What is PageRank and is it Really That Important?

By: Daniel Imbellino
Updated: Feb 28, 2013

So, what exactly is pagerank anyway? Pagerank in Google’s terms is actually a set of algorithms that seeks to determine the value and importance of a page based on the value and importance of external or internal links pointing to a given page. These links act as “votes” for a given webpage. map of worldSimply put, pagerank is determined by several factors including the relevancy of the content between two links, the popularity and trust of the domain the external links are coming from, and each acts, as stated before, like a vote for a given page. While this seems simple enough, there have been many situations where webmasters and SEO specialists alike have failed to comprehend how this idea really works, and subsequently have caused their sites ranking in organic search to plummet as a result of making bad choices which they otherwise thought would have helped them in the end.

Pagerank is divided equally among all internal or external (outbound) links of a page. If a page has a rank of 8 and has 4 external links from that page, then the value of this rank we would like to believe would be 2 points of rank per link, this isn’t really the case however. pagerank actually passes from link to link internally within a site itself, and in many cases is thought to decay as it passes from one link to another. Actually, it does. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, PR actually decays by 10% to 15% per page before it ever flows along its outbound links; this includes both internal and external links alike.

So if pagerank dissipates between pages and links, then where does it start and how does it develop to begin with?

Remember I stated that PR is determined not just by the popularity and trust of a domain, but also by the relevancy of the content between the two links! If you wrote an article about designing websites with media queries and then linked that article to another article on another domain about web design for mobile devices also using media queries, both articles contain content that is relevant to the other, in which both will gain rank. If the article that passes rank externally comes from a trusted domain that is popular among internet surfers, this will raise the ranking factor much higher for the receiving article with the inbound link. Likewise, if the article that passes rank comes from a low quality spammy site that Google doesn’t like, it may not pass any rank at all. In fact, Google may penalize sites for receiving links from too many spammy sites, and often they do. Simply put, creating quality content on the net produces pagerank.

What is “Pagerank sculpting”, and should I use this tactic when optimizing for my site?

This is where things run afoul in the SEO world today. Several years ago Google introduced the rel=”nofollow” parameter so that webmasters could fight spam on their comment sections and forums from their domains. The idea is this, the rel="nofollow” (rel stands for relevant) parameter basically tells Google that you don’t want to “vouch” for this link, you don’t trust it, etc. Today the attribute and its value are still used to fight spam, but they are also used to stop or permit the flow of PR from one site or page to another. Generally speaking, “nofollow” links will not pass pagerank. Many SEO’s and webmasters have used the “nofollow” attribute value to “sculpt” the ranking of their sites internal pages, in hopes to drive rank to more important pages they wish to be returned in search results. They do this adding the “nofollow” value to their internal links in a manner to pass the corresponding rank to pages they wish. Bad idea! Remember when I stated that rank flows evenly between all outgoing links from pages both externally and internally? Well, by adding “nofollow” to internal links you are simply stating to Google to put no importance among certain pages those links point to. Why would you want to do that?

So how can I get Google to put more importance on certain internal pages of my site?

Simple answer, first start by creating quality content on your website. Then create more quality content on another site that is relevant to the content on your first site. Once again relevancy matters! Is the content you are linking to relevant in some manner to the content you are linking from? This is the real questions you should be asking yourself. If you want to put importance on certain pages of your site, then put more emphasis on those pages when creating them. When people come across content they like, they tend to link to that content, effectively driving that contents pagerank and popularity up the search engine ladder. Also create more relevant content that you can link back to your important content with.

Some SEO’s have gone as far as to add the “nofollow” attribute to all their internal links. I guess if you want to destroy your own site, this is the tried and true way to do it! You could have tons of pagerank pass to one page of your site, yet because you “nofollowed” all your internal links, no other pages will receive and rank from that one single page.

How Important is Pagerank?

Honestly, not as important as it used to be. Once upon a time it seemed that SEO’s spent their days trying to figure out how to raise their rank. Webmasters and SEO’s alike were literally creating thousands of backlinks to their sites, mostly from spammy locations on the web. This actually spurred the growth of spam on the internet, as well as the practices of deception that followed it. Today Pagerank carries very little weight when it comes to your overall ranking in search engines. In fact, it’s now only one of over 200+ factors that Google takes into account when evaluating the quality, authority, and trustworthiness of any website. Many sites today that have a relatively low pagerank score very high in Google’s organic search results. In fact, many times sites with low pagerank do much better than sites with very high pagerank. This was the case with “hubpages” , they lost tons of organic traffic from Google despite still having a relatively high pagerank.

