For those of you that didn’t know, PageRank is a numeric rating system used by Google to determine how important a page is. The algorithm gives a score to each webpage, and in 200o, Google made these scores public. After spawning a whole industry that made browsing the internet less enjoyable, they’re finally making the score hidden again.
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The birth of PageRank
The way Google made the scores available was through the toolbar that they released for Internet Explorer 16 years ago. You could enable a meter on the toolbar that would give the website a grade between 1 and 10 that represented how important it is in PageRank’s view.
They released this tool primarily to show how their search engine was better than the other ones around and as a way of providing web surfers with information on the pages they’re on.
SEO companies gained the most since they had a new way of tracking their efforts. That sounds great, but the companies quickly realized that the best way of improving a site’s PageRank score was by having more links to it. This was the moment that the link-selling economy was created.
If people wanted to get more traffic, they went to link networks and bought links in the hope that it would get them a better rank on Google. Some people took this goal too seriously and just started spamming others with links.
The life of PageRank
Google wasn’t happy with the way companies were abusing their rating system, so they started cracking down on link networks in the hopes that they will stop the growing trend. They started penalizing link networks, and when that didn’t work, they added the nofollow tag.
This tag stops the link in question from affecting the rank of the website it leads to. Ads are supposed to have this tag, so they still offer people the chance to visit the page, but they don’t raise its rank. If Google catches websites using ads without it, they remove their rank or even exclude them from the index altogether.
Their efforts didn’t stop the link-spamming trend, but at the very least, they showed their disapproval of such practices.
PageRank continued to be one of the main reasons blogs and forums were chock-full of links that didn’t even have anything to do with the topic at hand. The main offenders here were a considerable number of SEO companies which were trying to raise the score of the websites they worked on.
The death of PageRank
The meter didn’t go out with a bang but rather a whimper: Google toolbar, the extension that the Pagerank meter was part of, almost faded out of existence. Google Chrome, their own browser, didn’t have it because it was redundant, they dropped support for it on Firefox in 2011 and its last update for Internet Explorer came way back in 2013. Google also stopped showing the PageRank score of websites anywhere else.
This means that almost nobody used the toolbar or the meter anymore. Only SEO companies still had it, so taking the meter out is a clear message that Google wants them to stop abusing the system.
The world without a PageRank meter
Google will still use the system to determine importance, but they’ll keep it secret now. Since the meter is gone, SEO companies have a much harder time trying to determine if their link-spamming efforts are paying off. By now, many companies have their own algorithms and ways of determining page importance, but the practice of buying links will surely become less common.
This means that we’ll see more focus on the other, less annoying, methods of doing SEO, as they’re unaffected by the disappearance of the meter.
After all, the core of SEO was always about making websites and content that Google wants to show to others, not about ranking “steroid shots”.