When the PageRank Toolbar Goes Dark…

by Paul Carpenter
See Dave Speak SMX London

Dave mentioned the other day that the day when public PageRank becomes a thing of the past is getting closer. I seem to recall the prospect as having been ‘just over the horizon’ for years now, but it’s still hanging in there. Having said that, the whole thing has been such a distorter of value for so long now I can’t wait to see the back of it. It will certainly be a hell of a shock to site owners used to demanding vast levels of payment on the basis of 6 green pixels.

But… how are you planning to replace it? I assume you’re preparing or 2010 could shape up to be a difficult year for you. Here’s a few thoughts.

Build your own index

Building an index of the internet isn’t actually that technically difficult in itself. What makes it difficult is the scale of the job  - and then how you then make sense of the data once you’ve got it. A list of billions of URLs tells you nothing by itself.

Like a lot of SEO companies, we’ve been making moves in this direction for a long time ;)

Of course then you’ve got to keep a record of billions of URLs which comes with its own problems. If you think all of Google’s revenues go into the fun stuff like Wave then you’ve no idea of the kind of cost involved in the kind of indexing they do. This gives you great information to work with but also increases your cost base. That said, you can hive off datasets to customers (and rivals) for payment – so you can offset some of your cost by creating a revenue stream from the data.

But this also gives you potentially a lot of equity. If you have your own internal scoring system that reliably tallies against rankings then you’ve hit paydirt.

Alternative Indices

The likes of SEOMoz’s linkscape and Majestic SEO offer alternatives to Google’s index. Unlike building your own tool, all the hard work is done for you – but you have to pay for that proprietary data. Mozrank and AC Rank are also different things measured by different criteria. So the question is refined: do you have the smarts to work with the data you’re getting?

Again, the savvy SEO should be able to read the tealeaves pretty well. For the PageRank linkbuyer? Sayonara, sucker!

Usage data

In both of the instances above lies a problem. You might identify a partner on some metric that either comes from your own data or a third party, but that might mean diddly to the site owner – so how do you negotiate?.

Currently, if you’re negotiating with a site you often only have a few things to go on. PageRank is both the obvious choice and misleading one. Aside from that, you’ve got a gut feeling about the quality of a site and you can profile pretty accurately whether its a ‘good’ site depending on your market. Where PageRank is the great distorter is that many site owners – not SEOs – value their sites by that alone.

Can you imagine ITV selling advertising on the basis of some poorly updated, partial and opaque metric like PageRank? Hell no! To woo advertisers they supply demographics, viewing figures, timings and a host of other data.

Savvy sites already have that data and will do well out of it. If you’ve dealt with CPM rates on Bigmeeja sites you’ll have some idea of the kind of value they place on their properties. The poor linkbuying sap looking for PR4 sites with eighty quid in his back pocket suddenly got burned.

Google

Perversely, the end of PageRank tyranny is going to give Google a much freer hand to clean up splogs and the like. We all know a PR6 site with no traffic and therefore no actual value. The blogfarmers game PageRank and make hay while the getting is good – encouraging the ‘link economy’ to grow out of proportion to its worth. Without the responsibility of having to maintain a facade to protect those guys, Google can quietly start being much more aggressive with its algorithms.

Conclusion?

The best companies will have an arsenal of data to work with up their sleeve. If the £100 a month services aren’t feeling the heat right now, you can be sure they’re going to be howling at the moon when they can’t stick a PageRank column in their reports. Without PageRank, a poor site looks like a poor site. PageRank is a figleaf for far too many sites to hide behind.

For genuine site owners, lazily pointing to some green in the toolbar won’t be an option any more. If they’re looking to justify advertising slots, they’re going to have get a lot smarter about the metrics they show to potential advertisers. And you know what? A lot of them will suddenly find that they’ve got to start working a lot harder than spilling thin-content shills all over a WordPress template. That’s only got to be a good thing for everyone.

So for the likes of stand up guys like you and me? Make better sites. Make more linkworthy content. Make better contacts. Whatever else changes on the surface, those are the eternal truths.

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