"People in the know are no longer chasing after a higher Toolbar PR.," said SEO Company's Bob Mutch. "The emphasis has shifted to getting links from relevant sites that are in DMOZ and Yahoo directories, press releases, links in news sites, and the highly prized .gov and .edu links."

Mutch went on to pose two theories as to why PR has dropped, as in the past four PR exports.

"The main theory is that Google has changed the relationship scale between Real PR and Toolbar PR so that the 0 to 10 toolbar PR scale shows a lower value for the same Real PR value a Webpage has. This theory holds that this is being done to discourage people from acquiring links based strictly on the Toolbar PR value," he said.

"The other theory is that as there are more pages in the Google index, the relationship scale between Real PR and Toolbar PR changes due to the increase of the pages in the index. With the increase of pages it takes higher Real PR to get the same Toolbar PR."

SEO professional Andy Hagans downplays the importance of PageRank, placing more emphasis on link building.

"With each new Google update, it is apparent that PageRank counts for less, while other factors (trust, age, authority links) count for more," said Hagans.

"Really, the importance of the green pixels is now negligible, aside from a very rough indication of a site's link popularity and assurance that it isn't banned in Google. But as long as Google continues to show PageRank in the toolbar, it will never ‘die' in the public consciousness."

At Submitawebsite Inc., we really don't put a whole lot of emphasis on PageRank for most clients, as different industries have different website popularity requirements needed to attain high search engine rankings. In our industry, the requirements to attain top rankings are very high, whereas a website looking to sell electrical semi-conductors does not need to be as concerned about having thousands of back-links, or multiple high PR sites pointing to them.

For us, PageRank is a good indicator of a website's online value as seen by Google, but our concerns for a website with regards to assisting them with quality white-hat Natural Search consulting rely more in the area of traditional best practice SEO recommendations, unique content creation, press release and article distribution, and other forms of white-hat link building. PageRank has simply taken a backseat in the minds of our staff and clients.

It seems that the industry consensus is that PageRank really has taken a back seat, at least within the white-hat community, and that one should not be too concerned about their new PageRank score. Using PageRank as a measurement of a website's popularity in the search engines still makes sense, and if a site has PageRank it will likely help your rankings if it links to you, especially if the website has high PageRank. Based on my read, and the read of the top players in the industry, website owners and webmasters need to stay focused on valuable content and being linked with authority sites. PageRank, really at the end of the day is just the icing on the cake.

At the same time, understanding that PageRank doesn't have the same value as it once did, it can still be used for strategic link development.

"Instead of chasing PageRank I like to find the low PageRank sites that rank well in the search results," says SEOBook author Aaron Wall. "What links do they have? Why are they ranking so well? If you get the types of links that those sites have, and if you have a compelling website that other sites actually want to link to the PageRank will naturally fall into place without you developing a wonky link profile trying to artificially boost your PageRank."

Veteran link building expert, Eric Ward, agrees that trust and link building, not chasing PageRank, are the most important parts of the search strategy.

"My link building efforts are driven by subject affinity, and trust--the trust that the user will have for the site the link appears on," said Ward.

"You do not have to have a bunch of (or for that matter ANY) high PageRank links in order to rank well for a specific search phrase (in more niche markets). You need to have a handful of perfectly placed subject specific trusted links. This is the core reason why I love but don't worry about PageRank."

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This article contributed to and edited by Jason Lee Miller