What is PageRank?

A backlink is a link that goes from another website back to your website, and it’s an important part of SEO . It signals to search engines that your web page includes content that’s important enough for another web page to link to. In general, the better your web page, the more backlinks it’ll get.

This brings us to the Google page rank algorithm. Appropriately called PageRank, it assesses a web page and how it should rank based on how many authority links point to it. The more links a web page gets, the higher Google thinks it should be ranked.

Bonus points if the sites backlinking to your pages also have high PageRank scores. One page can pass its PageRank to another page when it links to it.

A Brief Look Back at PageRank

In 1996, Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed PageRank. According to Google , PageRank was based on the idea that “the best way to understand the quality of a web page is to analyze the quantity and quality of the links that point to it.” Google still uses PageRank as one of the ways it identifies which online sources are reliable.

In the past, you could refer to the Google Toolbar (launched in late-2000) to see the PageRank score of a web page. The Toolbar no longer exists, though, and with it went PageRank visibility.

The Google Toolbar that could tell you what is PageRank for a specific web page.
Source: Search Engine Land

SEO PageRank specialists believed that increasing PR meant improving ranking. In return, all sorts of strategies emerged to help improve the PR score. Those included black hat strategies. For example, paying for link placement, putting links where they don’t naturally fit and backlinking in bulk.

By focusing on the aspects that were easier to manipulate, SEO specialists and website owners stopped putting work into creating quality content and giving visitors an enjoyable user experience (UX). That’s a possible reason why Google opted to do away with the public-facing PR score.

What is PageRank Officially? An Overview of the Patent

The original patent for PageRank began in 1998 and expired in 2018, and it wasn’t renewed. Plus, an ex-engineer for Google Search claimed, “Google hasn’t used PageRank since 2006.” (Not exactly true, as you’ll see in a second.) That’s the same year that Google filed this patent for “methods, systems, and apparatus…for producing a ranking for paged on the web,” with links helping to determine rank scores.

This isn’t explicitly a PageRank algorithm patent — it doesn’t even use the term PageRank — but it’s believed to be a modifier for the PR algorithm.

What Is PageRank Today?

Even though there’s no proof regarding the current algorithm that PageRank uses today, it does seem that Google is still using PR. In 2017, Google Search analyst Gary Illyes tweeted this:

Tweet by a Google employee about PageRank still being used.

In 2020, another Google employee, John Mueller, tweeted this:

Tweet by a Google employee about PageRank.

How Does PageRank Work?

In this section, we’ll refer to how PageRank worked in the past since there’s no proof that it continues to work that way today.

The idea behind PageRank is actually very simple:

  • A link from one website to another is a vote of confidence for the linked-to website.
  • The higher the PR of the website that’s linking out, the more trustworthy it is.
  • Therefore, the linked-to page is also trustworthy and deserves a higher PR score.
  • The higher the PR score, the higher the page should rank in search results.

Note that a web page with a PR5, for example, wouldn’t send 100% of that link juice to the page it’s linking to. Instead, it sends a percentage of its authority to that page.

Also, web pages that have multiple external links dilute the power of those links. Put another way, if a web page links to one other web page, a lot of the link juice is passed along. If a web page links to several other web pages, the link juice your web page will get from the backlink is reduced.

The PageRank Scale

With its original algorithm, PageRank scores ranged from 0 (lowest score) to 10 (highest score). That doesn’t account for web pages with zero links pointing to them, which carried a score of PR0.15. Also, the scale wasn’t linear; it was logarithmic.

Dictionary definition of logarithmic.

Basically, that means that an increase of 1 PageRank digit — PR2 instead of PR1, for example — wasn’t 1x greater; it was several times greater.

4 Factors That (May) Influence PageRank

Back when PageRank was public, there were known factors that could impact a web page’s score. It’s possible that these are still important today for PR purposes — and they’re important considering what we know about SEO, too.

Anchor Text

In the past, it was believed that anchor text accurately described the page being linked to. SEO PageRank specialists felt that the more links they had that included the same anchor text, the higher their page ranking. This led them to try to get as many backlinks with exact-match anchor text as possible.

Today, this is considered a black hat practice as it aims to manipulate Google rankings. Instead, it’s best to follow these best practices for writing anchor text.

Clickability

PageRank was influenced by how much of a chance a link had to be clicked. Originally, PR valued all links on a page equally. However, a patent that Google submitted in 2004 updated that to state that different links may have a different likelihood of being clicked.

If you have a backlink that’s placed in a website footer, for example, it won’t carry as much weight as one that’s placed in the first paragraph of a blog post.

Internal Links

Backlinks are links from an outside website back to your website, and internal links are links that go from one page on your website to another page on your website. In terms of PageRank, it was believed that internal links helped PR find its way through your website. Ultimately, that would have a positive impact on your PR.

Internal linking is still an important strategy today. Here are 9 reasons why.

Nofollow Links

A nofollow link tells Google, “Don’t index this page.” Today, Google only uses nofollow links as hints to maybe not follow it, but the search engine still does what it thinks is best.

In the past, though, nofollow links were used for PageRank sculpting. For example, if you posted an article and included 5 links to 5 different websites, you could put nofollow tags on 4 of those links so only 1 of the links carried the link juice.

You can learn more about nofollow links in our article about it.

Are There Metrics Similar to PageRank?

There isn’t any Google-sanctioned software with which you can measure PageRank. To get a feel for your website’s ranking power, though, you can use Authority Score from Semrush.

This website grade (it’s not for individual web pages) can tell you the quality of your website and how powerful a backlink from your site might be. Or, if you’re looking for sites that you want to link back to your site, how powerful a link from that website might be.

Authority Score takes the following into account:

  • Monthly estimation of organic search traffic.
  • The quality and quantity of backlinks to the website.
  • Spam factors that could negatively impact ranking.

Again, this isn’t a PageRank replacement, but it is a way to assess the power of your own website as well as those you receive backlinks from.

Final Thoughts About PageRank and How to Improve Your Score

Even though Google no longer makes PageRank public, it still matters when it comes to your website’s SEO and ranking potential. That’s why developing a backlink strategy is so important. There’s a lot you can do to encourage backlinks, such as:

  • Respond to media requests for the chance of getting a mention and backlink from a reporter.
  • Search for broken backlinks to your site and ask the website owner to update them.
  • Share content with website owners and publishers who may want to share it with their audience.
  • Write guest blog posts for other sites and include a link back to your website.

To sum up, PageRank is a rating based on (1) how many other pages link to your web page and (2) how high the PageRank is of those websites. A strong backlink profile and a high PageRank score can help your website rank higher in search results.

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