Keep in mind, not all backlinks are created equal! One website could have 40,000 backlinks and have a much lower ranking than a site that has only 10. This could be for various reasons, such as the quality of the overall content coming from one domain vs the other, or because the backlinks from the domain with less “votes” (10) are relevant to that sites content, while the backlinks from the other domain have no relevancy at all.

Should I focus a lot of my time and energy on getting backlinks?

You should focus your time and energy mainly on creating content that people will like and enjoy, not on ways to game the search engines! You do need backlinks, and when implemented properly they can add authority and trust to your website and its content, a big plus with both users and search engines alike. One again, the content you link to and from should be relevant to each other. Linking from an article about soccer to an article on another domain about LCD technology is obviously not relevant and Google will not give you any rank for doing this. No relevancy, no rank, plain and simple! If you were to link consistently to and from irrelevant content you will without a doubt be penalized for this.

As stated before, pagerank is weighted very little in the scheme of things these days, and is only one factor out of many. I personally have sites that have only one or two backlinks and yet score for tons of keywords and get tons of traffic from Google, despite not having a bunch of backlinks. Here content is key. Keep in mind that creating links for the sole purpose of manipulating search engine ranking is against the Google webmaster guidelines and sites that attempt to cheat the system will be penalized.

Google decided to down play pagerank because of the its misuse in the past, and now focusing more on your content and some other important factors, such as the speed at which your pages load, whether or not your site is riddled with too many ads, or doesn’t have much content “above the fold” (content on the viewable area of the screen when a user enters your website).

What about linking internally, does that matter?

Yes, it does! Google likes it when content creators create content and link that content to other relevant articles and or posts on their sites. The reason is simple really, it adds value to users. A site with ten articles about a given subject that someone is searching for is obviously more valuable than a site with ten articles that have nothing to do with each other. Also, placing links between relevant content on your site makes finding and using that content easier for internet surfers altogether. How much value is there to return sites to users in organic search that have 10,000 articles about various different things, yet only one article about the subject the user was searching for? Hardly none, which is why it only makes sense to return results from sites that are an authority n a given subject. If I were looking up “IT tutorials” online would I want to be presented with a site that covers 50 different subjects including articles about cars, skiing, etc, or would I want a site that features only IT tutorials? Think about it? It’s common sense really.

How should I create my links both internally and externally?

Good question! While there are a number of ways to approach this question, the best answer is to include links in the body of your documents content, and I don’t mean at the footer of your page after a paragraph, etc. It’s best to place your links within the actual textual content somewhere. For instance, if you are writing about “creating webpages with media queries”, then you could place a link in your article to another relevant page about “designing for mobile devices with media queries.” You want to get those links in your paragraphs, not just above and below. Don’t g crazy either. Don’t create articles with 20 links that link to other pages of your site, or a ton of backlinks from your article on whateversite.com back to 50 pages on your website either. A link or two is good, and you don’t need to include links on every single post from your blog or every article you write for that matter. You should do this sparingly and when the need really arises. Relevant links at the footer or between paragraphs will still count, but they won’t be as heavily weighted. Search engines tend to evaluate the relevancy of your links between posts by looking at several different factors including, anchor text (the text of your link), the overall keywords that are relevant between both posts (text and content body), etc.

Either way, pagerank is still good, just don’t get over excited about it, as it’s no longer a high ranking factor anymore. Google’s motto is that “content is king”, and this is what you should be focusing on more than anything. Definitely do make an effort to get some good backlinks, as it appears that Google seems to use this as a way to verify the validity of a domain. A site with no backlinks has nothing to vouch for it at all. If you don’t want to pass pagerank to external links from your site, then you should consider implementing “nofollow” on those links. I also wouldn’t “nofollow” every single external link either since you should want to give praise to external sites and content that you value or discuss on your sites. It’s funny how pagerank is still the “talk of the town” despite having very little importance anymore. Too many people just don’t get it I guess, don’t get yourself lost in the world of lunacy with them. All being said, it’s your content that will win out in the end, not your PR.