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What Is PageRank? How To Improve PR

PageRank: What Google PR Is & How To Improve Yours

What Is PageRank?
Toolbar and Actual PR: What's the Difference?
PageRank - How Can I Improve Mine?
PageRank Resources

What Is Google PageRank?

It's easy to be confused about Google's PageRank. People often confused PageRank (PR) with where a page ranks in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), but PR is actually a factor that goes into ranking your page.

Because PR is based on your incoming links, an easy way to think about PR is as a measure of "link popularity."

In its earliest incarnation, PageRank was the metric that set Google apart from other search engines. Central to Google when the search engine emerged, PageRank was a calculation based on links (both internal and external) that reflected the likelihood of a random surfer landing on a given page.

Google founder Larry Page theorized that links to a page could be seen the same way as citations in scholarly journals to other research. In other words, a link from another page indicated the value of a page. Another way to look at it was as a vote of confidence in a page. Or link popularity.

But for someone who really wants to understand PR, that's too simplistic.

Google PageRank is a calculation, based on incoming links, of Google’s estimation of the importance of a page. It is expressed on a scale of 0-10 in the toolbar, with ten being more important. Actual PR is calculated on a scale of 0-1. Initially, PR was a fairly simple calculation -- and if you want to understand the original formula, wikipedia does an excellent job of explaining the original PageRank formula. You may also find SearchEngineLand's article helpful: What Is A Link Worth?

But as Google has developed - and sought to prevent webmasters from manipulating PR, PageRank has become much more sophisticated. In Google’s own words (bold added):

PageRank Technology: PageRank reflects our view of the importance of web pages by considering more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms. Pages that we believe are important pages receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results.

Pagerank is based on the quality, as well as the quantity of inbound links. Allow me to repeat what I believe is important statement about PR: Pages that Google perceives as important "receive a higher PageRank and are more likely to appear at the top of the search results."

ToolBar Page Rank and Actual PageRank – What’s the Difference?

It would appear that Google opened Pandora’s Box in December 2000 with the release of a toolbar that revealed the PageRank of a given page. Webmasters who wanted to raise their position in the SERPs flocked to add the toolbar to their browser. Now they knew the value Google placed on a page and in no time, Toolbar PageRank (TBPR) became the deciding factor on the exchange or purchase of links. Got PR? became the webaster's watchword.

Perturbed by the growing obsession with PR, Google stopped releasing PageRank to the toolbar in a timely fashion and later removed it from Webmaster Tools altogether. Matt Cutts, who heads up the spam fighting team at Google, continues to work hard to convince webmasters that PageRank is “just one of 200 factors.”

What We Know About PR

  • Toolbar PR is not the same as the actual PageRank; it is an out of date approximation of Actual PR, at best.
  • Toolbar PR is expressed on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Actual PageRank is expressed afrom 0 to 1.
  • Actual PageRank is one of at least 200 factors that Google uses to decide where a page ranks in organic results.
  • Actual PageRank is a calculation of the importance of a page based on the importance of the pages linking to it.

What We Don’t Know About PageRank

  • SEOs don’t know how PageRank is really calculated. One can read its original formula (see the wiki page on PR) but it's clear that Google has refined the formula extensively. Google was recently awarded a new patent that bears study for any serious SEO. See: Bill Slawski's analysis of the new patent:
  • SEOs don’t know how important it is - but it is important, Matt Cutts says in this video on PageRank and the 200 other signals.
  • SEOs don’t know if Toolbar PageRank is simply an outdated version of what the actual PageRank was at some time in the past, or a completely unrelated calculation. (Frankly, I suspect the latter.)
  • It isn't known (outside of Google) why some sites outrank sites with higher PR, but I suspect it is because toolbar PageRank is not an accurate reflection of actual PR.

Okay, You Understand PageRank Better Now, So How Can You Improve PR?

Get It Naturally - The best way to improve PageRank is to create unique, compelling content that attracts links naturally. Google highly values one way links from related sites. (See this article on Link Building 101.)

Self Service Links - You can also create “self service” links through these practices:

Directory Listings – Links from directories such as DMOZ, Joant, Yahoo, and other human edited directories can be helpful. Look for niche directories, too. (See: Directory Listings)

Article Directories – Write and publish original, useful, relevant articles with a link back to your site. (see: Article Directories)

Guest Blogging – Seek out blogs that need content and write useful posts with a link to your site.

Forum Participation – Join forums which are relevant to your website and participate fully. Don’t expect a link from an unrelated forum to help much, if at all. Google is getting better and better at determining the relevance of links.

It takes time and a lot of participation to make forum backlinks work for you. If you A few links are not going to pass much PR, if any. Consistent participation over a long period of time can be effective, but a few links here and there are not worth your time.

NB: Self service links should not be your mainstay. Google is determined to devalue any backlink strategy that is primarily intended to manipulate the SERPs. You might get some short term benefit from these strategies, but in the long run, the successful site will have attracted links for its content and usefulness.

What Else Do I Need To Know About PageRank? FAQ

What do “nofollow’ links have to do with PageRank? Links with a nofollow attribute do not pass PageRank. It does not mean that Google won’t follow or crawl or index the site linked, but it does mean that neither PageRank, anchor text nor any other SEO benefit will accrue from that link. It essentially says to Google, I don’t trust this site.

To determine whether a link is no-follow or not, you can view the page source through a browser and look for the attribute rel=”nofollow,” you can add a Firefox plug-in that makes every nofollow link highlighted in red, or you can, in FF, right click on any link and check the Properties for ‘nofollow.’

So many people say “forget PR,” others say it’s really important. Why all the disagreement among SEOs and what should I believe? PageRank probably is more important than most factors – it was central to the search engine concept that set Google apart from other search engines – but since you really can’t know what that number is, it has become kind of ridiculous to spin your wheels too much about it. When the toolbar was first released and you could apparently see a true approximation of PageRank, it made much more sense that webmasters focused on it. It was a known metric whose formula was publicly available through a patent application, in a sea of unknown factors of the algorithm. All you had to do was trade links with a site with higher PR than yours, and you were golden. Or so it seemed. Content was always King. Still is.

So, What Should I Do? Concentrate on content – compelling, original, useful content that will attract links naturally. Continue building links with the focus on traffic, your own judgment of quality and adding value for the user. If you want to focus on a metrics for your site, here’s what Google suggests in an FAQ on crawling and ranking:

Q: My site's PageRank has gone up / gone down / not changed in months!

A: Don't worry. In fact, don't bother thinking about it. We only update the PageRank displayed in Google Toolbar a few times a year; this is our respectful hint for you to worry less about PageRank, which is just one of over 200 signals that can affect how your site is crawled, indexed and ranked. PageRank is an easy metric to focus on, but just because it's easy doesn't mean it's useful for you as a site owner. If you're looking for metrics, we'd encourage you to check out Analytics, think about conversion rates, ROI (return on investment), relevancy, or other metrics that actually correlate to meaningful gains for your website or business.

What If I Want To Know More? Try These PageRank Resources

I wrote this article originally for the V7n Forum where I am a moderator. It has been edited and expanded.

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