Arguing about Page Rank

November 16, 2006

Topics: Google.

It’s inevitable when dealing with search marketing clients that the question of PageRank will be raised. PageRank is one of the best known and most widely recognized site status metrics which is easily accessible to the lay site owner. It’s not, however, a particularly useful metric, and can, in fact, be highly misleading. How do you inform your clients of the truth about PageRank?

You can’t take the easy out. Just telling your client, authoritatively, that “PageRank is not a usable metric” will do nothing for you: they’re not convinced. You have to find a way to show them the fact that this abstract number attached to their website is not relevant to their search marketing strategy.

So what are the relevant points?

True PageRank is not Available

Matt Cutts has stated on his blog that:

I believe that I’ve said before that PageRank is computed continuously; there are machines that take inputs to the PageRank algorithm at Google and compute the resulting PageRanks. So at any given time, a url in Google’s system has up-to-date PageRank as a result of running the computation with the inputs to the algorithm. From time-to-time, that internal PageRank value is exported so that it’s visible to Google Toolbar users

Matt Cutts, More Info on PageRank

Further, in the same article, he’s stated that:

It’s more accurate to think of it as a floating-point number. Certainly our internal PageRank computations have many more degrees of resolution than the 0-10 values shown in the toolbar.

Although many would argue that anything Matt says must be taken with a grain of salt, this particular factoid has been reiterated enough that I’m convinced. PageRank is only made available to the public “from time-to-time.” When it is made available, it is made as a 0-10 integer which is relative to a far more complex floating-point number. If you track these updates, like at SEOCompany.ca, you’ll observe that they occur generally speaking in three month-ish intervals. They aren’t regular, and they aren’t frequent. So: Available PageRank numbers are historical and approximate.

PageRank is correlating all web pages in Google’s Index

Keep in mind: you’re competing against your competitors. Sites within your same field, selling the same products, offering the same services, etc. But PageRank is ranking all of the pages of all the websites which Google has indexed. A PageRank of 3 in one industry is not correlative to a PageRank of 3 in another. If you’re going to compare PageRank at all, you need to keep firmly in mind that your PageRank does not necessarily need to be a high number. Make comparisons exclusively within your industry if you want to get any meaning at all.

PageRank is not related to traffic

Currently, this site’s index page has a PageRank of 4. The blog main page had a PageRank of 5 before I switched to WordPress and changed all the URLs, and is now unranked. The site is 8 months old. The site receives approximately 100 unique visitors a day. This is essentially unchanged from before the WordPress switch.

Another site of mine, Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design, currently has a home page PageRank of 3 – with it’s associated blog bearing a PR of 4. That site is 2 1/2 years old, and receives approximately 400 unique visitors per day.

You can draw your own conclusions.

Is PageRank irrelevant?

No, not entirely. PageRank conveys some very basic information about your site: has Google gotten around to indexing your page, have they found backlinks to it, etc. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t be interpreted as any kind of goal-oriented metric. It’s better to pursue valuable content, links, and traffic than to attempt to reverse-engineer your PageRank.

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