Is Google still mostly about PageRank?
September 12, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How important is Google PageRank in relation to the updates in recent months with regard to Google Panda?

In my job as a university lecturer, I come across people who claim to understand how Google works. They tell me that in the last few months that it has "really changed" and is now "much more about content". My understanding of Google is that its major innovation is the PageRank system, the one that counts links to a page as well as counting the the value of those links. But recently I have begun to wonder. So my question is as follows. Is Google PageRank still the most significant part of Google's search engine? is it the main idea to get across to my students?
posted by MrMerlot to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Frankly, SEO is one part common-sense content structuring, one part jumping through hoops and reciting magical incantations, and six parts wild-ass guesses. Most SEO is snake oil.

The primary reason for this: nobody (outside of Google employees) actually know for certain how the algorithm works, and their sample size is always too small to really be meaningful when compared against the massive amounts of data that Google has.

Also, let's be real honest: even if you had a crystal ball and could determine conclusively what elements go into a search ranking today, it seems like very much a "give a man a fish" situation to teach that in a university setting.

This may be too idealistic, but I've always preferred "winning" search rank with good, relevant content. That leads to good results and synergizes well with Google's goal of giving people what they want, which means that it is largely future-proof. By this I mean that good content is going to get "back links" and is also going to score well for relevance in Google's algorithm, so it wins either way.

If you spend a class pounding into their heads that backlinks are the secret sauce, you're going to produce folks who send spam emails soliciting reciprocal links to try to boost their pagerank instead of folks who focus on putting better stuff on the web.

In the end, the real answer is that Google's algorithm is constantly being tweaked and tuned, and it will probably ALWAYS feature both elements you mention (content relevance and link popularity) and probably even more than just those. The question about which proportion is probably impossible to answer currently or prospectively with any degree of accuracy.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:57 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Not much has really changed. You still need good content because that's a prerequisite to getting inlinks. BUT it's very common to have terrific content and still have terrible ranking because your niche is very old or crowded.

Also worth remembering is that PageRank/inlinks are just some of MANY ranking factors and that the importance of any individual factor changes over time.

You could read what Google says on the topic of high-quality content but it's pretty obvious stuff and doesn't guarantee high ranking.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:08 AM on September 12, 2012

PageRank is supposed to be a rank of importance, and the only time we (as an online marketing agency) look at it is when doing "linkbuilding", or facilitating links from other websites to our clients' websites.

The higher the PageRank, the higher quality the link to our client is. Higher-quality links help our clients show up better on the front page of search.

In terms of changes to Google, content really has become one of the more important factors, and this is not only because of changes to Google's algorithm, but also because of changes to Google's technology itself. About 2 years ago, Google revamped its entire technology with something called "Caffeine". Since then, Google has been able to index and re-index websites much more quickly than before, making it easier to see if websites are posting new content.

Google likes new content (eg, blog posts). The other "signal" is social engagement. While Google does not have the ability to easily determine who is linking to what on Facebook and Twitter, it still has a few methods to do this, and there are other social platforms as well.

There are, of course, a whole bunch of things to do for SEO, and SEO should also be integrated with paid advertising (if paid advertising makes sense).

SEO is not snake oil if you are sophisticated enough to understand that performance must be measured, and performance can be measured. Some people, however, don't understand that.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should say that one common metric of success we report on is where a client's website display in generic (ie, not personalized, and if possible, not localized) Google Search for specific keywords. That's where PageRank comes in - getting links from relevant sites with high PageRank will help our clients display better.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are SEO consultants who do have success, based on experience and admittedly partial knowledge of what Google search technology is all about, in getting higher search results through on-page and off-page enhancements, the former being things like content and use of keywords within a site and the latter being things like backlinks. What that means for the site owner who is not doing those things is he/she is at a disadvantage. That's unfortunate because it means many top search results are at the top because they are basically manipulated (i.e., custom tailored to rank high) and purchased (i.e., money was paid to SEO optimizers) and not because they are necessarily the "best" results. But certainly Google must be engaged in continuous efforts to reduce that phenomenon.
posted by Dansaman at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2012

The two major changes in Google algorithms recently have been Panda and Penguin. Here's some general info from Mashable about the changes.

"Whitehat" SEO experts can help with reasonable advice, but it seems to me that this isn't a very big field on its own, because people usually do not want to put in the work and/or investment to make a site truly worthy of high rankings, and are much more inclined to be persuaded to part with cash by the quickfix snake oil sellers... AKA blackhat SEO.

But even well meaning how-to sites and paid consultants can give advice that will bite you in the ass. Good SEO can make it easier for search engines to index (and people to find) your already valuable content. Anything that bypasses that will eventually crash and burn.

The people I know who are providing clients with solid advice on this don't market themselves as magic-fix SEO experts, but give intelligent advice on solid optimization, usually as a part of media consulting generally. And just because someone calls themselves "whitehat," doesn't necessarily mean they are.

To get the best, most consistent results possible, one needs to use good semantic markup, employ key words intelligently and usefully with good content, and create a lot of content that real sites and users want to link to. This will always be true. Skilled, knowledgeable, consultants can help site owners with advice on how to do this. Exploitative opportunists gaming the system will come up with shortcuts that may, in some cases, help temporarily, and may very well cause deep, unforeseen consequences later.

A whole lot of people who fell for the snake oil are now bitterly regretting it as they are employing companies to contact web sites begging to have links to their site removed (those would be the links that they formerly paid snake oil SEO companies to place), since crappy link farm and similar links are now killing rankings for those sites.

The sad thing is that many of the companies that are now being hired to try to get links removed don't even understand the difference between a good link and a bad link. So, many clueless siteowners are actually paying more clueless SEO "experts" to write multiple imploring emails to (in addition to the "bad" sites) perfectly good high value sites to delete true organic (not created by some crappy "SEO" campaign, but actual bona fide users) links that are still very valuable in indexing. It's a tragicomedy of compound errors.

Several years ago I had a personal site in an extremely competitive subject area that was consistently ranked around 2 or 3 on Google (not personalized results). I didn't make the site for money (it had to do with what I was doing for fun at the time), never put ads on it, didn't charge for anything, and never promoted it. I did almost no friendly commenting / schmoozing on other sites, didn't do social media at all aside from linking to other sites that I felt offered useful stuff... but I added content every single day, for years. I didn't do this to get a high google ranking, it just turned out that way because my site was full of useful content that people linked to, and my text reflected the subject matter because it was describing the items I was creating, and how to use them. I was sort of dumb/clueless, so when I got tired of doing the thing I was doing, I just stopped updating and eventually let the domains lapse. But I could have kept the sites live, continued to offer the tons of free stuff I had made, and added a bit of discreet advertising to bring in some money... maybe continuing to update maybe once or twice a week instead of every day. And that would have been sort of a triumph of SEO for an income-producing site. But the great rankings happened just because it was an honest site offering high quality content without tricks, fake links or useless shortcuts.

Popular search engines that don't find ways to winnow out the crap will not remain popular search engines for long and will always be working on ways to negate and penalize bad SEO, unless they've simply abandoned their prime directive of useful indexing. Instant / viral successes are few and far between; for the vast majority of sites, the only way to get good search engine ranking is to put in the effort (or expense to hire content creators who are good at what they do) to publish stuff people actually want to consume.
posted by taz at 4:32 AM on September 14, 2012

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