Until this year, Internet users could see at least one mechanism behind the organization of Google Search results via Toolbar PageRank. Google spearheaded PageRank as an exploitation of the “democratic nature of the web” in order to indicate a page’s value. According to Google, “In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.” The algorithm weighted votes: sites deemed more “important” had votes with greater value.
PageRank has been around for as long as Google itself. For Internet historians, PageRank is identified as one of the factors that helped differentiate Google from other search engines, like Yahoo and a key catalyst for modern SEO. When it began, in the early 2000s, PageRank was viewed as democratic – an indication of how much laypeople value websites. Later, it became apparent that Google itself influenced ranges, but webmasters continued to use link spam to influence their scores.
The functionality of PageRank became more sophisticated over time. It initially simply counted links, but then began to weigh both the link source and link location. 2003 ushered in the beginning of quality’s influence on page ranking. In 2005, Google began to crackdown on “suspicious-looking” links with an update called Allegra, and this crackdown extended to paid link and link farms with the Jagger update in October of that year. The April 2012 Penguin update continued to crackdown on link-stuffing schemes, and in August 2014, Google began weighting site security as well. Other factors that began to influence PageRank included ad-to-content ratio, update frequency, and mobile optimization.
For most users, PageRank functioned behind the scenes – influencing the order in which results appeared on their Google search pages. More advanced users installed the Google Toolbar, which revealed the PageRank of pages visited on a scale of 1 to 10. In April 2007, this tool became automatically visible in the Google Toolbar, but in 2016, it was removed. The decision wasn’t entirely surprising: the tool had not been updated since December 2013, and in October 2014, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that the company would not update PageRank again.
For webmasters, this change might be a relief. Although it ostensibly helped Internet users weed through the ever-denser garden of websites, it also sparked a cottage industry of link sellers, who made money off site owners who wanted to legitimize their websites. PageRank will continue to operate behind the scenes, however, but because it will not be visible to the public, link purchasing and link spam should decrease.