Google PageRank is NOT Dead

Have you been working in SEO for a number of years? Most likely, you recall Google’s Toolbar PageRank.

This is how it appeared:

Every page you visited’s Google PageRank was displayed, on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 10.

However, Google had stopped updating Toolbar Pagerank for many years before they formally ended support for it in 2016. Because of this, some SEOs believe that PageRank is an antiquated statistic that has no place in current SEO.

Here is a comment I found summarizing this way of thinking on another PageRank article:

Quite brutal However, PageRank still has a significant impact on Google’s ranking system.

Where did I learn this? According to Google.

(Gary Illyes is a Google employee. So in a sense, the tweet is direct from the source.)

But this tweet from a year ago isn’t the only proof I have. Gary Illyes gave a speech at a conference I attended in Singapore just one month ago (see at me with him!). He emphasized to the audience in his address that PageRank is still a component of their algorithm, even though Toolbar PageRank is no longer used.

With that in mind, the aim of this post is threefold:

To set the record straight about the importance and relevance of PageRank in 2018;

To explain the basics of the PageRank formula;

To discuss other similar metrics that exist today, which may make suitable replacements to the deprecated public PageRank “score.”

What is Google PageRank?

PageRank (PR) is a formula that evaluates a page’s “value” based on the number and caliber of other pages linking to it. Its goal is to establish the relative significance of a certain website in a network (i.e., the World Wide Web).

PageRank was developed in 1997 as part of a research effort at Stanford University by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. They stated their primary motivation as being to “increase the quality of web search engines.”

That brings up a crucial point: In the past, search engines weren’t as effective as Google is now. Yahoo and Altavista, two early search engines, weren’t very effective at all. Their search results’ relevancy was far from ideal.

The authors of the original paper, Sergey and Larry, stated the following about the current status of search engines: “Anyone who has recently used a search engine can quickly attest that the completeness of the index is not the sole element in the quality of search results. Any results that a person is interested in are frequently wiped out by “junk results.”

By utilizing the “citation (link) graph of the web,” which the creators of PageRank referred to as “an essential resource that has largely gone underutilized in present web search engines,” they hoped to address this issue.

The method scientists use to determine the “importance” of scientific papers served as inspiration for the concept. In other words, by counting how many other scientific papers mention them. By keeping track of linkages (references) between web pages, Sergey and Larry applied this idea to the internet.

It was so successful that it served as, and continues to serve as, the core of the Google search engine.

How does Google PageRank work?

Here is the complete PageRank formula (and justification) from the original 1997 paper:

Presumably, page A has pages T1 through Tn that point to it (i.e., are citations). The damping factor, or parameter d, has a range of 0 to 1. D is typically set to 0.85. The next section contains more information regarding d. Additionally, the number of links leaving page A is defined as C(A). The following is how a page A’s PageRank is indicated:

Because the PageRanks are distributed probabilistically among online pages, the total PageRank of all web pages will be 1.

Confused? Let’s condense.

Google takes into account three factors when calculating the PageRank of a web page, which are:

The quantity and quality of inbound linking pages;

The number of outbound links on each linking page;

The PageRank of each linking page.

Say page C contains two links, one from page A and the other from page B. In addition to having fewer outgoing links, page A is more powerful than page B. You may obtain the PageRank of page C by feeding this information into the PageRank algorithm.

The “damping factor” in the PageRank algorithm replicates the likelihood that a random person will keep clicking links while they browse the internet. With each link-click, it appears like this is becoming worse.

Consider it like this: You have a decent chance of clicking a link on the first page you go to. However, the likelihood that you will click a link on the following page is marginally reduced, and so on.

In light of this, with each iteration of the PageRank algorithm, the total “vote” of a page is multiplied by the “damping factor,” which is typically taken to be 0.85.

The value of a link from the BBC that goes through four “link-hops” is “damped down” to the point where the final page rarely benefits from it. However, if they only make two link-hops to get to that same page, the link will have a significant impact on the page.

Why did Google remove the public PageRank score?

A Google representative stated the following in 2016:

The complexity of the Internet and our comprehension of it has increased, making the Toolbar PageRank score less valuable to users as a single isolated indicator. Removing the PageRank display from the Toolbar helps keep users and webmasters from becoming perplexed about the importance of the metric.

