The concept of Google PageRank is widely misconstrued, so I thought I would take the time today to discuss this often confusing and perhaps overvalued means of judging a web page. First, let’s debunk a common misconception about PageRank: the term “PageRank” does not refer to “the rank of a page.” Actually, PageRank is named after Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google. PageRank is a trademark belonging to Google, and its process is patented by Stanford University, which Page was attending at the time he began working on the technology that would eventually propel him to billionaire status in his early thirties and change the internet forever.
What is PageRank?
PageRank is a metric that uses the democratic nature of the Web to measure the quality of a particular page based on its inbound linkage from other sites. In essence, a link to a page is considered a “vote” for that page, and pages to which other sites frequently link are considered more important than pages that attract little to no links. However, it is not the sheer number of links pointing to a page that contributes to its PageRank, but the quality of the web pages linking to it. In other words, links from pages with high PageRank are weighted more heavily than links from pages with low or no PageRank.
Although Google does state in its Tips for Webmasters that PageRank “helps determine the rank of a site in our search results”, site owners who constantly worry about improving PageRank scores are wasting their time. Want proof? A simple search using Google is all you have to do. Let’s look at an example.
In a Google search for the phrase “pet supplies,” the following are pages currently appearing in the top 10 search results along with their respective PageRank scores*:
#1: PR5 http://www.nextdaypets.com/directory/pet_supplies/
#2: PR7 http://www.petco.com/Content/HomePage.aspx?PC=home&Nav=1&=
#3: PR7 http://www.amazon.com/pet-supplies-birds-cats-dogs/b?ie=UTF8&node=12923371
#4: PR4 http://www.petsuppliesplus.com/
#5: PR4 http://www.jefferspet.com/ssc/
#6: PR7 http://www.petsmart.com/home/index.jsp
#7: PR5 http://www.petsupplies.com/
#8: PR3 http://www.cheappetstore.com/
#9: PR6 http://www.drsfostersmith.com/
#10: PR4 http://www.petstreetmall.com/
Notice in the list above that the #1 ranking page has a PageRank of 5, and is ranked higher in the search results than four sites which have higher PageRank scores. Similarly, two results with a PageRank of 4 are ranked higher in the search results than pages with scores of 5, 6 and 7. In this case, the relevance of a page to a given search query appears to contribute more heavily to its search engine ranking than the PageRank value of that particular page.
Here is another example to help explain the basis of this scenario. Say you own a site with a PageRank of 8 that specializes in fine chocolate, but also sells flavored popcorn. Now assume for instance I own a site with a PageRank of 5 specializing only in flavored popcorn. In a search for the phrase “fine chocolate,” your site will undoubtedly beat out my popcorn site in the search results. However, in a search for “flavored popcorn,” my site will most likely rank higher than yours due to its greater relevance to the search phrase.
Often, site owners spend too much energy worrying about the PageRank toolbar. PageRank can only give you a general idea of a page’s reputation. It does not attract traffic to your site, while search engine visibility for terms related to your offering does attract traffic. If you want to sell online, your efforts would be better spent creating and publishing quality content relevant to your industry, which in turn will attract links that help your rankings as well as your PageRank score Quality inbound links from relevant sites are of course still important to search engine rankings, but if high PageRank was really the coveted holy grail of high rankings that many site owners perceive it to be, Google would probably not be sharing the information with us in the first place.
*Data collected on 7/30/2008
-Pam Westbrook, Volusion