What is PageRank?

NOTE: While PageRank is no longer publicly available (as of April 15, 2016), it's still something used by Google and worth understanding.

the mountain page rankings

Everyone’s goal with SEO is to get their website to the top of the search engine rankings. Some obsess, others give up, and even more try and cheat the system. While this is unfortunate and quite sad, it is due in large part because they don’t quite understand what factors go into rankings, like PageRank and its algorithm.

One of the most important factors in SEO, and your website rankings, is PageRank - a link analysis algorithm used by the Google’s search engine that assigns a numerical “rank” to each element of a linked set of documents, such as the Internet, with the purpose of measuring its relative worth within the overall set. Basically, it is responsible for ranking your website for search engine results in relation to the rest of the Internet. Got it? Good.

The name “PageRank” is a trademark of Google and is definitely patented (U.S. Patent 6, 285, 999). However, (interesting fact here) the patent is assigned to Stanford University not to Google. And while Google has exclusive license rights on the patent, Stanford University received 1.8 million shares of Google in exchange for use of the patent. In 2005, Stanford sold the shares for $336M. That’s a lot of cheddar!

History of PageRank

larry page and sergey brin

PageRank was developed by Larry Page (hence the name PageRank) and later Sergey Brin at Stanford University as part of research project on search engines. The first paper of the project was published in 1998, describing PageRank and the initial prototype of the Google search engine. Shortly after, Page and Brin founded Google, Inc. and launched the search engine. PageRank continues to be one of the many factors that determine the ranking of Google search results and the basis for all of Google’s web search tools.

How PageRank Works

the google algorithm

Here is how Google describes PageRank:

“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 also considers the importance of each page that casts a vote, as votes from some pages are considered to have greater value, thus giving the linked page greater value. We have always taken a pragmatic approach to help improve search quality and create useful products, and our technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page's importance.”

In English, a PageRank results from a “vote” among all other pages on the Internet about how important said page is. A hyperlink to a page counts as a vote of confidence or support. A page that is linked to several pages with high PageRank receives a high rank itself. If there are no links to a web page, the page will receive no support for rankings. Google assigns a numerical value between 0-10 for every single page on the Web. All values are used, and 0 can be assigned to pages that are not popular enough. However, there is no easy way to determine from the value if a site is being penalized or simply not popular. Sites that attempt to illegally influence the search engines get penalized with a zero ranking while fraudulant or malware sites are permanently removed from the Web altogether.

Google Toolbar

pagerank google toolbar

When you visit a web page, its PageRank is displayed on Google’s Toolbar as a whole number between 0 to 10. The most popular websites have a PageRank of 10 and the least popular websites have a PageRank of 0. While Google has not disclosed its exact method for determining a Toolbar PageRank value, it is also not the actual value Google uses in its final ranking - PageRank is the only one of many factors that determine SERP ranking. 
Google Toolbar’s PageRank is updated 4 times a year, and was last updated on April 3, 2010.


google serps: search engine results page

The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is the actual result returned by a search engine when you enter a query. The SERP rank of a web page refers to the placement of the corresponding link on the SERP - the higher the placement means the better the ranking. The SERP rank of a web page is a function of PageRank, as well as a set of other factors affectionately referred to as “Google Love”. It is the job of SEO practitioners to help websites and web pages achieve the highest possible SERP rank using legal and approved methods. With the recent introduction of Google Places into organic SERPs, PageRank is now not a factor in ranking a business in the Local Business Results because, in this instance, Google is ranking business listings not web pages.

Caveat Emptor

buyer beware

Caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware” in Latin, is an old saying from before you were born that carries a warning. There are some scammy SEO companies that offer to sell high PageRank links to webmasters, giving them links to high quality content and relevant sites that drive traffic and increase link juice.

However, Google has wagged a very heavy finger at these companies saying that if they are or were discovered to be selling links for the purpose of manipulating PageRank and reputation, the links will be devalued. While the practice of buying and selling links is intensely debated in the Webmaster community, Google advises Webmasters to use the nofollow HTML attribute value on sponsored links. According to the Google guru, Matt Cutts, the search engine giant will reduce the quality and relevancy of Google search results for those who are trying to game the system. PageRank has evolved over time and is still getting better.

And while it doesn’t solely determine your SERP rankings, it is definitely a decisive factor in your SEO efforts. If you would like a further explanation of PageRank, or curious as to Volacci’s white hat approach to SEO, hit us up with live chat or a contact form for further details.