*After months of waiting webmasters are excited to finally see the Google toolbar PageRank update. Now, take it easy. And here’s why…*
The notion of PageRank is quite controversial and one greatly misinterpreted across the web community. Even though it was invented more than a decade ago (1999) and named after Google’s co-founder Larry Page, it is still massively appearing in forums, tweets, blogs and all sorts of on-line conversations about SEO and web design. In this post I will try to explain its actual value for web-site owners, how it influences rankings as well as present some good (if not better) alternatives.
Google Ranking Algorithm Basics
First of all it needs to be stressed that PageRank is associated with pages, NOT with websites. Each page of any given site has a unique PageRank value, which is a metric Google uses in order to work out importance. All pages in the web have a unique PageRank value which is stored in Google’s databases each time a page is crawled.
Each time we perform a search, Google’s algorithm will select the most relevant pages that contain the word(s) we’re searching for. Then, these pages will be ordered according to their PageRank value so the highest (relevant) PageRank page will appear first etc. PageRank is entirely an indication of a page’s importance, thus that could be increased just by increasing its PageRank.
How Come Sites With Low PageRank Ranking High?
The aforementioned concept of PageRank should not be confused with the PageRank we see in our browser’s toolbars; this is called Toolbar PageRank and isn’t the actual PageRank value Google are storing in their database which will be used by their algorithm. There are several reasons for that:
- By not making public the real PageRank value, Google can ensure that SEOs won’t reverse engineer their algorithm completely. That would be catastrophic for their search engine as the results would be easily manipulated once people would figure out what works and what doesn’t just by trying things out, observing the reaction of the PageRank value in their browser.
- Toolbar PageRank is being updated infrequently. Again, that is deliberate so user’s wouldn’t be easily aware of the current PageRank on a given page. Again, that is for Google’s own security against reverse engineering.
- Real PageRank is logarithmic, not linear. That means that page with tool PageRank of 4 isn’t two times more importance compared to a page of tool PageRank of 2. Some SEOs have estimated that the actual PageRank used by Google has a logarithmic base of 5 or 6. (link). That brings us to the next point.
- A typical toolbar PageRank value corresponds to a wide range of real values. That means that not all toolbar PageRank of 3 sites have the same PageRank value and these values can vary greatly.
All these explain why sites with lower toolbar PageRank can appear higher in Google’s SERPs. So, what does all that practically mean?
In my experience there are three major misconceptions about toolbar PageRank that affect the work and expectations of many web site owners and other web professionals:
1. Toolbar PageRank Isn’t A Ranking Factor
Not many people seem to be aware of that. It is very common that they will either panic if the PageRank value that appears in their browser has dropped or that they will be super-happy if it shows a high value. It isn’t something
2. High PageRank Doesn’t Guarantee High Rankings
Many web-site owners aren’t fully aware of the above points and they are utterly obsessed with their site’s Toolbar PageRank, particularly that of their homepage. They seem to miss the point that PageRank isn’t a measure of relevance and that as long as their pages aren’t relevant they won’t appear in the SERPs. It would make more sense if they could see the value of their site’s content and try to increase it. Only relevant pages will appear in the SERPs so a site with a high toolbar PageRank value doesn’t guarantee increased visibility or traffic.
3. Linking Out Doesn’t Cause PageRank Loss
The second factor that many web professionals overlook is how pages accumulate and distribute PageRank. Outbound links aren’t giving away their own PageRank as should not be confused with bleeding! Linking to other pages (internal or external) simply means that a page is passing on its PageRank (importance) to other pages.
The Need For PageRank Alternatives
There are definitely other ways to assess the importance of a given page although not many web professionals seem to be aware of that. Given that Toolbar PageRank is being updated sporadically there has to be a way to work out the importance of a given page at any time. A Toolbar PageRank of 4 simply means that the current page HAD that PageRank value when it was last updated. However, there is no way to know when that did happen as it could be anything from a few days up to a few months. Similarly, a page with toolbar PageRank of 1 doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any great value as that may be a PageRank 3 or 4 page since the last PageRank update.
Are There Any PageRank Alternatives?
A combination of the following has done wonders for me and other SEOs and is highly recommended:
- Backlinks count from Yahoo Site Explorer.
- Backlinks count and domains count from SEO Moz Open Site Explorer
- Backings count and different domains count from Majestic SEO
- The SEOMoz metric system which includes MozRank, PageAuthority, Domain Authority, Domain Trust and many more. That can all appear by downloading the SEOMoz Toolbar which is available for Firefox and Chrome.