What’s the deal with PageRank? Should you panic over every little change in your PageRank scores? Or do you even need to focus on increasing your PageRank?
Although those are all good questions that you have, before I dive into the Google PageRank (PR) metrics, let’s look at exactly what PageRank is and how it’s gained or lost. By understanding how PageRank is calculated, you can see its specific limitations in the evolving world of search as well as what it can still be used to measure effectively.
What is PageRank?
As far as a working definition of PageRank goes, you don’t need to look any further than Google’s own Technology Overview page, which talks about PageRank in the following way:
When Google was founded, one key innovation was PageRank, a technology that determined the “importance” of a webpage by looking at what other pages link to it, as well as other data.
Basically PageRank, which was also named after Google’s co-founder Larry Page, assigns a score to every page in its index, based on the number of websites linking to it and the relative quality of these links. PageRank scores are reported on a 0-10 scale, with PR0 being the lowest indexed rank and PR10 being the highest.
If you have a new website, your PR will typically be N/A until a PageRank update happens.
If you are wondering how PageRank is exactly determined, according to PageRank Explained, the equation used to calculate PageRank is likely a version of the following formula:
PR(A) = (1-d) + d(PR(t1)/C(t1) + … + PR(tn)/C(tn))
The formula above is the original equation that was published when Google was first developing the PageRank metric, so although it’s probably gone through a lot of changes over the years, the base variables are probably still similar.
While you probably don’t care how it’s calculated, the important conclusion to draw is that links coming from a PR3 site with 5 outbound links would be more valuable than links coming from a PR5 site with 1,000 outbound links.
The other thing to note about PageRank is that it operates on a logarithmic scale. This means that the difference between a PR0 ranking and a PR1 ranking isn’t the same as the difference between a PR7 site and a PR8 site. This image below by Elliance should give you a good understanding of how it works.
How often is PageRank updated?
In 2008, there were 5 PageRank updates. There were 5 in 2009, 1 in 2010, and so far 3 in 2011. Although historically it’s updated a few times a year in the toolbar, it’s actually constantly being updated on Google’s end.
The reason Google doesn’t want to show you your new Google PR score on a daily basis is because they don’t want you to obsess about it. They want you to be focusing on creating a site that doesn’t just provide value to people, but also solves problems.
So, whether you have a new site or an old site, it’s good for you to realize that your PageRank score is being updated and that you shouldn’t focus on what the toolbar is reporting. Instead, you should focus on your marketing efforts to grow your business.
Is PageRank important?
PageRank does not correlate that strongly with the search engine results placement. Just because you have a high PageRank doesn’t automatically guarantee you a high placement on Google. Conversely, if you rank really well on Google, it doesn’t guarantee you a high PageRank.
If you look at the chart below, it explains the science behind ranking correlations:
SEOmoz conducted a study in which it analyzed the search results for 4,000 keyword phrases and compared the sites that appeared in these SERPs with their individual PageRank scores. If the two variables were perfectly correlated, with the highest PageRank pages being first on SERPs, the correlation would be 1.00. But as you can see from the graph, the correlation between rankings and PR in Google’s SERPs was barely .20.
The overall result of the study was that Google’s PageRank is slightly correlated with their rankings as well as with the rankings of other major search engines.
While it’s true that PageRank played a huge role in Google’s ranking algorithm in the past, its role today clearly isn’t as important due, in large part, to the fact that plenty of other ranking factors have been introduced since the launch of PageRank. As more ranking factors are introduced, their relative weight must get smaller as each represents a smaller percentage of a site’s total score.
For example, when PageRank was first launched, it was one of maybe a few dozen factors that were considered by Google’s ranking algorithm. Today, however, the algorithm considers more than 200 different variables, decreasing the importance of each single ranking factor significantly.
My PageRank experience
I own dozens of sites, and they all have different PRs. Some of the sites I own have PR as low as 3, while others as high as 8. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that five or so years ago, the sites that had really high PageRanks did well in Google. Sadly, it isn’t the case anymore.
It could have been the way I was increasing my PageRank as I was getting sites like TechCrunch and all of Gawker Media to link to my blog from every one of their pages through a business development deal I did with them (no money was exchanged). Doing this not only drove good traffic to my site, but it typically got my site to a PageRank of at least 7, if not 8. After years of doing this and realizing that I wasn’t really ranking higher on search engines by boosting my PR and that my traffic wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds, I went back to old school link building to increase my traffic.
I personally don’t focus on PageRank anymore. Instead, I focus on:
- Social media traffic – as your social media traffic increases, you’ll typically get more links coming to your site. In the long run, you’ll rank better.
- Create good content – if you have good content that is unique, people will find out about your website and link to it.
- Clean code – if your website code isn’t search engine friendly, you won’t rank that well. From meta tags to URL structures, simple things can have a big impact on your traffic. For example, by just tweaking TechCrunch’s meta description and title tags, I was able to increase its search engine traffic by over 30%.
- Time – SEO is no longer a quick game in which you can rank at the top of search engines without putting in the time and effort. Don’t focus on growing too fast. Be patient. Build quality links instead of going for quantity, and just give them time to kick in.
- Site authority – it’s all about the long tail. If you want to get millions of visitors to your website, you can’t just focus on ranking for a few keywords. You have to rank for thousands, if not millions. Build links to your internal pages, and you’ll notice that your overall site will get a higher authority rank and will rank better across the board.
Based on this information, it would be easy to assume that PageRank doesn’t matter as much anymore. And, in some ways, it doesn’t. Having a higher PageRank isn’t going to get you ranked higher in the search engine results, which means that working towards high PR isn’t going to bring in more website traffic or, consequently, more sales. From the standpoint of improving the metrics that actually make a difference for your site, it’s true that PageRank doesn’t matter much anymore.
Susan Moskwa, a Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google, sums up this idea nicely in a post on the Google Webmaster Central blog:
I posit that none of us truly care about PageRank as an end goal. PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc.
However, this doesn’t mean that PageRank is totally worthless. There are two areas in which PageRank still plays an important role:
- The way PageRank contributes to your site’s indexing frequency.
- Its use as an indicator of penalties from bad back-linking strategies.
Let me elaborate on the first point first. PageRank plays a role in determining how often your site is re-indexed. If your site has high PageRank, Google considers it to be more important and worthy of being crawled, and it is analyzed more often than a lower PR site. Being crawled more frequently can lead to content being ranked in the search engines more quickly. So, for this reason, having a high PageRank is still important.
Now to the second point. PageRank has long been used by Google as a warning shot to penalize website owners who are using linking strategy that violates Google’s Terms of Service. Recently, both Forbes.com and JC Penney suffered high profile penalties for using paid inbound links to boost their PageRank unnaturally or for selling them.
So, with regards to our original question about whether or not PageRank matters anymore, the answer is yes…and no. While focusing on improving your PageRank isn’t going to correlate with better Google rankings directly, I wouldn’t recommend abandoning it entirely.
If you see a dramatic downward shift in your PageRank, take a good, hard look at the SEO strategies you’re using. If your number continues to increase gradually, it’s a smooth sailing for you.
Do you think PageRank matters?