Google is currently the darling of web surfers. With robust algorithms such as PageRank, Google helps users find relevant results, quickly. But while PageRank may be a boon for searchers, it is also the bane of webmasters because it is one of the most difficult ranking factors to control.
PageRank is the brainchild of Google co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. It is a system for ranking web pages that is based on an assumption popular among academics: that the importance of a research paper can be judged by the number of citations it has from other researcher papers.
The pair simply came up with the web page equivalent: the importance of a web page can be judged by the number of links it has from other web pages.
How it All Works
When a user visits Google and enters a query, several things happen. First, Google finds all the web pages in its index that match the search term. Next, out of these results, Google selects a subset of web pages that have the greatest relevance to the query.
At this point, PageRank is not a factor at all. Google first looks at all the usual factors such as keyword density and prominence to calculate relevance. PageRank only comes into play as a multiplier after all these other factors have been calculated. In other words:
Final Ranking = (score for all other relevance factors) x (PageRank rating).
To determine a page’s PageRank, Google looks at a web page and counts how many incoming links are pointing to it. Google regards these links as “votes”. If one site links to another site, it is essentially casting a vote for that site.
Google doesn’t just count the total number of “votes” or links that a web page receives to determine its PageRank however; it also analyzes the web page that casts the vote.
Votes cast by pages that Google deems “important”, i.e., sites that already have a high PageRank, are given more weight and help to increase the PageRank of the web pages they link to.
The actual PageRank of a web page is calculated as the sum of the PageRank of all the web pages linking to it, divided by the number of outgoing links on each of those pages.
Improving Your PageRank
Improving your website’s PageRank may sound easy: just find sites with a high PageRank to link to your site. In reality however, it’s not that simple.
Many webmasters with sites with a high PageRank, will not link to a site with a lower PageRank; it simply isn’t worth their while to do so. Moreover, even if they do link to your page, if they also link to numerous other pages, the PageRank is divided among all the outgoing links.
Consequently, it may actually be beneficial to propose link exchanges with quality sites with a slightly lower PageRank: competition for links from such sites is less fierce and webmasters may be more willing to reciprocate links.
The Trouble with PageRank
While the premise behind PageRank may hold true within the halls of academia, when applied to web pages, its flaws start to show.
Although it would seem like common sense that a website would only link to another site if it had good content, in reality, websites link to sites with poor content all the time. Webmasters may engage in purely commercial link exchanges, or they may link to a page because they use that website’s counters or banner ads on their own website.
Moreover, affiliate websites that generate revenue through pay-per-click links may artificially inflate their client’s PageRank, thus undermining any notion of a natural PageRank.
New sites are often the worse affected by PageRank. Regardless of their quality, new sites will always have fewer incoming links and therefore, a lower PageRank. Consequently, getting sites with a higher PageRank to link to them will be difficult.
websites with a good PageRank however, have no trouble soliciting links. Because of their good PR, they tend to rank highly in the search engine results pages. Since they rank highly in the results pages, people tend to link to them, creating a vicious cycle.
While PageRank is one of the hardest factors to influence, it can still be manipulated. As more and more people discover these strategies, the utility of PageRank will undoubtedly be diminished.
Julie Joseph is a search engine optimizer and copywriter at Red Carpet Web Promotion, Inc.