank knob. I can't understand why Google would want to get rid of such a useful tool.
So What if Toolbar PageRank is Out of Date?
Some people argue that since the PageRank displayed in the toolbar is months behind the actual PageRank that Google uses, that it's a useless metric. That's like arguing that your doctor, who just realized that he missed diagnosing a tumor in your brain 6 months ago, shouldn't bother to let you know now because it's not a reflection of your current health. How silly would that be? I'd rather see old data than no data at all. Leave the decision up to me about how to react to the data. And if I go ahead and do idiotic things without first fully assessing the situation, well that's my problem. At least the decision is mine to make.
Useful When Changing Domains
One of the "all clear" signals that I look for when changing domains is whether the new domain obtains a PageRank within one point of the old domain. Such an occurrence is a strong indicator that the redirects are working as expected in Google. Sure, checking for the number of pages indexed, rankings, and traffic are also important, but why would I not want an extra data point in the form of Toolbar PageRank?
Useful for New Sites
Launching a new site can be stressful. You can reassure yourself all you want that within 6 months or a year you'll be doing well in the search engines, but it sure would be nice to get a thumbs up before that time, wouldn't it? One indicator of progress is a move up from no PageRank or 0 PageRank. Again, I'm not claiming that PageRank is all you need to look for, but it can be a good hint of things to come.
Useful for Old Sites
When a site has been humming along for some time, it can be tiresome to constantly monitor the health of that site. One metric that is easy to check is Toolbar PageRank. Its public nature not only means you're likely to notice a change the next time you fire up your browser, but it's also likely that someone else will notice and either contact you or write a post about it. And since a change in Toolbar PageRank doesn't necessarily result in immediate ranking or traffic changes, you have an opportunity to assess the situation before there's any real impact to your business.
I'm not sure if wanting to keep Toolbar PageRank puts me in the minority or if opponents are just more vocal than proponents. It does seem though that even Google employees are not all on the same side.