After what felt like a long hibernation period, Google has recently made at least a partial PageRank update of the visible or public PageRank, often referred to as Toolbar PageRank. And boy was it noticed--not so much with the update but with the PageRank drops targeted at sites that were buying and/or selling text links.
A lot has been said already by many who have a much deeper understanding and forecast this event. What I find particularly interesting is how PageRank has become a form of currency, yet who can say what precisely that value is? Of course, I guess that is true of currency in general. Ironically, this currency is probably unknown to the majority of Web users. After all, do your family and friends outside the industry know what PageRank is? Do they even care? And more importantly, does it affect which sites they frequent?
PageRank is especially challenging since it is hard to even arrive at a consensus within the industry. Does it impact rankings? If so, by how much? Is it merely a visual representation of other signals? And is Toolbar PageRank any real indicator of true PageRank? All good questions. Like many things related to SEO and rankings, we must accept that we may never have a completely, air-tight answer. It seems that one can always point to an example that appears to defy the answers, but perhaps that is exactly how Google likes it.
If you have been buying or selling text links and seen your PageRank drop, then you should turn to your analytics program or log stats to see if any noticeable changes appear there. If you have been tracking keyword ranking, you should check that as well to see what changes, if any, appear there. And hopefully you'll share your results with the rest of us.
At least for the time being, if PageRank rating is at all important to you, I'd stay away from buying or selling text links. Maybe this will blow over, maybe not. Unless detecting paid linking can be truly automated and handled algorithmically though, it's hard to imagine a scalable way of handling this long term. But maybe Google's hope is that by targeting highly visible sites and getting the industry talking about it, many sites will fall into line on their own out of the fear of repercussions.
As a result of all this, Google has perhaps just raised the cost of PageRank-based links. Certainly, links bought will now have to appear completely natural without any hint of commercial motivation. In this way, we can expect to see the black market of PageRank selling to grow and to see the cost of PageRank-based links to reach all-new levels.
For the rest of us, this will only reinforce good old SEO practices. Develop great content that authority sites will want to link to. Participate within your online community not only as a way to develop links, but to interact with your target audience. Make social media part of your online plan. After all, what's better than top rankings but being so well known for whatever it is you want to be known that people go directly to your site to begin with?
And clearly, as we can see from Google Trends reporting, Google PageRank falling does at least create quite a buzz.