Barry Schwartz blogged the story on SearchEngineJournal and quoted Google as stating that the PageRank displayed in the Google toolbar should be used for "entertainment purposes only." Schwartz's post was based on a thread in the Search Engine Watch discussion forums where a member claimed to have received the following explanation from a Google representative.

"The PageRank that is displayed in the Google Toolbar is for entertainment purposes only. Due to repeated attempts by hackers to access this data, Google updates the PageRank data very infrequently because is it not secure. On average, the PR that is displayed in the Google Toolbar is several months old.

If the toolbar is showing a PR of zero, this is because the user is visiting a new URL that hasn’t been updated in the last update. The PR that is displayed by the Google Toolbar is not the same PR that is used to rank the webpage results so there is no need to be concerned if your PR is displayed as zero. If a site is showing up in the search results, it doesn’t not have a real PR of zero, the Toolbar is just out of date."

Industry watchers and professional search engine marketers have believed for quite some time that the PageRank displayed within the Google toolbar was not the most accurate representation of a site's link popularity as rated by Google, but no official word from Google has ever confirmed this.

On the contrary, GoogleGuy (who posts in online discussion forums to represent Google) has publicly posted at several blog sites to refute the statement, saying that he "...strongly disagree with the statement that the toolbar PageRank is for "entertainment purposes only... I think it's also a little irresponsible to quote JohnGalt claiming to talk to some random person at Google, and then for you to quote it as a response from Google, which makes it sound more official. I'm happy to refute that this is any sort of official stance."

Danny Sullivan of commented in his own blog this afternoon that the statement discrediting PR scores in the toolbar comes from an unofficial source and that if he's going to believe an "unofficial source" he's most apt to believe the "mystery man" behind the GoogleGuy posts at popular online discussion forums.

So what does this mean to small business owners and online marketers? It serves to further confirm the idea that PageRank watchers need to seriously consider uninstalling the Google toolbar. PageRank, whether you are getting an accurate accounting of it or not, is only a single representation of a Web site's value. Granted, it's a very easy to view representation, but that's part of what makes it so easy for small business owners and marketers to focus in on it so intently.

What online businesses need to do is learn to judge the value of a Web site based on a combination of factors. Don't link to a page or request a link from a page simply because it has a strong PageRank. Take the time to consider how relevant the site is to you audience. Does it have information that your customers would find to be valuable? Does your site have information that visitors of the site would find valuable? In other words, turn the toolbar off and evaluate the site without giving any regard to the PageRank that it may or may not have. If you still feel it's worthwhile to link to or otherwise partner with, then go ahead and set up a partnership. If you don't think it's valuable, then move on and find another site to work with.
December 2, 2004

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Is Google PageRank for Real?