Link spam, however, most likely played a role in the decision as well.

It’s fair to say that PageRank has long been a source of obsession for SEOs, maybe because the so-called “toolbar PageRank” provided a visual indicator of a webpage’s rank-worthiness.

It appeared as though PageRank was the only ranking factor that mattered because no other ranking criteria had a comparable visual indicator. People quickly began purchasing and selling “high PR” links as a result. It developed became and remains a sizable industry.

Currently, there are several “high PR” links for sale on Fiverr.

There are numerous ways to obtain these “high PR” links, if you’re wondering how link dealers obtain them in the first place. Making blog comments was one of the main acquisition strategies in the middle of the 2000s.

This posed a significant issue for Google. Due to the fact that links were automatically awarded to deserving pages, they were once a reliable indicator of quality. Their system struggled to distinguish between high-quality and low-quality pages because of unnatural linkages.

The introduction of “nofollow”

Google collaborated with other significant search engines to launch the “nofollow” tag in 2005. By enabling webmasters to prevent the transfer of PageRank via particular links, that eliminated spam blog comments (e.g., blog comments).

Here is a quote from Google’s official statement on the “nofollow” change:

If you blog or read blogs, you’re uncomfortably familiar with folks who leave linked blog comments on other blogs, such as “Visit my discount medications site,” in an attempt to boost the ranks of their own websites. This is known as comment spam, and since we detest it as well, we’ve been testing a new tag that prevents it. Links with the rel=”nofollow” attribute on them will no longer be given any credit when Google ranks webpages in its search results.

Today, practically all CMS systems by default “nofollow” links in blog comments.

But when Google resolved one issue, a another issue unintentionally got worse.

PageRank sculpting

According to the original PageRank formula, each outgoing link on a webpage receives an equal share of PageRank. The quantity of PageRank sent via each link is y/10 if the PageRank of a page is y and the page has ten outgoing links.

But what happens if you give 9 of those 10 links the “nofollow” attribute? It must stop the flow of PageRank to nine of those pages so that just one link on the page can transfer the entire PageRank value.

Yes, at first, this was the situation, and soon after, webmasters started applying the “nofollow” attribute only to pages they considered to be of lower importance (e.g., outgoing links, etc.). They were able to “shape” the flow of PageRank around their site as a result.

For instance, if they wanted to increase the “power” of a certain website and had a page with a PageRank score of 7 (according to the public PR score on the toolbar), they would simply link to it from the high PR page and “nofollow” all the other links on the page. In this manner, their preferred page would receive the most PageRank possible.

In 2009, Google changed this. An excerpt from Matt Cutts’ blog entry on the subject is provided below:

What occurs, then, if a page has “ten PageRank points” and has 10 outgoing links, five of which are nofollowed? […] When nofollow was first introduced, each of the five links would have received two points of PageRank. Google modified the way PageRank flows more than a year ago so that each of the five links with nofollow would receive one point of PageRank.

Here is an example of the distinction:

We don’t know if the ‘nofollow’ math still functions in this manner. This adjustment was made by Google nine years ago. Perhaps now things are different. It’s likely that other elements (such a link’s placement on a page) now may have an impact on how much value a certain link transfers.

But one thing is certain: adding “nofollow” tags to some links won’t help the other links on the page receive more “link juice.”

Google (slowly) axes the public PageRank score

Google removed PageRank information from Webmaster Tools shortly after making adjustments to how PR is transmitted between so-called “dofollow” and “nofollow” links on a page.

When Google’s John Mueller said that users should cease using PageRank because it would no longer be updated in 2014, support for the public PageRank statistic suffered yet another setback.

“Neither PageRank nor links would I use as metrics. As far as I can remember, we last updated PageRank more than a year ago, and we don’t have any current plans to do so. Consider a suitable metric based on what you want visitors to perform on your website.

Toolbar PageRank was formally discontinued in 2016.

This change made it more difficult to purchase and trade “high PR links” because it was now impossible to determine a webpage’s “real” PageRank.

Is there a suitable replacement for the public PageRank score?

