What Is Google PageRank and Why Does It Matter

If you are writing content that is getting published on the internet then it is imperative that you understand the concept of Google PageRank.   By understanding how it works it can help you get more people to see your content and read your articles by getting an article to rank higher in Google.   It also helps you understand the underlying motivation behind certain freelance writing clients.  It helps you understand why they are asking for things that seem out of the ordinary.  So let me explain what Google PageRank is and how you get it.

Google PageRank is a global ranking of all web pages, regardless of their content, based solely on their location within the web’s graph structure.  Google PageRank is a numerical value that Google assigns to every single page it knows about on the internet.   A page doesn’t necessarily mean it is an article style page.  The page could be any page on the internet.  It could be a video on YouTube.  That is considered a page.  It could be an image or photo that is uploaded on a website.  Most of them have their own page.   It could be a podcast MP3 file.  That would be a page.    Basically, Google finds pages by looking for URL’s.   When it finds a new URL, it counts the page that this URL points to.   So any page that has a URL pointing to it from somewhere is a page that could be counted and assigned a PageRank.

Google PageRank Formula

This numerical value, called PageRank, signifies how important that page is in the eyes of the Google PageRank Algorithm.  The more PageRank a page has, the more important the Google Algorithm thinks that page is.  

If you look at the mathematical formula for PageRank it is very confusing.   There is a simpler way of looking at it.

It works kind of like a popularity vote.   Each page gets a chance to vote for other pages.  Each page casts votes for other pages by linking to them.   Each page only has so much voting power.  That amount equals however much PageRank that page has.  So if it has more PageRank then it has more voting power.

Each page’s voting power gets divided up between the pages it links out to.   So if a page links out to more than one other page, then it’s voting PageRank is split between those outgoing links.  In the original PageRank algorithm (circa 1998), Google split this PageRank evenly among the outbound links on a page.  Since then Google has tweaked the original algorithm.  It is no longer believed that they split that voting power up evenly.  Google has other ways of determining what percentage of voting power each link should have.  We will discuss more of that later on.

Each new page that Google discovers on the internet gets assigned an arbitrary amount of PageRank to start with.   Plus it gets more PageRank from any page that links to it.  So if it has lots of links from low PageRank pages, then the total amount of PageRank is going to go up.  Or, if it had one link from a higher PageRank page it is possible that its PageRank could go up a lot.   If it had lots of links from lots of higher PageRank pages then its PageRank would definitely go up a lot.  Each regular hyperlink passes a percentage of its PageRank to the page it points to.   So you can think of PageRank as being like water that flows through links from page to page on the internet.  Some pages have a lot of water to spread to other pages.  Some pages have very little.


Regular Hyperlinks vs. Nofollow Hyperlinks

rel = nofollow link

Another really important concept for you to understand is the difference between a normal hyperlink and a nofollow hyperlink.   A normal link that is created from one website to another one is what we refer to as a regular hyperlink.

There is an attribute that can be added to a link to make that link a “nofollow” link.  That attribute looks like this <rel=”nofollow”> if you look at the HTML for the link.

If a person makes the link “Nofollow” then that link does not pass PageRank.  Therefore, the link is considered useless in terms of influencing rankings in Google.  

It is important to understand this because many websites now use those links in certain situations.  For example, if a website links out to another website as part of a paid advertisement, Google expects that website to make the link Nofollow.   If they don’t make it nofollow and Google catches them not making it nofollow, then Google might choose to remove the PageRank from the outbound links on that website.   So every outbound link on that site could have its PageRank nullified because of that infraction.

Regular links on the internet, especially links from high PageRank pages, are kind of like “money” on the internet.  They are like a currency of their own.  They are valuable to website owners because they help their website rank higher and get more traffic.

You can change settings in your web browser or download third party tools that will show you when a link has been “nofollowed”.   You should have one of these tools on your computer so you can tell when that happens.  It is important to know about.



Measuring PageRank

The actual and truthful amount of PageRank each page has and the amount of PageRank being passed from one page to another is something that is only known to the top people at Google.  They don’t reveal that information to the general public or even to most of their employees.  It is a closely guarded company secret only known to a limited number of Google employees.

However, Google does give the general public a basic idea of how much PageRank a page has.  They created a 10 point rating scale that they show you if you have the Google Toolbar installed in your web browser.  The scale goes from zero to ten.  The highest rating a page can achieve is 10.  The lowest is zero.   The vast majority of pages on the internet are rated at the zero level on the toolbar scale.  

It would take lots of links from PageRank zero pages all pointing to one page for that page’s PageRank to increase on the scale even by one point.   The exact number is impossible to know for sure unless we can’t tell exactly how much PageRank each page has.   But remember that the Google PR scale is an approximation.   You could have two PR0 pages where one page has quite a bit more PageRank than the other one.   You could have one page that is something like 0.50 PageRank and another that is 0.95 PageRank.  The second page has almost twice the amount of PageRank as the first page.

It is estimated that the amount of PageRank it takes to move up on the scale goes up by a factor of about 6.  So it requires about 6 times as much PageRank to move up one more notch on the scale.  This factor of 6 is an approximation that is used to explain a point.  That number is not accurate.   Third party analysts have determined it is actually even harder than that as you go up the scale.   In order to go from PageRank 7 to PageRank 8 it is supposedly more like a factor of 8 times or somewhere thereabouts.



