If you go back ten years, PageRank was the most talked-about SEO metric. If you’ve been in the business for more than a few years, you probably remember how excited you were when you heard that the PageRank toolbar had been updated.
If all went well, your recent work would have led to a higher PageRank score, which means that Google now thinks your site is more trustworthy than it did before.
An increase in your PageRank score was a great sign that your SEO strategy was working, especially your link-building strategy. In the year 2021, PageRank is rarely talked about.
But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer important; it’s just not a metric that people see. And SEOs stop talking about something when they can no longer measure it.
In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about Google PageRank and how important it is in 2021.
What is PageRank?
When you think about PageRank, this is probably the first thing that comes to mind:
That is the well-known PageRank toolbar from Google.
This is what we all came to think of when we heard the word “PageRank,” and it became the metric that every SEO became obsessed with.
But PageRank is about a lot more than just the toolbar.
A System for Ranking Web Pages Called PageRank
PageRank is a way to rank web pages. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who started Google, made it at Stanford University. And it’s important to know that links are the key to PageRank.
The link is more trustworthy if it has a high PageRank.
We can say that the PageRank algorithm is a way to figure out how important a webpage is by looking at how many links point to it and how good those links are.
The PageRank Score
PageRank is a complicated algorithm that gives a page on the web a score that shows how important it is.
But for everyday SEO, PageRank was a linear representation of a logarithmic scale that went from 0 to 10 and was shown on the PageRank toolbar.
A website with a PageRank score of 0 is usually not very good. On the other hand, a score of 10 would only be given to the most reliable sites on the web.
PageRank scores are easy to understand because they are based on a logarithmic scale. Not sure what it means in everyday language?
From what Search Engine Watch said, “It is thought to have a base of 4–5. So, if the base number is 5, a PR2 link is the same as 5 PR1 links, a PR6 link is the same as 5 PR5 links, and so on.”
We can see very quickly that a PR10 link is like a thousand PR1 links.
SEOs became so focused on this metric because PageRank moves from one page to the next. This means that a website can get more authority if it is linked to a page with a higher PageRank score.
PageRank, which is passed from one website to another through links, helps a website rank higher. The algorithm is based on the idea that a page is important if other important pages link to it.
PageRank is still a part of Google’s algorithm, but the original patent has expired and hasn’t been used in its original form since 2006. The one we see now is also much more complicated.
The History of Google PageRank
On September 1, 1998, the first PageRank patent was filed. This was the first algorithm that Google used to figure out how important a web page was and how to rank it.
In short, Sergey Brin’s idea that information on the web could be ranked by how many links point to it led to the creation of Google. The more links that point to a page, the higher it ranks.
And if we look at the paper that introduced Google, we can see that PageRank is mentioned when talking about the features of the search engine:
PageRank is what makes Google so special.
The paper goes on to say, “The citation (link) graph of the web is a valuable resource that most existing web search engines don’t take advantage of.”
The Introduction of the Google Toolbar
In 2000, Google released the toolbar that we all remember as the way to see our site’s PageRank score and the PageRank scores of our competitors.
Because of this, SEOs started to focus only on PageRank as a way to improve rankings. This was mostly due to a simplified understanding of the algorithm that said a web page with the most links should rank the highest.
In the early 2000s, many people’s approach was to try to get as many links as possible from websites with as high a PageRank as possible.
This, of course, led to people trying to change PageRank by trading money for links and making what many of us will remember as “link farms.”
In almost 15 years, Google would stop updating this toolbar for the public in 2014 (the last confirmed update was in December 2013) and completely stop using it in 2016.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Google stopped using PageRank in its algorithm. It just means that PageRank is no longer a public metric.
An Updated PageRank Patent
The 1998 PageRank patent ran out in 2018, and to many people’s surprise, it wasn’t renewed. A former Google worker confirmed around this time that the original algorithm hadn’t been used since 2006.
But that doesn’t mean that PageRank is dead.
This new patent took the place of the old one. Read Bill Slawski’s analysis here to fully understand how the new version differs from the old one.
This new patent talks about “seed sites in the trusted seed sets” and defines them as “specially chosen high-quality pages that provide good web connectivity to other non-seed pages.” The Google Directory (which was still online when the patent was filed) and the New York Times are given as examples of these types of sites.
“[Seed sites] need to be reliable, diverse enough to cover a wide range of public interests, and well connected to other sites. They should have a lot of useful links that lead to other useful and high-quality pages. This makes them “hubs” on the web.”
The new patent tried to figure out how to give a web page a ranking score based on how close it is to a seed set. But this patent doesn’t talk about PageRank (or claims to be an updated version of the algorithm).
Instead, the SEO community has come to understand that it changes PageRank based on how close it is to the seed set of sites.
Understanding How PageRank Works
PageRank is just plain interesting.
It’s something that every SEO and link builder should know a lot about if only to explain why links are still one of Google’s top three ranking factors.
But just how does PageRank work?
When the patent was first filed and Google’s early algorithm was made, it was based on the idea that a link from one website to another was a vote of trust and authority. And so, the more links (votes) that point to a page, the more trustworthy it should be, and the higher it should rank.
But, as explained in the original paper, “PageRank extends this idea by not counting links from all pages the same and by normalizing by the number of links on a page.”
A link is not the same as a simple vote. It is taken into account how important a page is. A link from a page with a PageRank of 6 is more important than a link from a page with a PageRank of 2.
SEOs sometimes call this movement of PageRank from one page to another “link juice.”
But let’s take a look at how PageRank works:
“We think that page A has pages T1–Tn that lead to it (i.e., are citations). The damping factor, which is the parameter d, can be set between 0 and 1. Usually, d is set to 0.85. In the next section, you’ll find out more about d. Also, C(A) is the number of links that lead away from page A. Here’s how to figure out the PageRank of page A:
PR(A) = (1-d) + (PR(T1)/C(T1) +… + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))
Keep in mind that PageRanks is a probability distribution over web pages, so the total PageRank of all web pages will be 1.”
Simply put, this means that Page B’s PageRank is found by multiplying the PageRank of Page A by 0.85. This thing is called the damping factor.
If Page B links to Page C, Page C gets 85% of Page B’s PageRank (72.25 percent of Page A’s).
If there are no links to a web page, it doesn’t start with 0 PageRank. Instead, it starts with 0.15.
But things get even more confusing when a page has more than one link to an outside site.
As mentioned in this Search Engine Roundtable post from 2004:
PageRank is complicated, and if you want to learn more about how it works, you can read this in-depth guide that gives an overview of PageRank for SEO.