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PageRank algorithm is named after its co-founder Lary Page and the term ‘web page’. It refers to the ranking factor that Google uses to evaluate the importance and relevance of the webpage in order to rank it in the search engine results (SERPs).
Basically, this ranking factor takes into account the number and quality of links that point to the page.
PageRank has a long history, and more importantly, it’s still vital for SEO to understand how it works.
In this article, Aleph Website discusses how the PageRank algorithm works, why it still matters, and the factors that influence PageRank.
PageRank algorithm now and then
Before diving into a discussion on how PageRank works and why it’s actually so important, let’s take a look back at its history.
PageRank was developed in 1996, based upon the idea of the hierarchical order of information on the web by ‘link popularity.’
In other words, the more links a web page receives, it will rank higher the search engine results. This goes for both inbound and outbound links. Page ranking has been affected by all links; regardless of the Domain ranking/authority.
Two years later, the project is officially published. It rolled out PageRank and the initial prototype of the Google Search Engine.
In 2000, Google released the first version of Google Toolbar that was used to show PageRank scores of each web page. A very common delusion was that PageRank scores equaled their ranking position on the search results. However, PageRank was and remains the only Google ranking factor that determines ranking positions.
As a result of this delusion, people focused solely on improving PageRank score, thus, increasing the number of links that point to the web page. This led to PageRank manipulating with selling links and other tactics.
In 2014, Google stopped updating Toolbar and ultimately, in 2016 removed it completely, so website owners don’t have an access to the scores.
However, PageRank still plays a crucial role in the ranking algorithm. It has never gone. We are not able to see it, but it is still used.
Understanding how PageRank works can improve your SEO performance, but keep in mind that there are over 200 ranking factors that determine ranking positions.
How does the PageRank algorithm work?
As said earlier, a PageRank score (0-10) indicates the importance and relevancy of the webpage. It works by counting the number and quality of links that point to the web page.
The main idea is that every link to the page acts as a vote of authority and relevance. Therefore, the more links point to the webpage, the more votes it has. Ultimately, the ranking position will be higher.
However, Google doesn’t count all links equally. Links from pages with higher PageRank scores are more valuable than ones from pages with lower scores. For instance, a link from a page with a PageRank score of 7 is more valuable than one from a page with a score of 5. This is how Link Analysis is done by the algo. Queries, searches, title tags, URLs, and anchor text are some examples of what plays in determining the eigenvector of the links.
The flow of PageRank between web pages is described by the term Link Juice. It’s critically important to keep in mind that pages do not receive 100% of link juice from other pages that point to them. When page X links to page Y, page Y receives a dose of link value (PageRank) from page X. Incoming links are counted and their Niche relevancy (topicality) is also important to squeeze more link juice from the page.
Bear in mind that REDIRECT links also work the same way. So, if you purchase a website, and apply a redirect; then all the incoming links are forwarded to the page that the redirect points to. Google crawlers (crawl bots) will recognize a 303 redirect path. If there are many redirect iteration, creating a redirect loop (crawl depth > 5 levels) then the redirect link loses it’s link juice and cannot pass on the authority. So make sure to take inventory of your URL paths and 303s.
Google Search Console has a Sitemap bank where you can check all your submitted and indexed pages to make sure you’re redirects are working properly.
That said, then this how the PageRank link juice is counted:
According to the original paper, page Y gets 85% of page X’s PageRank (link value). That means that 15% of the link value is dissolved. The loss of link juice is described by the PageRank Damping Factor (0.85).
If page Y links to page Z, the damping part will be applied again (0.85), so the Z web page gets 72.5% of page X’s link value. ((100%-15%)-15%).
How Does PageRank Distribute across multiple links?
Once we know the PageRank flow and Damping factor, it’s important to understand PageRank distribution across multiple links.
If page X points to 10 different pages, 85% of the link value will be shared across all 10 links, so each link will get 8.5% of page X’s PageRank.
The more outgoing links from a webpage, the less link value (PageRank) each linked page will get.
Take a look at the example below.
A page of site 2 gets 85% of the link juice from site 1‘s page which means that 15% of the link value is lost.
The page of site 2 has two outgoing links that point to pages of different websites (3 and 4). These two pages get 85% of the link juice that page of site 2 receives from website 1.
Consequently, adopting ‘PageRank Sculpting’ has become a common SEO practice. PageRank Sculpting refers to manipulating search engines on the PageRank flow of the website. The goal of this practice is to stop scattering PageRank flow to unimportant pages and drive more authority to important pages.
To achieve so, the most common tactic used to be adding Nofollow tags to internal links. This tag tells search engines to ignore the link. Put differently, Nofollow links do not pass PageRank, so they don’t have an impact on Google ranking.
However, many people take an advantage of this tactic and manipulate ranking positions. Google is smart and doesn’t like being manipulated, so it announced changes in 2009. Since then, PageRank Sculpting has no longer worked which means that link value is divided equally between all links, regardless of ‘Nofollow’ attributes.
According to Matt Cutt, the head of Google’s web spam team:
‘Nofollow links definitely don’t pass PageRank. Over the years, I’ve seen a few corner cases where a Nofollow link did pass anchor text, normally due to bugs in indexing that we then fixed. The essential thing you need to know is that Nofollow links don’t help sites rank higher in Google’s search results’.
Although PageRank Sculpting is a waste of the time, Nofollow links still play a crucial role in crawl prioritization and indexing pages.
What Influences PageRank?
Factors that have a positive impact on the PageRank algorithm are:
- External Links
- Internal Links
Building backlinks is one of the most effective ways to improve PageRank. If a webpage gets a backlink from a high authority website, its PageRank will improve.
It’s important to understand that getting links from pages that have a lot of outgoing links is not as beneficial. As we said, the link value is diverse to all links equally, so if there are many links that share link value, a backlink will not be a big help.
The best ways to get valuable backlinks:
- Creating high-quality content that others want to share
- Building relationships with influencers in your industry
- Participating in community forums related to your business, etc.
External (outbound) links are links that point to web pages of other sites. You should add these links to your content in order to improve user experience and provide visitors with additional valuable resources. A study shows that external links that point to relevant and authoritative websites have a positive impact on PageRank, thus, Google ranking.
Homepages are the most authoritative pages of websites. Therefore, if you want to send the homepage authority to other pages, you have to link them internally.
To achieve so, the first thing you need to do is identify the web pages of your site with high authority.
In Google Analytics, you can check which pages have the most organic traffic. Usually, these pages are the highest authoritative, so they should link to other less authoritative pages in order to boost their PageRank.
How to Measure PageRank Score Nowadays?
Unfortunately, since the removal of Toolbar, the PageScore rank has been a mystery.
Tools such as Semrush and Mozz have developed values that replicated PageRank scores, but they do not replace PageRank. You can use them only as u guide to learn more about your website authority.
SemRush’s ‘authority score’ indicates the website quality and measures the impact of a website.
SUMMARY: PageRank algorithm – Why is it still critical and how to improve it
Even though it’s been six years since Google killed off the Toolbar, the PageRank algorithm is not dead. It still significantly influences the ranking position, so it’s important to understand how it works and what influences it in order to enhance SEO performance.
Although there is no way to measure accurately PageRank scores, if you are building backlinks, relevant external links, and using internal links strategically, PageRank will improve.
Contributions & References
- How Does Internal Linking Help SEO?
- 8 Great Tips on How to Improve Website User Experience
- What is topical authority SEO?
- Effective User Experience Measuring: How Does Google Evaluate UX?
- How to Create a Content Strategy that targets search intent
- How to get backlinks for any small business website?