Third Party Tools For Measuring PageRank

SEO Quake Toolbar PageRank

There are other tools for approximately measuring the amount of PageRank each page has.   One really popular tool is a free downloadable toolbar called SEOQuake.   You can also just go to Google and search for “PageRank toolbar for xxxxxxx” where the x represents whatever browser you like to use.

Summary of what PageRank (PR ) really is:

  • PR is a numerical value calculated for every single page that Google knows about on the internet.  PR is assigned to each individual page and not to a website as a whole.  The PageRank of the link source page is all that matters when it comes to PageRank.
  • PR is simply a mathematical representation of the value of an outbound link from that page.
  • The PR value you see on the Google Toolbar is not the same as the PR value that Google uses in its computations.  The value Google uses in its computations is a lot more precise.  The toolbar value is simply an approximate scale of the value and is somewhat outdated.
  • PR juice is divided by the total number of outbound links on a page, but not divided evenly.
  • The PR scale is not linear.  The scale is skewed.  Each move up the scale represents an increase in power by a factor of about 6.  So a PR4 link would be about six times more powerful than a PR3 link assuming every other factor was equal.
  • PR is a live value that is constantly changing.  That means PR changes instantly as soon as Google discovers a new link to your page.  The PR you see in the toolbar is only updated once every few months at the most.  It is only an approximation and is occasionally very inaccurate.



Other interesting thoughts about PageRank

  • The flow of PageRank across the internet changes from moment to moment because there are new pages and new links being introduced into the formula every second of every day.  Every single new page alters the PR value of every existing page on a very small level.  Over a period of time, these small incremental changes add up.  This is why you will see the PR values drop for some pages over time.  They drop because that page hasn’t acquired new PR as fast as it has lost it.
  • If a web page doesn’t continually acquire new links over a period of time it will lose PR.  That happens because PR is relative.  It is a relative representation of the inbound link structure of that page compared to every other single page on the internet that Google knows about.
  • A page cannot lose PR through its outbound links.  Pages appear to give away their PR but they don’t actually do that.  This appears to happen because for every outbound link that points to an external website, the page has less juice to spread amongst its own website.  That is why it adding a bunch of outbound links to other websites will cause the PR of your site to drop.  For every link leaving your site, you decrease the value of your own existing links pointing to your own existing pages.
  • You can increase the PR of the pages on your own website by creating more links on your site that point to other pages on your own site.  This is a mathematical phenomenon because you are spreading more juice around to your own pages thereby decreasing the value of the outbound links to other websites.  You see this on sites like Wikipedia.com.  They retain a lot of PR for themselves by adding a ton of links to other pages on their own site.
  • Every single page in Google’s index has some PR.  It might be too low to measure on the PR toolbar scale, but it does have some PR.
  • PageRank can be faked.  It is possible for a person to fake how much PageRank a page has.  So beware of link sellers who are “selling” high PageRank links for very little money.  Chances are that the PageRank is fake.  The actual PageRank is likely to be zero on the toolbar scale.
  • The original PageRank algorithm has been modified and improved upon so that more PageRank flows through certain links compared to other links.   Pages are split up into blocks of content and different PageRank values pass through the links based on the physical location of those content blocks and also based on the physical location of the link inside each content block.  So links from the main body of content on a page pass more PageRank.  And also, links higher up in the content block itself (higher in the article) pass more PageRank as long as they are regular links that don’t have Nofollow attribute assigned to them.



Why Does PageRank Matter At All?

  • PR matters because Google still uses it to determine how important links are.
  • High PR pages can be very valuable sources of links.   So knowing how much PageRank a page has can be helpful in figuring out which links are worth more for rankings.
  • Higher PR pages usually but not always have other qualities that help to increase the Google ranking of other pages.
  • It allows us to approximate how much value the Google Algorithm thinks a page’s links have.
  • PageRank is a ranking factor inside the Google Algorithm itself.
  • Advertisers still consider PageRank as a measure of value for advertising on a website.  Therefore, as a writer, it is important to understand that many people still value it.



So Why Does Everyone Say To Ignore PageRank?

The main reason why so many people, even SEO people, say to ignore PageRank is because the value of PageRank that you see in the Google Toolbar does not correlate well with the way pages rank in the search engine.   If it mattered more, then you would expect higher PageRank pages to outrank lower PageRank pages more than they do now.   Yet right now, you can still see many PageRank zero pages ranking higher than other pages with PageRank.

Don’t let that fool you though.  The reason those lower PageRank pages are outranking the higher PageRank pages is because those lower PR pages are more relevant or because those lower PR pages have been published on a website that has built up a lot of authority.   If a domain (website) has enough built up authority and trust in Google’s eyes, then any page published on that website is going to rank really well for whatever keywords it is relevant for.

Make no mistake though, PageRank is still important.  There are more important things than PageRank (like relevance), but PageRank is still very important when competing for highly competitive keywords.  Getting links from pages with more PageRank will help you rank higher faster than getting links from pages with very little PageRank.

The original Google PageRank algorithm does not matter so much anymore.  However, the newer modified versions of it like Topic Sensitive PageRank, Block Level PageRank and Personalized PageRank are based on it and they do matter a lot.   And other useful algorithms like CheiRank, TrustRank and Anti-TrustRank are easier to understand if you understand how the original PageRank algorithm works.

So if you combine your understanding of the original PageRank algorithm along with other factors, it becomes an exceptionally useful tool for understanding how to get pages ranked higher in Google.   You won’t become good at doing search engine optimization unless you understand that original Google formula well.  It is definitely worth your time to study up on.

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