There is no PageRank duplicate. Period.

However, there are several comparable metrics, one of which being Ahrefs’ URL Rating (UR).

SIDENOTE.

In a manner comparable to PageRank, Majestic and Moz also use some proprietary measures. To learn more, feel free to browse the documentation on the websites of their designers. However, since Ahrefs’ URL Rating (UR) is a statistic we completely understand and trust, we will exclusively discuss it in this article.

What is URL Rating?

Ahrefs’ URL Rating (UR) is a statistic that ranks the strength of a target URL’s backlink profile from 1 to 100.

How do you view a page’s URL rating? Enter Site Explorer and paste it there.

How is URL Rating (UR) similar to PageRank?

To be clear, while we do calculate URL Rating (UR) similarly to the original Google PageRank, it’s crucial to clarify that the two metrics are not the same. Nobody but Google is aware of how the PageRank formula has changed over time.

But we do know that URL Rating (UR) is comparable to the original Google PageRank formula in the following ways:

We count links between pages;

We respect the “nofollow” attribute;

We have a “damping factor”;

We crawl the web far and wide (which is a critical component when calculating an accurate link-based metric)

Keep in mind that this illustrates how URL Rating (UR) differs from the original PageRank formula. In the 21 years since its founding, Google has almost definitely refined and improved upon its algorithm.

Where did we learn this? Well, to begin with, it’s a fair assumption to make. Google’s search results are by far the greatest of any search engine, so we know that company hasn’t been standing still all these time.

However, the following is a quotation from Matt Cutts that I discovered in his 2009 blog article about PageRank sculpting:

If you think Google ceased making advances in link analysis, you’re wrong. Google has improved its capacity to determine reputation based on links over the years, even though we still call it PageRank.

How does URL Rating (UR) differ from Google PageRank?

Over the years, Google has submitted a large number of publicly available patents. However, no one, not even Bill Slawski, is aware of which variables are included in the live algorithm or how much weight each one is given.

We don’t fully comprehend how Google determines the worth of a link in 2018 because of this fact, which makes it very challenging to understand how URL Rating (UR) differs from the current version of Google PageRank.

Things aren’t always as simple as you may think, even when it comes to seemingly basic things like how links are calculated. When interviewing SEOs, this is a fantastic exam.

Eight links to page B are counted by Ahrefs’ crawler, but not all crawlers operate in the same way.

We don’t know how Google calculates their count.

In addition, counting the links is just one aspect of the equation. The complexity increases significantly if you begin to determine how much value each of those relationships passes.

Here are some other queries to which we lack knowledge:

1. Does the transfer of PageRank vary according to the location of the link on the page?

The reasonable surfer patent from Google suggests that this might be the case.

In particular, it is hypothesized that links towards the top of the document may pass more PageRank than connections near the bottom. Comparing links in the main content and links in the sidebar is equivalent.

In his analysis here, Bill Slawski cites a few other factors that Google might consider when determining a link’s significance.

2. Do internal links transfer PageRank in the same way as external links?

The reasonable surfer patent from Google does provide some evidence that this might be the case.

This is covered in Bill Slawski’s study of the patent.

To be clear, there is no firm response to this query. Just because something is mentioned in a Google patent doesn’t mean it’s included in the actual algorithm. Over the years, Google has applied for a number of patents.

3. Does the first link from a site transfer more value than any subsequent links from the same site?

Subsequent links from the same website “could likely be ignored when scores for pages are assessed,” according to Bill Slawski.

When we examined approximately 1 BILLION webpages, we also discovered a definite positive correlation between the quantity of unique referring domains and organic traffic.

In all honesty, we could go on and on about unknowns. (If you’re interested in learning more about why not all links are created equally, check out this article from Moz.)

Should you use URL Rating (UR) as a PageRank alternative?

Due to its similarities to the original PageRank methodology, URL Rating (UR) makes a good replacement statistic for PageRank.

But it’s hardly a miracle cure. We are certain that compared to the current version of Google PageRank, URL Rating (UR) doesn’t take into account as many parameters.

So, use it, but don’t completely rely on it, is our recommendation. Prior to following a link, always manually check the objective (i.e., go to the relevant page).

