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I've recently turned to thinking it's merely an indicator of the strength of the internal linking structure of a site, but if external links continue to "pass PR" as seems to be the common perception, maybe it goes beyond this. Many people still seem to consider it important in linking strategies too.
I'd be interested in the *current* consensus of the Google Watching community as to what it really means these days and where it can be considered, if at all, useful?
I occasionally glance at PR whern woking to understand backlink strength for a site. For all its limitations, TBPR is a data point that can be modestly helprful. For me, the TBPR number is something like a daily horoscope in the newspaper. It's mostly for entertainment purposes, but because I have some knowledge of astrology, I can sometimes tweeze out a helpful insight from it.
Now there are tweaks and changes on a nearly daily basis, and a situation that Google calls everflux. The components of today's algorithm are installed with "dials" that can be tuned up and down, even when the core math of the algorithm remains the same. It's not a situation very conducive to naming updates.
Even so, there have been a few named updates since Florida - usually when Google confirms through one of their spokesmen that something major has changed. The last we had anything like that was over a year ago with the long and rolling Jagger Update [webmasterworld.com] that seemed to take forever to settle down, and prepared the way for the new Big Daddy infrastructure. Updates Allegra [webmasterworld.com] and Bourbon [webmasterworld.com] were some interim examples.
Used to be, through Update Florida, that PR was updated with the monthly new rankings. This made new PR a big deal for webmasters. But since the Florida Update, Google has a system in place that updates their "real" PR continually for their internal ranking purposes. They only export PR numbers to the toolbar for us mortals to see about 4 times a year, usually a historical snapshot of PR even when they do this. This all makes a PR Update pretty much a non-event.
[edited by: tedster at 2:43 am (utc) on May 4, 2007]
For all its limitations, TBPR is a data point that can be modestly helpful.
I think that TBPR had gotten to be so widely misinterpreted that it has a worse rep than it deserves. It's one metric among many. How is "PageRank 6" any worse a metric than "two thousand backlinks?" In my book, "PR6" is probably a better description of something, though, by itself, it doesn't mean much.
TBPR, stepped in big integer steps and updated only 4 or 5 times a year, is a very rough indication of actual PageRank, which is continuous and is constantly recomputed. TBPR is often manipulated by those who sell it and coveted by those who buy it. PageRank itself doesn't factor in things like Local Rank, TrustRank, and theming.
Those who talk about the "PageRank of a link" often don't distinguish between the PageRank of the home page of a site and the PageRank of the linking page. They also don't consider the number of outbounds on the link-source page, or what the page is about. And they don't consider the sources of the inbounds to the page... or the downstream sources of the inbounds to those sources.
I've seen discussions of competitive rankings where the word "relevance" was never mentioned, but PageRank was dismissed because a lower PR page was beating a higher PR page. This kind of misunderstanding added to the distrust of PageRank among those who didn't think much further than the number in the Toolbar.
By itself, PR doesn't say much about ranking potential... but, all other things being equal (which is, of course, impossible ;) ), I'd pick a high PR inbound over a low PR inbound any day. But I also would not blindly chase links for the sake of PageRank. Those who have are the ones that have given it a bad name.
[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 3:36 am (utc) on May 4, 2007]