Why Page Rank isn't Dead and How You Can Still Benefit From it!

By: Daniel Imbellino
March 28th, 2016

Page Rank has long been viewed as a metric of the utmost importance within the ever evolving world of SEO. SEO logo made of brown and beige stone raised lettersUnfortunately, it's also the most misunderstood metric when it comes to optimizing your site for search engines; and in recent times, also one of serious speculation as Google recently moved to remove this metric from its toolbar altogether. Rest be assured, as you're about to see, Page Rank is not only far from dead, but understanding how this metric works can actually have profound effects on your ability to hit page one of Google search, as well as your level of visibility across social networks.

While it's true that Google yanked this metric from its toolbar, the metric itself still remains in play, flowing across the links of every publishers site today. As Google's Matt Cutts has stated in the past, page rank flows across links throughout your site, depleting as it moves from one page to the next, literally to the point where it simply diminishes to virtually nothing.

Before I dive into my experience with page rank and explain how it works and how to make it work for you, I also want to outline how Google distributes rank across the links of your site. As Matt Cutts has stated before, links high on the page are usually given a higher priority than links lower on the page. While it's been a couple of years since we've last heard this statement, I know from analyzing the data for this very site within Google's search console, that despite the lapse of time, nothing has changed to that respect.

Another thing I want to outline is that, while page rank isn't dead, it's definitely evolved, and the metric that exists today is profoundly different from the one we used to know, but strong similarities do exist.

Death by Page Rank?

This is where my story begins. Back in early 2014 we moved to fully integrate this site with our gaming news organization Gamers Bay, which originally started on Google Plus. The decision to do so spanned from the fact we had over 150 online games hosted on this site at the time, and we wanted to better introduce those games to the thousands of members of Gamers Bay's G+ community, and it's even thousands more followers among its brand page. By linking the brand page with this site, it was official, these two brands were now officially one, and were integrated across the board.

At first, my curiosity peaked as to how Google would treat this integration, how it would affect the rank of both brands, and what the end result of those efforts of integration would actually be. Now that we had introduced the fans of Gamers Bay to the online games we housed here, the next step was to introduce organic visitors to our gaming community and its brand page as well. In order to achieve this goal, we began placing links from the online game pages of this site directly to Gamers Bay's brand page on Google Plus. Those links were initially 100% direct, with no intermediary pages.

Initially, the benefits of this integration for Gamers Bay were enormous, but not so great for this site, and I will explain why. Unlike links on social networks like Google Plus, the links on this site have the advantage of passing page rank, and because these brands were integrated, Gamers Bay's rank on the network soared! Google began taking random posts, both in the community and on the brand page and started throwing tens of thousands of people at them. This happened several times a week from mid 2014 until September of 2015. At that point the parade of visibility and prominence Google gave to Gamers Bay came to a screeching halt, but not without cause. You see, just that month we moved to consolidate those direct links from the game pages to point instead to an intermediate page here on the site that better explained what Gamers Bay was about, so people could better understand it's purpose, and how it related to this site. The thing was, the page itself had already been in place for some time, but we were slow to consolidate the links to it.

Believe it or not, the removal of all those direct links brought our gaming news organization to its knees on Google Plus. For over a year Google had treated Gamers Bay as if it were IGN, and when we published a story, or even mentioned one from another site, we got tremendous visibility in return. Just a single post could get hundreds of +1's, shares, and comments, but without those direct links, it was Game over for our once prominent gaming organization, or so it seemed.

The reason being is that, all those direct links passed an enormous amount of page rank directly to Gamers Bay itself, pushing us high on the ladder of social visibility on Google's network. Once those links were gone, Gamers Bay no longer had the rank it once enjoyed, and it's visibility dropped.

This entire experience was an eye opener for me. I was astonished at just how strong of an influence that those links, and the integration itself had on our brands. It was incredible to say the least.

What I learned was, creating more links from a site that's integrated with your social profiles can actually propel those profiles to new heights. At least this was definitely the case when it comes to Google Plus. However, it wasn't just the links that proved worthy, but the measure of relevance between the online games of this very site, and how they related to our gaming news organization itself. The level of relevance was obviously high, and Google rewarded us greatly for those efforts.

When it came to Gamers Bay, the entire organization being a brand that existed solely on social media was essentially a sitting brick without the authority of this site to back it up! Social links on networks like Google Plus are all nofollowed, meaning they can't pass any rank of any kind on their own. It was the page rank from this site that transferred authority to our gaming organization itself.

The point is, if you have a site that's directly connected with an official brand page on Google Plus, and the content and ideas from both are heavily relevant, you can push your social visibility much higher within Google's ranking algorithms for its social network. Just as rank can be transferred by links from one site to the next, rank can also be transferred from sites across the web to social profiles themselves.