How to preserve (and boost) your PageRank

This is not about optimizing for PageRank or URL Rating, which I want to emphasize before I begin with this part (UR). Making bad decisions is frequently the result of that way of thinking. Making sure that you aren’t wasting or losing PageRank on your site is the true challenge.

For that, there are three areas to focus on:

Internal links: How you link the pages together on your website affect the flow of “authority” or “link juice” around your site.

External links: Both URL Rating (UR) and PageRank effectively share authority between all outbound links on a page. But this doesn’t mean you should delete or “nofollow” external links. (Keep reading.)

Backlinks: Backlinks bring so-called “link juice” into your site, which you should carefully preserve.

Let’s look at each of these individually.

Internal linking

You may not always have control over backlinks. People are free to use any anchor text they like when linking to any page on your website.

However, internal linkages are unique. You have complete authority over them.

Seriously: We wrote one since internal linking is a topic big enough to have its own article. However, to get you started, here are a few internal linking best practices:

1. Keep important content as close to your homepage as possible

The strongest page on your website is probably your home page.

You don’t trust me? Try this:

Site Explorer > Type in Your Domain > Recommended by Links

Your homepage is probably near the top of the list, I’ll wager.

This is almost always the case for two reasons:

Most backlinks will point to your homepage: Just look at the referring domains column on that report. You’ll most likely see that the number of links to your homepage is the highest of all pages on your site.

Most sites link back to their homepage from all other pages: See the Ahrefs logo in the top left-hand corner of this page? It links to our homepage. And it exists on all pages on our site. Most sites have a similar structure.

As a result, a page will gain more “authority” the closer it is to your homepage (in terms of the internal linking structure). It is advantageous to position key information as close to the homepage as possible for this reason.

Running a site crawl with our Site Audit tool can show you how far a specific page is from the homepage. Go to Site Audit > Select Project > Select Crawl > Data Explorer when you’ve completed that.

Look at the “Depth” column to see how many clicks are required to reach each page from the homepage (assuming you started your crawl there).

The “Depth” column can even be sorted to display pages that are extremely far from the homepage.

But let’s face it, your homepage can’t link to every page, can it?

The good news is that your homepage is not the only high-value page on a site capable of transferring authority to other pages. If you’re desperate to send more “link juice” to a specific page on your site, do this:

Use the Best by Links report to find the most high-authority pages on your site;

Link to the page you’re trying to ‘boost’ from any relevant high-UR pages

For example, looking at the Best by Links report for the Ahrefs blog, I see that our list of SEO tips has a high UR.

I am also aware that this text makes reference to PageRank. Consequently, this is a very relevant page with a high UR from which we may link to this particular page.

2. Fix “orphan” pages

Both internal and external links help spread PageRank throughout a website. So, a page can only receive “link juice” if it is genuinely linked to from one or more other pages on the website.

A page is referred to be an orphan page if it lacks any inlinks.

You need a list of all the web pages on your site before you can find these pages. Although retrieving the pages from your sitemap can be a little challenging, it frequently works. You could also be able to download a complete list of all the web pages your CMS has produced.

Once you have that, use Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool to crawl your website and then select Site Audit > Data Explorer from the menu. Internal HTML page (Valid 200): Yes

You can export this report, which includes all the URLs that were discovered when crawling your website.

Examine the URLs in this report in comparison to your website’s whole list of pages. Pages that were missed by the crawl are presumably orphan pages.

Such pages should be fixed by being either deleted (if insignificant) or having internal links added to them (if they are important).

External linking

There is a common misconception that linking to other resources (i.e., web pages on other sites) can adversely affect one’s search engine rankings.

This is untrue. You need not be concerned about linking to other sites because external links won’t harm you. From the Ahrefs Blog, we frequently link to helpful sites, and our traffic is steadily growing.

It is true that each link will transfer less “value” the more links there are on a page. But we’re confident that, in 2018, it is not as easy to determine the worth of each link on a page as it was when Google first filed the PageRank patent in the middle of the 1990s.

Therefore, even if you can collect links and not connect to anyone else, Google won’t reward you for doing so. For starters, not linking out to any external resources at all is extremely dubious and manipulative, and we are aware that Google does not like that kind of behavior.

