One thing that generates a lot of discussion and, dare I say, something approaching superstition for internet marketers is PageRank. Those little green pixels that appear in your Google toolbar giving your website a ranking out of ten. (If you haven't got a Google Toolbar you can get one from Google.) You'll see a lot of advice out there on how to boost your pagerank, a lot of bragging from high-pagerank sites and a lot of effort exerted by low-pagerank sites to try to raise their sites into these hallowed halls.
But does it actually matter in the long run?
First, let's take a basic look at what pagerank actually is. Back in the dim, dark ages of 1998, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page presented an article at the World Wide Web Conference outlining a new way of analyzing websites based on their link relationships. They called this PageRank, and it is still at the basis of all Google's web search tools.
The idea is this:
If I link to your site, that is like me making a recommendation for your site. I'm saying your site is good. The more people you have recommending your website, the better your website must be. It's democracy in action -- so many people can't be wrong! So the first rule of pagerank says that the more recommendations you have, the higher your pagerank. But that's far too easy. Bring on rule number 2:
Rule 2 says that links from high pagerank sites will contribute more to boosting your own pagerank than links from relative nobodies.
Put it this way, who are you more likely to trust: Someone with a proven good reputation and association with other people of high repute, or someone you've just met and don't know anything about? That's a no-brainer, you'll trust the first. In a way a high pagerank is similar to a good reputation. If you've got a recommendation from someone with a good reputation, then this is going to reflect well on you too. You could get twenty recommendations from sites with a low pagerank (poor reputation), but they might not boost your pagerank as much as just two recommendations from high pagerank sites.
An additional aspect to this second rule is that Google seems to make distinctions between links that are earned and links that are bought or traded. Earned links are links from authority blogs and web communities, news coverage, Yellow page listings, user reviews, and other organic links. Links are deemed NOT to be earned if they come from distribution of articles and press releases, link farms, reciprocal links and listings on directories that exist solely for the search engines -- ie, ones that humans don't actually visit. It seems that more PR is passed through earned links than through the non-earned links. As an analogy -- You're not great when you pay someone to say you're great, or when you play "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." (See my last blog post for an example!) You're more great when someone randomly recognizes you on the street and runs after you yelling "Dude, you're great!"
The third rule of pagerank states that the benefit (the little boost to your pagerank) passed on through a link is diluted if there are many other links coming out from that page.
Imagine I have an excellent reputation, a nice high pagerank, but I am very generous with my recommendations. In fact I'm so nice, I'll recommend anything -- all you need to do is ask and you can join 10,000 other recommendations on my website. In this situation you're perhaps less likely to trust my judgement, aren't you? You'll think I'm a soft-touch. If I only had one recommendation on my site then that site I'm recommending must be pretty darn good, so it gets all the PR value I'm able to pass on.
The fourth rule of pagerank states that a link will only pass on the full wham of its pagerank once it's been in place for a while. Links come and go, you might be in favor one week and then old news the next week, but links that have been around for a long time indicate enduring value and stronger relationships, so they're more valuable and will help your pagerank more.
* Note: These "rules", as I put them, are anything but. They're just assumptions based on observations.
Taking all these things into consideration, it's relatively easy to develop a strategy for building your pagerank.
- Write articles and submit them to article sites with the proviso that people using the articles include your author's "resource box" containing a link to your site. Be careful that articles you submit are at least 25% different from articles on your website. When a search engine sees two identical sites, it will give the most credit (pagerank, search engine ranking) to the one it sees first -- that can be a bit of a gamble.
- Become an authority on a subject, or create a valuable site that people will naturally recommend to others.
- Pay someone to find links for you. Upworkers (for instance) typically charge per hour or per qualified link for this service.
- Submit to search directories.
- And so on, and so forth.
But the real question is: Does pagerank actually do anything? Or do we just get in a big flap about it because it's the most obvious thing we can actually measure when it comes to SEO?
While Google are adamant that Pagerank still forms the basis for all their web search tools, it's a smaller piece of the picture than many people realize. It's important to remember that your aim is to have your website rise in the search engine listings for your particular keywords. Got that? Tattoo it on your forehead in reverse script so you see it when you look in the mirror. Then go back to your elementary SEO and you'll see that to help your website rise in the rankings you need to do the following things:
- Ensure you're building relevant link relationships with appropriate sites
- Ensure that people linking to your site are using appropriate keywords in their link text
- Ensure that your site is suitably optimized for your keywords
So where does PR fit into this? PR is largely a reflection of the first task on that list. When you have a high PR it means you have some good links coming your way. If they're the right kind of links then they (and your PR) might help you in your search engine rankings, but it's just one part of the picture. Google has many other considerations when it figures out your ranking, and you shouldn't focus on your Pagerank at the expense of these other things.
Where PR is useful is as leverage for building new link relationships. People will be much more willing to swap links with a PR6 site than a PR1 site, because that will benefit their PR as well. Since they value your association, your link partners will also be more willing to do as you ask, for example: link using certain text, or link from certain pages. So a high PR can turn into high search engine rankings, but indirectly. It helps you to get good links from good sites. If you're just about collecting the little green pixels and you don't pay attention to the quality and relevancy of these links, however, they're not going to help you VERY much.
And at end of the day, you don't really need PR for getting good links either. Particularly if you're very charming, or your site is particularly good. If you're providing an excellent resource, or you have a service, gimmick, tool or widget that people love, you're going to find yourself attracting links and building that PR regardless.
The main point I'm trying to make is that PR is only one piece in a much more complicated picture, and it's certainly not the be all and end all for your search engine rankings. Testament to this fact is that it's by no means uncommon to see sites with low PR beating high PR sites in the search engines. What is important is that you take a whole-picture approach to your search engine optimization, and view PR as simply a reflection of the strength of the links to your site. If you focus on the rest of your SEO strategy, then your PR should fall nicely into place as well.
Ok guys, last night in Vegas, how should I spend it?
- Sit in the hotel, order room service and watch television
- Go catch an Elvis inpersonator and pick up some moves
- Donate some cash to the casinos
- Umm... Get married?