Understanding Link Flow:

As rank flows across the links of your site, the more relevant the content between both links, the better the chances of attaining a higher rank for the content at hand, and your site as a whole. For instance, we have a Pacman game on this site, and at the bottom of the page we included a link to an article I wrote about the evolution and history of video games. Given Pacman's historical significance, and the fact the article being linked too was strongly relevant to the game itself, Google ranked the article much higher within its search algorithms for a long period of time. While the page hasn't been updated in years, and it hardly ranks as highly at present, if you were to view it today, you could easily see it has over 800 shares across social networks. Again, relevance matters!

Just as page rank flows across the links of your site, it also flows across the outbound links you make as well. Be forewarned, having too many outbound links can heavily deplete your sites ranking power. Likewise, adding a "nofollow" attribute to outbound links doesn't save page rank, but actually causes it to simply disintegrate to nothing. This is because page rank flows across all the links of a given web page, regardless if those links are followed or not. People often think that nofollowing links will preserve their sites rank, but nothing could be further from the truth.

This phenomenon of controlling the flow of rank is historically known as page rank sculpting, and it's a practice that cannot and does not work because of the way search algorithms like those of Google's treat the flow of rank across links.

Again, links high up on the page are typically given more weight in terms of ranking, and the same goes for text as well. This is why getting your keywords of the most importance not only within the title of your page, but within the first sentence of your article is so important. Also, for the pages that are really important to you, and that you really want badly to rank, you need to make more links internally from other pages across your site. Placing more links across your site to important pages will help those pages to rank much higher since they're getting a larger chunk of your site's available page rank.

That being said, page rank itself is far from being dead, it's just that Google got tired of people focusing on it as the metric of choice, when they were ignoring an even stronger metric that actually holds even more weight, which is relevance itself. Despite the removal of this metric from their toolbar, the pitiful part of it all is that people are still chasing links, without taking into context the value of those links at all. What people should have been chasing after all along isn't links, but rather ideas, and finding ways to connect them together.

Rather than digging for links, why not dig for relevant ideas to link to yourself? This raises the relevance of the content you publish, and it also gives others more reasons to link to you, and search engines an added reason to rank you higher. Having some outbound links is ok, just don't get carried away.

Lately you may have read one of the many articles that are being published where the author states to contact other relevant sites and ask for a link back to yours. This is bad advice! Even if the site in question is directly relevant to your site's purpose, a simple link from point A to point B doesn't increase the level of relevance between those links. What does increase relevance are the actual ideas at hand, and this is why links between relevant content with valued ideas do hold weight, while simple links that aren't made within the context of ideas and useful content are unlikely to do you any special favors.

In fact, if Google's algorithms start seeing a whole bunch of relevant sites linking to yours and those links aren't connected with content and ideas, Google will start to see a pattern of manipulation that's easy to pin point. When people link to things of interest on the web, they typically do so out of genuine interest, and this is why legit links are usually formed with actual discussions, or within articles that talk about the same subject.

User Intent vs. Links:

Another thing you should be aware of about page rank is that user intent throws page rank out with the trash! Why? Because, Google wants to return content that answers the intended purpose of a given search query. For years publishers on the web have consistently complained about content from other sites involving the same subject matter ranking higher, despite the fact their particular page has more back links than the competitors does. What they failed to realize is, just because a site has more links doesn't mean it's more relevant.

In fact, Google has long sought to fill the divide between ranking and actually fulfilling the users intentions. This is why a high authority page with more links can easily rank much lower than a low authority page of the same subject. This is also why Google has put so much emphasis on its Rank Brain and Hummingbird algorithms that seek to better understand natural human language and learn about the information that's actually being indexed.

Content Keywords vs. Rank:

Another defining factor in terms of making the most of your page rank is identifying which keywords you're the most likely to rank for. Google actually flat out tells you which keywords these are if you take the time to view your content keywords data within their search console. The keywords shown there are what Google thinks your site is about, and these are the ones you're most likely to score for. Getting these keywords wrong will mean less content ranking, and the rank you do have then becomes irrelevant, something no web publisher would ever want.

If you wanted to rank for the keywords "Social" and "Media", but they aren't high up on the list, then start incorporating more of these words within your content itself; including in your headings, meta descriptions, first sentence of an article, and throughout your content.

All being said, despite all the speculation among the SEO community today that page rank is dead, just know it's very much alive and well, and it does affect how you rank in search engines, and what you're likely to rank for. Also know it's not the only defining factor, and inbound links themselves are not enough to make you rank, as relevance matters just as much, as do many other factors such as authority and influence. Both of which are metrics you can't fake with simple links, as they're measured purely by engagement.

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