In conclusion? External links are present for a reason; they direct readers to content that contributes to the discussions. Therefore, anytime it is beneficial to do so, you should connect out.

Following are a few best practices for external linking:

1. Don’t “nofollow” external links unless you need to

Google has the following to say regarding “nofollow” links:

We don’t generally adhere to them. This indicates that neither PageRank nor anchor text from these links are shared by Google.

Forbes, HuffPo, and other websites now by default “nofollow” all of their external connections.

Is this a wise method? In no way.

Due to some of their writers secretly selling links from their posts, the majority of these websites made the decision to impose such an editorial policy. A general restriction on “dofollow” external links followed because we didn’t want to promote this behavior.

However, it’s likely that you don’t experience this issue. I hope you have a good website and thoroughly review any guest posts. There is no need to “nofollow” each of your external links in that instance. Simply said, it is illogical to do so.

So, you should only “nofollow” external links when:

Linking out to questionable pages: In this case, you might want to question whether you should be linking to that resource at all;

Linking out from a “sponsored post:” Sponsored posts are paid for, which means that any links within the post are effectively paid links. This is exactly what the “nofollow” attribute is for.

2. Fix broken external links

Poor user experience is a result of broken external links. When a reader clicks one of these links, the following happens:

Additionally, these links “wast” PageRank.

Consider this: The link is useless to anyone, but it lessens the impact of the other links on the page.

How are these fixed? You must first locate them.

Backlinks

The PageRank of the linked-to page is raised via backlinks. For instance, backlinko.com links to our article on on-page SEO, raising its PageRank (PR).

However, as was previously mentioned, not all backlinks are made equal. To assess the true worth of a backlink, Google takes into account hundreds of variables.

Having said that, here are a few practical tips to make the most of your backlinks:

1. Focus on building links from high-UR pages

The PageRank of the linked-to page is raised via backlinks. For instance, backlinko.com links to our article on on-page SEO, raising its PageRank (PR).

However, as was previously mentioned, not all backlinks are made equal. To assess the true worth of a backlink, Google takes into account hundreds of variables.

Having said that, here are a few practical tips to make the most of your backlinks:

SIDENOTE.

You may retrieve URL Rating and other Ahrefs information for thousands of pages at once using a tool like URL Profiler.

2. Fix broken pages that waste “link juice”

Backlinks increase the “authority” of every page on the site, including those that are internally linked as well as the page they lead to. Because of internal links, PageRank spreads from page to page.

However, any “link juice” is effectively wasted if you have backlinks going to a broken page because there is nowhere else for it to go.

Therefore, you must fix any broken pages that have links pointing to them. By including a “404 not found” filter in the Best by links report, you can find these pages.

Add a 404 filter in Site Explorer by entering your website and selecting “Best by” links.

This displays all of your website’s broken pages along with how many links each one contains.

Find out more about identifying and resolving these problems here.

3. Don’t get blinded by “authority;” context matters too

PageRank is significant, but link context is also crucial.

What am I referring to here? Consider writing a blog post on how your cat damaged the seats of your gorgeous new BMW for your pet blog. You include a link in the article to a specific product page on the official BMW website. Is the fact that this link originates from a cat blog irrelevant?

No. It is still entirely valid and current. In contrast, a link from a well-known car blogger who published a whole piece about that specific BMW model may have more “worth” in Google’s eyes.

Sincerely, if I had to decide which of these two pages would offer the finest link for BMW, I would choose…

Final thoughts

For obvious reasons—outdated it’s and no longer possible to examine a page’s PageRank, even if you wanted to—the majority of SEOs never give Google PageRank a second thought.

But it’s crucial to keep in mind that many of the modern SEO recommended practices are based on the PageRank methodology. It’s the reason internal linking is still so important to SEO experts and why backlinks are important.

This is not to mean that you should strive to directly optimize for PageRank or even give it your all. You must not. Nevertheless, keep it in mind whenever you create links, improve your internal linking scheme, or examine your external links. In reality, you are indirectly optimizing for PageRank.

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By MuhammadJunaid

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