PageRank is a relative measure of the importance of every page that Google indexes. In Google’s own words “PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.”

The concept of ordering the Web by algorithmically interpreting each website’s link profile was developed by Sergey Brin and Larry Page while at Stanford University. And boy has it come a long way since.

How does the PageRank algorithm work?

We know that Google interprets links as votes, so surely it stands to reason that the more votes your website receives in the world-wide ballot; the better your site will perform?

Unfortunately, life isn’t quite so simple and in calculating PageRank Google considers a host of ‘additional factors’, such as the quality of the page casting the vote and its relevance to your website.

Just as a celebrity product endorsement is worth far more to the Marketing Men than a testimonial from Joe Public, Google admits to giving more weight to votes from pages they already trust. In their own words, “Votes cast by pages that are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages ‘important.’”

PageRank can thus be passed from one website to another or redistributed within a site. The measure of PageRank that is passed-on in an individual link is divided by the number of outgoing links on the page. Hence the more links on a page: the less PageRank each link carries.

The last piece of the jigsaw is to understand that linking away from a page won’t reduce that individual page’s PageRank. No matter how many links you add to a page the PageRank will be unaffected.

However, by linking to external sites you could reduce the potential PageRank of your site as a whole because you aren’t passing all the PageRank to your lower pages. This dilution of PageRank is known as ‘leaking PageRank’ and has lead to an overblown and slightly paranoid pastime known as PageRank sculpting.

Google PageRank Vs toolbar PageRank

Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of confusing ‘real’ PageRank with ‘fantasy’ toolbar PageRank. The former is an integral component in Google’s search algorithm; while the latter serves very little purpose at all.

In the old days to get a ‘measure’ of your PageRank all you had to do was download the Google toolbar and each page was ‘scored’ by virtue of a green bar that slid on a scale of one to ten. At least that’s what webmasters thought they were getting, but in reality all they got was what’s been dubbed ‘green fairy dust’ by the SEO community.

Toolbar PageRank (or TBPR) was astonishingly inaccurate, yet webmasters still invested inordinate amounts of faith in following the little green bar. Even Matt Cutts of Google fame sneered at TBPR, pointing out that genuine PageRank values can run into the tens of thousands. And besides it was impossible to ignore the fact that TBPR is only updated every few months, whereas algorithmic PageRank is continually being recalculated as the Web is crawled.

Webmasters and SEOs developed an unhealthy obsession with TBPR, high-fiving minor victories and tearing their hair out if the little green bar began to shrink. Of course, a substantially more reliable indication a page’s true strength is to see how it is performing the search results, and leave the green dust to the fairies.

Google Toolbar PageRank is dead, but does PageRank still live on?

In 2016 Google decided to put SEOs out of their misery and killed Toolbar PageRank. Web forums went into mourning with optimisers lamenting the demise of one of the most useless metrics in the game and seeking new sources of data.

Of course, the real PageRank algorithm is still alive and kicking and very much part of what makes Google unique. There are still plenty of online tools that profess to measure PageRank but you’re really wasting clicks. There’s also buzzy talk about ‘Trust Flow’ replacing PageRank, but surely that’s exactly what PageRank is anyway?

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