In your pursuit of SEO knowledge, you’ve likely bumped across the term PageRank. It is, after all, an important foundation in the field.
But what is it exactly?
And what influence does it have over search engine optimization?
In this post, we’ll go over what Google PageRank is, how it came to be, and how it helps web pages rank in search engines.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Google PageRank?
- 2 How Does PageRank Work?
- 3 What Is My PageRank?
- 4 What Went Wrong With PageRank?
- 5 Goodbye, Google PageRank
- 6 PageRank Alternatives
- 7 But Does Google Still Use PageRank?
- 8 So How Do I Get High PR Links Then?
- 9 How to Improve Google PageRank Further
- 10 Conclusion
What Is Google PageRank?
To appreciate what PageRank does, we’ll need to take a step back and examine what search engines were like before PageRank existed.
It’s easy for us to take for granted how efficient search engines like Google are today.
They can now crawl pages and determine high-quality content over trashy ones. They can match user queries with sites that have the information they are looking for.
But that wasn’t the case when the internet was just getting off the ground.
There was no system in place to filter good content from the bad.
So, how bad was it?
Here’s what Yahoo looked like back in 1996.
We performed a search using the keyword “Brad Pitt”.
Not only is the SERP unappealing in itself, but the results are also lackluster at best. Several of the sites on this list are fan pages and links to movies the actor starred in.
But why does it matter if Yahoo looks terrible? All that matters is that the results provide the information the user is looking for.
These pages have to be the best resources for them to be on top of the list, right?
Well, you be the judge:
magine this in 2019. There’s no way this would be acceptable.
So what changed?
It is an algorithm that was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin all the way back in 1997. And yes, these two are the same people who would go on and start Google.
The whole point behind the formula was to assess the value of a page.
The duo deduced that by determining the value of each page, search engines would be able to provide users with better results.
It wasn’t long after its implementation that PageRank was seen by SEOs and online marketers as the primary index for link building strategies.
How Does PageRank Work?
PageRank makes use of backlinks to figure out how influential a page is.
The premise is simple enough: The more backlinks a page receives, the more likely the content is useful for people.
And it made sense at the time. Why would people link to a page that served no purpose?
Today, however, SEOs have so many ways of manipulating backlinks that there’s growing fear over the effectiveness of PageRank. More on this later.
For now, let’s look at the actual formula for PageRank.
PR(A) = (1‑d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))
- PR = PageRank
- A = Web page
- (1-d) = The average of all web pages’ PageRank
- d = Damping factor (a value set between 0 and 1, usually 8.5)
- n = The page that A is being compared to
- PR(Tn)/C(Tn) = Computes for the value of the backlinks that page n is providing
Damping factor refers to the probability of users to click on the links as they continue browsing the web. The idea is that the longer a user browses, the fewer chances there are of that same user clicking further.
Needless to say, this formula is pretty intense and not as useful for your average person.
So let’s break it down into simpler terms.
There are three main factors that PageRank considers to determine a site’s PR score.
- Inbounds links — PR looks at the quantity and quality of the linking pages.
- Outbound links — PR sees how many outbound links there are on the linking pages.
- PageRank — PR determines the PageRank of the pages that are linking to you.
And here’s a simplified overview of how PageRank incorporates all three factors courtesy of Ahrefs.
Let’s say that pages A and B are linking to page C. Page A is stronger than B with the former having fewer links (D) than the latter (E, F, and G). With these conditions as your basis, Google will be able to determine the PageRank of page C.
What Is My PageRank?
If you just want to know what your PageRank is and can’t deal with the formula above, then you’re in luck.
There is a much simpler way to compute for PageRank using online tools.
Small SEO Tools has a product aptly called the Google PageRank Checker.
The tool is very instinctive to use and as simple as it can be.
Simply enter the domain you want to check (must include // in the query).
Click Check Page Rank and the result will be delivered shortly.
Google used to have its own toolbar for checking PageRank. It was since disabled which led some SEOs to believe that Google no longer sees PR as an important ranking factor.
If Google is no longer providing PR information, where do sites like Small SEO Tools get their scores from?
Are they even reliable?
They happen to use their own calculator. So while they claim that they are a reliable source, you need to keep in mind that they run outside of Google’s algorithm.
Their results won’t necessarily match Google’s assessment.
