Are More BIG Changes Coming? Possibly.

Updated December 6, 2010

Doc Sheldon

Beating the same drum, but to a slightly different rhythm… let’s talk about one of the changes that I think is coming down the pike.

How would you adjust your typical SEO strategy if Google were to announce tomorrow that backlinks no longer carried any appreciable weight and that PageRank no longer existed?

Now before you declare me drunk, addled or senile, hear me out.

Setting aside for a moment that PageRank was a brilliant development, born of a fantastic idea, and ignoring also that links have been a part of the Internet experience since the outset… let’s look at the flip-side of those two.

How would you adjust your typical SEO strategy if Google were to announce tomorrow that backlinks no longer carried any appreciable weight and that pagerank no longer existed?

PageRank is an obsession for many SEOs and most site owners. They tend to act as though the sun rises and sets in that little green bar. There are still many people out there that have yet to grasp the fact that toolbar PageRank is totally different from actual PageRank. At best, it’s dated information, and it’s pure conjecture to conclude that it was ever the same as PageRank. Only the folks inside Google really know, and they’re not talking!

Links are closely related to PageRank, since the quantity and quality of inbound links are what supposedly determines a page’s PageRank.

So we have these two closely-related items, which are VERY subject to gaming, that have been both extremely helpful and extremely detrimental to the further development of the Internet as envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee.

From the search engines’ standpoints, wouldn’t it be great if they could simultaneously improve SERPs quality, move closer to a truly Semantic Web and eliminate much of the incentive for spamdexing?

How could that be accomplished?

First, a brief side-track:

Tim Berners-Lee said he had a dream of an Internet that was so semantic in nature, that machines could communicate with other machines, to accomplish what presently requires human interaction, in order to comprehend the meaning of data.

One method of enabling that machine-to-machine communication is to implement RDF attributes, which were developed for that very purpose. Meaning is then assigned to important data, so that machines can understand what is meant and comprehend the data semantically.

Getting the majority of websites to implement RDFa is a monumental task, however. It can’t very well be mandated, so an incentive must be offered in order to convince site owners and developers to make the necessary effort to convert their existing sites, as well as design future sites to be compliant with the technology.

In my opinion, the greatest incentive that can be logically offered is that of not having to eat the dust of one’s competition.

Now, getting back on track… developing a new algorithm of that scope, while I think it is well within Google’s capability, is no mean feat. To do so, without addressing other major issues… issues that will create problems for that new algorithm… would be foolish. It would make much more sense, in my opinion, for them to carry the development of that algorithm a bit further and address the following:

  • Remove “PageRank” entirely, and replace it with something akin to “relevance rank”, which would be a temporary value determined by the relevance of a page to a particular search query.
  • Devalue links, at least partially, to remove much of the incentive for link-buying, link-wheels and other misguiding PageRank building activities.
  • Build into the algorithm a preference for pages that have implemented RDFa, to act as an incentive, assisting in furthering progress toward a Semantic Web.

Obviously, removing the benefits of link-building will affect the SEO industry a great deal. Some, that are heavily invested in link-building, may have to re-build their entire operation. Upon roll-out, it would probably create a ripple current of panic approaching tsunami proportions, as pages in the #2 position suddenly fell to #30 and were replaced by  sites that used to be on page 5.

That’s why I suspect that if Google is in fact planning such a transition, they would implement it gradually, so as to mitigate the impact somewhat. Remember that SERPs quality is their major concern, as that’s what drives their ad sales.

And since we haven’t seen a toolbar PageRank update since April, might that already be underway? Hmmmmmmm…

At least that’s the way I’d do it, if I were Schmidt.

But then, if I were Schmidt, I’d probably change my name and leave the country, too.



  1. Randy Pickard says:

    I don’t see incoming links going away as a ranking factor any time soon. As gamed as they have become, they are still the best indicator of the value the Web community place upon a site.

  2. Hi, Randy –

    Certainly, links are still the best indicator of perceived value of a site, but then, I remember before PageRank existed. When it was announced, many (if not most) believed that it was a virtual impossibility to implement. 😉

    I think that much like the horseless carriage, PageRank has outlived its usefulness. It was very beneficial to have, in its day, but we’re outgrowing it now.

    Thanks for your comment! Don’t be a stranger, okay?