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What is Google PageRank?

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What is Google PageRank?

2008-10-14 21:15:58
page rank

One thing that generates a lot of discussion and, dare we say, something approaching superstition amongst Internet marketers is Google's PageRank - that little item in the Google Toolbar that ranks your website out of ten (if you haven't got a Google Toolbar you can get it here). 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.

What is PageRank?

Back in the dim, dark ages of the internet, (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 (based, believe it or not, on Larry Page's surname, not for the fact that it ranks web pages), and it still forms the basis for Google's search algorithms.

The fundamental idea of PageRank is: if we link to your site, that is like us making a recommendation for your site. We're saying your site is good. The more people you have recommending your website, the better your website must be. It's democracy in action — many people can't be wrong! 

Our Guide to PageRank

These are some of our observations and recommendations when it comes to working with PageRank and things we've found that have worked for us, or have shown up in our tests.


The first and, perhaps, most obvious aspect, of PageRank is that the more recommendations you have from unique sites, the more it will affect your own PageRank.

Backlinks from High PR Sites

Links from high PageRank sites will contribute more to boosting your own PageRank than links from relative nobodies.

In real life, you're more likely to trust someone with a good reputation and association with outer people of high repute than you are to trust someone you've just met and don't know anything about. PageRank runs in a similar fashion - if you've got a recommendation from someone with a good reputation, then this will 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.

Link Dilution

From our observations, the benefit passed on through a link is diluted if there are many other links coming out from that page. 

Imagine, for example, a site with an excellent reputation (and high PageRank) but is altogether too generous with their own recommendations; so generous, in fact, that they'll recommend just about anything. If all you need to do is ask to join the 10,000 other recommendations on the website, then the benefit that their page would normally pass on is diluted between the 10,000 other links, reducing just about any effectiveness to zero, since the quality of the recommendations from that page are less trustworthy.

In contrast, if you were the only link recommended by that website, the quality of the recommendation means more, so the PageRank effect is stronger.


From what we can tell, a link will only pass on the full value 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.

Does it Matter?

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. In fact, it's actually only one of about 200 factors that Google uses to evaluate the relevance of your site.

It's important to remember that your aim is to have your website rise in the search engine listings for your particular keywords. Let us reemphasize: your aim is to have your website rise in the search engine listings for your particular keywords. Remember, from elementary SEO, 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.

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 point is: 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.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson we took a look at what PageRank is and how much it actually affects your SEO. The points we covered include:

  • PageRank is an algorithm that determines "recommendations" of your site from other sites
  • More recommendations from unique sites means improved affect on PageRank
  • A few backlinks from High PR sites are generally better than a lot of links from low PR sites
  • A link from  a page which only makes one or two recommendations is better than from a page that makes hundreds or thousands
  • A backlink that has been around for a while is more effective

Also, remember PageRank is only one SEO factor, and only one of about 200 factors Google uses to evaluate your web page, so do not get too hung up on trying to boost your PageRank - doing so could mean you're overinvesting time in a technique which is only part of the whole SEO equation.


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