Tools that compute for a domain’s PR use their own algorithms and are not the actual numbers from Google.
What Went Wrong With PageRank?
While the intention behind PageRank is admirable, it wasn’t long before online marketers started manipulating the system to their benefit.
Google refers to these problems as link schemes.
Link schemes come in many forms. Most of them involve acquiring links through inorganic means.
So what does PageRank have to do with this?
Since the PageRank algorithm computes for the influence of a page on organic search, people used this information to influence their link building tactics.
In other words: the higher the PageRank, the more reason for people to build links from it!
Because PageRank helped identify for people the types of websites they should get links from, it also gave birth to shady tactics.
In this section, we’ll dive into some of the more nefarious ones used by SEOs to get better PageRank scores.
Buying and Selling of Links
Some marketers straight up went to purchasing link placement on sites with a high domain authority to rank in the SERPs.
And site owners who have a clear following online found a way to monetize their properties by offering SEOs a link in exchange for cash.
For a while, this tactic actually worked. But Google eventually caught on and penalized those who were discovered to have unnatural links.
But even to this day, you’ll still see people selling link placement for a fee.
In fact, there are people you can pay to have your links added to high-DA sites. You can acquire their services through sites like Fiverr.
Directories are typically a target, especially in the early 2000s. But as time went on, link buying became prominent on blog comment sections, forums, and in-post.
The problem got so bad that Google even encouraged users to report paid links in 2009.
Google’s campaign against paid links has only intensified since.
So if Google is so against it and violators are penalized heavily, why are people still practicing link buying?
They do so for the following reasons:
- Saving time — Link building (when done the proper way) takes a lot of time. You’d have to do a ton of research, reach out to an influencer, create a post, and have it approved. Imagine doing all that on your own. And by the end of it, all you get is one link. Buying links cuts through all that and gets you a backlink minus all the hassle.
- Building networks — Some people buy links to build a network of sites they can use in the future. If they agree to it once, there’s a chance that those who entertain paid links can be approached for another project down the line.
- Avoiding rejections — As mentioned, link building requires that webmasters send pitches to prospects. And in most cases, you’ll be flat out rejected. Paid link offers can also be rejected. However, people are incentivized to say yes when they see that they’ll be compensated for their participation.
Excessive Exchange of Links Among Webmasters
PageRank lost its meaning the minute webmasters started asking one another to link to their respective pages.
Links became inorganic thanks to this practice.
Webmasters started getting high-PR links just for the sake of having them. It didn’t matter if these links had any business being included in a post.
This made it possible for link exchange websites to exist.
The Link Exchange and sites like it encourage the practice of exchanging links. It lets you find sites that are open to working with other webmasters to add each other’s links on their pages.
SEOs have been more open to this type of link building tactic because it’s free.
Because exchanging links is mutually beneficial, SEOs barely encounter any resistance. Webmasters are basically scratching each other’s backs.
Inexperienced SEOs find themselves in hot water when they exchange links with the wrong crowd.
You don’t want to mix yourself with sites that:
- Are unrelated to your niche
- Hold no value whatsoever
- Are littered with spammy links to other websites
- Had just been created specifically for building links
- Do not offer do-follow links
- Have horrible UI/UX
If you do end up working with sites that exhibit these features then you’ll likely end up getting penalized.
Running Large-Scale Article Marketing or Guest Posting Campaigns
This kind of strategy goes by another name: content farming.
So what is content farming exactly?
These are domains that use low-quality content to beef up their sites. While they can present useful information, they would often meet the bare minimum to be considered useful.
You’ve probably come across them at one point. Especially this one:
Everybody was spinning content and submitting them to sites like Ezine Articles, Buzzle, and other content farms.
It was a very effective link building tactic in itself that you can get the content to rank on their target keywords.
And therein lies the problem:
People leveraged content to build links, not create useful content for its audience.
This led to Google releasing the Panda/Farmer update. The aim was to combat content farming activities across the web.
And most – if not all – of content farms were hit hard:
Guest posting campaigns, an off-shoot of content farming, was also shut down by Google real quick.
Unlike the type of guest posts we see nowadays, brands back then submit content to article-starved site owners for the purpose of getting a backlink.
And, just like articles from content farms, the quality was not up to snuff.
