Why Google Will Not Move Away From PageRank

Recently, I’ve got a little flak in Google Group Webmaster Help for coming down hard on people in the “Google is broke” camp. Basically, some of them were upset that the supplemental index was based heavily on PageRank because Google’s PageRank paradigm is broken and unfair:

  • Google may misread the intent of a link. For example, due partly to many people linking to domain.com, it’s amassed a TBPR 8. While those links aren’t meant to be citations, Google apparently counts them as such.
  • A site can’t get organic links unless it already has links (a.k.a Mike Grehan’s “rich get richer” syndrome). This would be true IF Google is the only source of a site’s visibility. However, we’ve got Technorati, RSS, Yahoo, MSN, Reddit, Digg, Myspace, YouTube, paid advertising…True - in some niches (e.g. porn), Reddit or Digg isn’t going to work, and people are more hesitant to link to you. But in general, although the “richer get richer” is a fact of life, there are many ways around it. Like Adam Lasnik pointed out, once upon a time, YouTube.com was TBPR 0.
  • The guy with the deepest pocket wins. The guy who can afford to spend the most money on paid advertising and paid links will in the end come up on top. Thus mom and pop sites will never have a chance in Google Search, or so they argue.
  • The Paris Hilton syndrome. PageRank paradigm degrades search into a popularity contest. People link to what’s popular, even if it has no value or it’s completely untrue.

Basing a page’s value on links thus have several potential downsides (like anything else). Instead of PageRank, they argue, indexing should be based the quality of on-page text - a statement that begs the question: “Are you on crack?”

Answer me this. How can a computer program read, understand, and judge the quality of an article in comparison to other articles written on the same topic? It can’t - until Google discovers Artificial Intelligence. Sure - there are ways to look for on-page spammy finger prints (e.g. illogial sentence structures, excessively high keyword density, overuse of bold and italics). But given two well-written articles, how does a machine decide - based solely on on-page text - which article is more valuable?

It can’t.

Relevance for a keyword can, of course, be guessed at by looking at things like the TITLE tag, keyword frequency, keyword location on the page, and keywords in H1. Relevancy, however, has nada to do with page value or page quality.

How can a program judge the value of a page using on-page text alone when, from its POV, everything looks like a random string of symbols? To gauge a page’s value, there is simply no other option than to analyze off-page factors.

Ok, so it sucks that without inbound links or without decent internal link structure, Google will chuck a potentially great site into the supplemental index. Been there, done that. But if you think Google should base their indexing on on-page text quality instead of inbound links, I suggest you try spending a few days coding your own search engine. Then you’ll eventually realize what you want Google to do, at the present state of technology, is like wanting Wordpress to write posts for you, or like wanting your wife to become a rock legend overnight, or like wanting a billion-dollar white-hat website that builds and markets itself (and all you have to do is deposit checks in the bank every month).

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7 Responses to “Why Google Will Not Move Away From PageRank”

  1. Well said, Halfdeck.

    In my experience *any* site with legitimate content can and will get links if the content is worthwhile. If your site is in such a niche that hardly anyone exists who can link to you (with value) then everyone else in that niche is going to have the same problem anyway - so the playing field is level again.

    It’s just like “real-life” — without recommendations and/or promotion, nobody will know about your “better mouse-trap”. It might be the best in the world, but by telling nobody about it, it will never get featured in the NY-Times. And even then, the “best” does not always end up on top: think Betamax vs VHS.

    Like you said, it is not going to change anytime soon, no amount of ranting will make anything else possible. To think of all the links that could be gained in the time that some people use to rant …….

  2. Hey John,

    Maybe 10 years from now, Google’s algo will be 10% links, 90% on-page content. If Google’s present over-reliance on linkage data is evil (I don’t think so), its a necessary, unavoidable evil, at least for now.

    If Google cranked down the PageRank knob to get more pages into the main index, I’m sure the same people will bitch about getting buried in spam. Believe it or not, Google’s made it harder for spammers to spam. Before Big Daddy, duplicate content was spammers’ only enemy.

  3. […] * Liked Halfdeck’s thoughts on Why Google Will Not Move Away From PageRank. […]

  4. […] I wrote in December that PageRank is Dead[i] and that something such as abusing the NOFOLLOW attribute for other purposes (The intention for NOFOLLOW were not what Google is pushing for today) would not save it. Around that time did Tetsuto Yabuki aka Halfdeck wrote at his blog at www.SEO4Fun.com why Google will not move away from PageRank[ii]. […]

  5. […] Halfdeck of Seo4Fun said, “Answer me this. How can a computer program read, understand, and judge the quality of an article in comparison to other articles written on the same topic? It can’t - until Google discovers Artificial Intelligence. Sure - there are ways to look for on-page spammy finger prints (e.g. illogial sentence structures, excessively high keyword density, overuse of bold and italics). But given two well-written articles, how does a machine decide - based solely on on-page text - which article is more valuable? […]

  6. ‘A site can’t get organic links unless it already has links. This would be true IF Google is the only source of a site’s visibility. However, we’ve got Technorati, RSS, Yahoo, MSN, Reddit, Digg, Myspace, YouTube’

    Actually, you are wrong here for one (or two) reason (by organic I mean link without nofollow):

    before these social bookmarking services, people would link to good sites from their web sites and blogs, but since now it is more convenient to use social bookmarks AND BLOGS, people link less from web pages. Before the year of NoFollow, that was fine, but now, BY DEFAULT, almost all these sites AND BLOG PLATFORMS use nofollow, and therefore, all those links are valuable only for traffic, but not for SERP’s and Google rankings (i will ignore here the fact that Google may be considering social site popularity of links for the ranking).

    If nofollow was a standard tag, and in w3shools.com tutorial (for example), more people and webmasters would know about it, but since it is not the case, there is an artificial PageRank inbalance.

    Cheers

    ps. nofollow is not about preventing spam, but getting higher on SERP’s

    2 examples:
    http://freshmeat.net/~regit/
    go to authors pages (you know, those people that contribute weeks of their work to the site)

    http://www.youtube.com/JackDanyells
    same story, people make videos, invest time and creativity, and yet, they are not rewarded with nospam links to their homepages. since youtube is google company, there can be no confusion about the effect and purpose of nofollow

  7. “BLOG PLATFORMS use nofollow, and therefore, all those links are valuable only for traffic, but not for SERP’s and Google rankings”

    Lazar, valid point that those social platforms nofollow, but I didn’t say they were source of juice-passing links; the keyword here is “visiblity”, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Google.

    One of my clients, for example, isn’t too keen on advertising on Trulia.com because links on that site doesn’t flow alot of PageRank, if any. Meanwhile, his main competitor has property listings plastered all over that site, including banner ads (because she’s on Trulia’s board of advisors?) and featured listings. On every platform you want to match your competitor’s coverage at the very least. Fixating on Google and juice-passing links can be a distraction.

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