Unless you’ve been occupying some disconnected space where the only thing that could be accurately described as ‘digital’ are the fingers of your hand, you’ll know that search giant Google has been very busy of late. September the 26th 2013 saw them come clean and admit that they have been using an updated algorithm to rank sites – although those with their wires in the right sockets had been speculating whether something was afoot for several months before. As it transpired they were right – according to sources at Google, “Hummingbird” had been operational since the end of August.
As with all updates there were winners and losers, and opinions about whether Google’s latest move was the definitive coup de maître or the path to blazing obscurity were largely dependent on what happened to companies after the change. After all, with the corporation starting to push hard on the quality angle, SEO experts have been speculating about whether the traditional method of increasing ranking exposure through back links has finally run out of road.
So is it the end of PageRank? Not quite…
Breaking the links
In essence, PageRank was – and is – all about back link pressure. The number of good quality links that a site has, the higher it ranks in a list of search results. In simple terms, the site or blog is attributed a value between 0 and 10 and the higher on the scale it reaches, the more prominent its ranking is likely to be. All well and good, but Hummingbird has left a few digital marketing plans that looked to have covered all bases in danger of sinking in the digital quicksand. The reason? It all comes down to the potentially tongue-twisting concept of authorial authority. Google have shifted their focus to start rewarding those that are prepared to write website copy that’s something more than just virtual wallpaper. If you want better results, you need the quality to accompany it. Social has a role to play in this too – the more likes you garner on a networking site like Facebook, the more Hummingbird will factor this into your final position.
Is SEO/PageRank dead?
It’s important to be clear on one point: Hummingbird is a big update, indeed Google’s chief search guru, Amit Singhal, is on record as saying that he thinks 2001 was the last time the algorithm was so manifestly tweaked. Despite this, reports of the demise of PageRank are grossly exaggerated. As far as Google is concerned, the path to search ranking glory is still the same. Invest in quality content that has genuine reason to exist and meets the ‘excite, inform and entertain’ criteria. Try and develop a marketing that plan that allows plenty of space to generate high quality, authoritative back links that avoid black hat techniques and don’t settle for low grade pap that does nothing but clog up cyberspace.
The landscape of the future
It could be that PageRank no longer has a role to play in a post Hummingbird world, but at present nothing has been announced and neither, it seems, is it likely to be. A recent tweet by Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts suggested that he doesn’t expect an update to PageRank any time before next year. What that will be and what form it will take is an unknown, as is how much value backlinks will ultimately be given in the mix. For digital marketers, businesses and those with a vested interest in SEO, the very fact that PageRank is still being mentioned in despatches should serve to allay any immediate concerns. For now it seems that the smart money is in continuing to develop a blended marketing strategy that emphasises quality backlinks but gives extra weight to razor-sharp content.