That’s why it was no surprise then that guest blogging networks such as MyBlogGuest were hit. The company’s CEO confirmed via Twitter.
There are many theories as to why it happened. But the most common reason mentioned by those familiar with the issue is the company’s requirement that all its users use do-follow links.
It also doesn’t help that the quality of the posts, as some would say, is not good enough.
This incident served as a warning for SEOs who manipulate the system through low-quality content.
Using Automated Programs to Build Links
Automated backlink programs are exactly what they sound like.
It’s a software you can run to automatically get links from comments, forums, and the like. These are usually available for both Mac and PC.
These can be run 24/7 and requires no interaction from the user once it’s started.
Obviously, Google is not happy with these tools. They create unnatural links for the benefit of raising a site’s PR rating.
Needless to say, you will be penalized for using these programs.
Tagging Links as No-Follow
Tagging links as no-follow seemed like a good compromise.
Links that had been labeled as such do not pass on link equity to the pages they’re pointing to. So domains won’t gain any benefit from the no-follow backlinks they acquire.
Their PR rating will remain unaffected.
So what’s the issue then?
That was until SEOs found another loophole.
What they did was set all the links in their pages as no-follow except for the money pages. Essentially, they were passing on link equity onto their most prized pages.
This is referred to as link sculpting.
Again, Google had to respond with a change in their algorithm. Now, links with a no-follow attribute still counted towards PageRank and divided among all the links on a page.
Matt Cutts explains his views on sculpting in this video.
Goodbye, Google PageRank
Despite its intentions to clean up the SERPs to rid it of low-quality pages, Google has removed PageRank from its Webmaster Tools.
That’s the question site owners have asked themselves when the news broke out.
Does this mean Google is no longer looking at PageRank?
But if that’s the case, why is PageRank still available on Google Toolbar?
The debate over the usefulness of PageRank as a ranking factor went on until Google sent feelers that seemingly confirmed what some have been saying all along:
People should stop using PageRank as a metric.
As Google explained in a blog post:
PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc… The PR you see publicly is different from the number our algorithm actually uses for ranking. Why bother with a number that’s at best three steps removed from your actual goal, when you could instead directly measure what you want to achieve?
Two years later, the PageRank Toolbar ceased to exist.
Although it’s important to note that Google still says that PageRank remains a part of their algorithm.
This was a blow for SEOs who use PageRank as a guide to determine what the priority of a site might be.
In this roundtable video, Google explains that there’s no point in keeping the PageRank Toolbar since it’s no longer bringing value internally.
In the absence of PageRank, third-party companies have developed their own methods of assessing a site’s value.
And while they are not exact replicas of PageRank, they are widely accepted as substitutes even to this day.
So if you’re looking for a way to gauge your site’s SEO status, you can rely on these three metrics to get the job done.
Page/Domain Authority by Moz
Domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA) were developed by Moz to gauge how well a site can rank in the SERPs.
And while Moz makes money by selling SEO tools, there are plenty of ways to get a site’s domain and page authority for free including MozBar, a Google Chrome plugin.
Other third-party SEO tools also display domain and page authority.
So what’s the difference between domain and page authority? DA tells you the score of the entire domain while PA shows the score of a specific page.
Moz uses machine learning to assess a website’s link data. Sites with strong external links are scored higher (up to 100) while newer sites are given a default score of 1.
So what score should you be aiming for?
DA and PA are meant to be used as a comparative metric. That means that as long as your score is higher than your competition, you should stand a chance at outranking them.
Your domain authority is calculated based on a number of factors. So your score will slide up and down from time to time. Your score could also change based on how well your competition is faring.
Flow Metrics by Majestic
Flow Metrics by Majestic helps users visualize the strength of a specific page or domain.
There are two components to flow metrics: citation flow and trust flow.
Here’s how it works:
Every link on a website or a page has a citation and trust flow score anywhere between 1 and 100.
All the links are then plotted on a graph. This gives you an idea of what the flow metrics for your page looks like.
Links that have a high citation flow are positioned to the right while links with a high trust flow are positioned higher in the graph.
Majestic then tabulates the results and comes up with the score for that page.
As you’ll notice, parts of the graph are much darker and denser than the rest. This represents links that have the same link values.
Ideally, you want to have a dense graph through and through.
The closer a link is to the starting point, the less value it brings.
