Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Visual Page Rank Update Explained

Google has just updated it's famous (infamous) visible Pagerank. I know this because our seed keywords tool has just received it's first Pagerank and our main web development site has also changed. However, reading blogs etc it's clear people are very confused about Pagerank. Some think it's worthless, others believe it's of significant value.

This article is intended to paint a picture about what Pagerank is and what it isn't. There are many technical papers giving the whole in depth story but most people find this overwhelming and confusing, myself included!

How Do You Get a Pagerank?
When someone links to a page on your site it's considered to be a vote for it, a thumbs up, a sign your page is important or at least well regarded by another page or site. It's one of the metrics Google uses in it's complex algorithms. If the pages linking to your page also have links to them, their link to you is given even more value. This is why some people suggest it's not worth getting a link from a page unless the page you want the link from has itself got a decent Pagerank - this is misguided as today's Pagerank 1 'nobody' page could be next years Pagerank 7 'superstar'. As a rule if a page is of sufficient quality and relevant, get a link from it irrespective of its Pagerank.

The Potted History of Pagerank
The history behind this relates to the Google boys, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, being academics. In academia peer reviewed papers are the common currency of 'status'. If you write a paper and your peers review and applaud it you are off to a good start. If your paper is then referenced by other people's papers it's stature and kudos goes up further, as does yours as the author. They decided this would be a good way to measure the quality of web pages, in simple terms they see links as endorsements.

So Where Are We So far?
From the above it should be clear that suggesting Pagerank is worthless is actually taking a somewhat narrow view – he said diplomatically. Although it may not generate a lot of traffic it does actually have a value.

So Why Do Some People Suggest It's Worthless?
Pagerank isn't the be all and end all of a web page especially when it comes to the search engine results pages (SERPs). The reason for this is simple, relevancy.

Google needs to deliver relevant results to people using it. If they don't people will go elsewhere for their search needs and make no mistake their dominance isn't guaranteed, look at what happened to Yahoo, Alta Vista and many others. When Google is sent a query it doesn't simply look for the page with the highest Pagerank to put at number one, it looks for a page that is most relevant. This is why a Pagerank 3 page can be at number 1 with a Pagerank 6 being at number 10 and this is why some people argue Pagerank is worthless saying something like “How can Pagerank have any value if a page with Pagerank 3 beats a page with Pagerank 6?”. Like I said, this is because of relevancy.

A Simple Example Please!
How Google decides on relevancy is complex and they don't share the formula with the outside world! The stuff we know is important is covered in this simple SEO Check List, and your link building strategy.

So, suppose you have a page on your site with 400 links to it. The links are from pages on other sites that have links to them. So far so good. These links give your page a Pagerank of 5. Excellent, that's a real result. The only fly in the ointment is the sites linking to you are about subjects not related to your site. This is important, remember this point!
So you check out a search phrase on Google and are pleased to see your page appearing at position 6. Page 1 position 6, excellent! Being nosy you decide to investigate the sites above you and to your horror the site in pole position, number 1 page 1 is Pagerank 3. How can that be? Your site is Pagerank 5 how can it be lower than a Pagerank 3.

Remember all those great links that gave you the Pagerank of 5? Remember how they were from pages not really relevant to your page's content? Chances are that's your answer. Although those links gave you a great Pagerank, they didn't help you in the SERPs.

So, it's possible that a great Pagerank isn't going to help you in the SERPs if all the links delivering it are irrelevant to your page. However, if you build great theme based links you will get both a good Pagerank and a good place in the SERPs.

In business there's a saying, turnover is vanity, profit is sanity. It's like that with links. If you build a load of irrelevant links you may not see any business benefit from it even if your Pagerank looks impressive. In this case Pagerank is vanity, SERP's positions are sanity.

In Summary
In isolation a good Pagerank won't guarantee you a great position in the SERP's. In this context Pagerank is worthless. However, build your Pagerank by establishing quality theme based links and you can use it as a true measure of how successful your site is becoming.

Hope this helps a little.

TTFN

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