Almost anyone who owns a website is familiar with the term Google PageRank. This is a patented measure of a Web page which according to the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, measures the authority of any given Web page. This measure is one of many elements in the Google search algorithm and many believe it to be perhaps the most important.
PageRank is calculated from the number of hyperlinks that are pointing towards the given webpage. When no one knew about this concept, it probably worked very well as a reliable measure of a Web page. Since then with all the publicity over the years, many have tried to make their Web pages more visible by creating as many links as they can.
Google must have been aware that by revealing this notion, human nature would immediately take actions that would render it null and void. Yet over the years they have continued to vaunt its relevance and indeed it has become part of the brand concept of Google search.
Why would Google keep this damaged concept as part of its branding. I believe it is because Google is treating PageRank as chaff.
Chaff has several meanings
Chaff Is an old English term meaning a husk, pod or shell. From that, it is often used as a term for waste. Clearly that meaning for chaff is far from what ever Google thinks of PageRank.
Chaff also means to tease good-naturedly. Google has certainly played some tricks over the years to avoid search engine optimization (SEO) experts knowing too much of how its algorithms are working. At times this has resulted in some strong emotions among these experts that would go far beyond what ever they were feeling if they were being teased good-naturedly.
The possibility that I am discussing here is covered by another meaning of chaff.
Chaff as countermeasure
If this is a new term for you, then Wikipedia has a good explanation:
Chaff as countermeasure
Chaff, originally called Window by the British, and Düppel by the Second World War era German Luftwaffe (from the Berlin suburb where it was first developed), is a radar countermeasure in which aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminium, metallized glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of secondary targets on radar screens or swamps the screen with multiple returns.
This cloud would then hide the real movements of the aircraft. Here is a picture from the Second World War of an Avro Lancaster dropping Window (the crescent-shaped white cloud on the left of the picture) from within the accompanying bomber stream.
This technique of using chaff to hide the real intentions and movements of aircraft is still in use. Here is a picture of fighter aircraft spreading chaff.
Perhaps Google is using PageRank in a similar way to draw the attention of SEO experts. The chaff cloud is made even larger by what they call complex updates with exotic names such as Panda and Penguin. While the experts are trying to see and understand the movement behind the PageRank chaff, they have little time or desire to look for other search mechanisms.
How Are SEO Experts Reacting To This Chaff?
This chaff is working admirably in drawing the attention of the SEO experts. The resulting confusion leads to such headlines as that in the Guardian, SEO is still vital for businesses today, but its long-term future looks doubtful. That is according to Matt Owen, head of UK Agency, Global SEO and Social Media at Jellyfish.
In a similar vein, Pete Prestipino asked whether we should all Give Up the SEO Dream.
SEO isn’t dead, but it is dying. The trouble with SEO is that there are no rules – and if you’ve ever played a game without rules (or a game with vague and ever-changing rules, just like those put forth by the search engines) then you know how futile any attempt at “winning” can be. One minute you’re in – the next you’re out (sigh). Your business should not exist in a commercial landscape like that.
… and that attitude is perhaps exactly what Google hoped to see.
What is Google Doing Behind The Chaff
Google would like website owners to forget that search engines exist and design content that will work well for the human visitors to any website. That is the kind of Internet world they wish to work in. Their goal is to present the most relevant Web pages when someone types out a search query. If all the SEO experts who would try to promote their own Web page are thrown off course by the PageRank chaff, so much the better.
That is not to say that SEO experts cannot be useful. It is very possible for any given Web page to have weak features or even errors that would prevent it being picked up by a search query. Google does give advice from time to time on what factors might cause this. The SEO experts can then use such guidance to remove obstacles that the given Web page might face.