Majestic lets you compare two sites at once. So this can be useful to evaluate how you currently stand against a competitor.
The goal of flow metrics is to give you a quick visual representation of your trust and citation flow. Majestic’s online tool gives you access to all the relevant information if you wish to dig deeper.
URL/Domain Rating by Ahrefs
URL rating (UR) and domain rating (DR) work like page authority and domain authority respectively.
It too uses backlink profiles to score pages from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the better.
UR and DR scores are based on the following criteria:
- Link count between pages
- Do-follow attribute (no-follows do not count)
- Ahref’s damping factor
- Crawling the web far and wide
According to Ahrefs, this is how they calculate the DR rating:
Again, these metrics are to be used comparatively. They are not supposed to replace PageRank.
Rather, these metrics are to be used in the absence of PageRank.
These let you assess how a site fares against a competitor.
But Does Google Still Use PageRank?
As mentioned earlier, there’s an indication that Google still uses PageRank as a ranking factor.
Gary Illyes who works for Google posted about it on Twitter.
DeepCrawl also mentioned speaking with a Google representative who confirmed the continued use of PageRank.
So despite not letting the public access the PageRank Toolbar anymore, it doesn’t mean Google is no longer relying on PR.
PageRank is still mentioned in Google blog posts as a ranking factor.
In fact, a 2019 Google blog post warns webmasters not to participate in link schemes that pass PageRank.
So there’s evidence that Google is still concerning themselves with PR.
The reason why the toolbar was removed was probably because it was being abused by SEOs who are into using link schemes.
This issue was even brought up to Matt Cutts who then responded in a video and explained the value of having the PageRank Toolbar.
And even though Matt was defending the existence of the toolbar, it’s sudden disappearance could indicate that there was validity to the concerns of some users.
Long story short:
Google still uses PR but no longer makes it available to the public so webmasters can focus on other SEO-related issues that they need to prioritize.
So How Do I Get High PR Links Then?
Here’s a little secret:
Not all backlinks are the same.
Below are Ahrefs data for two blogs. The first one comes from Blog A which has 1.83 million backlinks.
Next is Ahrefs data from Blog B which has 283,000 backlinks.
Did you catch that?
Blog A, which had over 1 million backlinks, has a lower domain rating than Blog B.
Because the quality of the backlinks is way more important than the number of backlinks you have.
Volume isn’t as important in this case.
If you need to have high PR links, we suggest sticking to white hat link building techniques.
We’ve written about white hat link building strategies before. You should definitely check it out if you want all the details.
But to summarize, you can acquire high PR links by:
- Guest posting — Reaching out to influential bloggers and ask to contribute a post in exchange for a do-follow link.
- Broken link building — Looking for high PR posts with backlinks that no longer work. Then ask the webmaster to replace the broken link with one that’s pointing to your site.
- Blogger outreach — Contacting bloggers through email or social media and ask them to write about your product.
How do you know if a site has a great PageRank score?
Remember, you won’t have the luxury of a PageRank Toolbar anymore to help you figure it out.
That’s where all those PR alternatives come into play.
We’ve mentioned three: Moz, Majestic, and Ahrefs. All three can help you determine which sites are worth getting links from.
Let’s use Ahrefs as an example.
Create an account and log in. Enter your domain in the search box and hit Search.
Your goal here is to manually inspect the links of your competitors from all of these domains and find ways to get one that’s similar to theirs.
From the sidebar, go to Organic Keywords > Competing Domains.
Here you’ll find a list of websites that are similar to yours.
Select a competitor. Now click on Link Intersect and enter their domain URL.
Check the list of sites that you don’t have a backlink from yet.
These results are organized from highest to lowest domain ranking.
Now you want to find pages with the highest UR from your competitor’s link profile.
Click the drop-down icon beside the referring domain. This will show you the UR rating of the source of your competitor’s backlink.
Through this method, you’ll be able to assess the strength of the referring page itself.
That’s how you find high PR pages and domains using Ahrefs.
But what if you want to use another tool outside of the three mentioned?
Luckily for you, you have other options.
One of them would be SerpWorx.
SerpWorx is a Chrome plugin that lets users see SEO data right when they need it.
The tool is a paid one but you can enjoy limited searches for the next five days after signing up.
The great thing about SerpWorx is you get Moz, Majestic, and SEMrush data.
This will tremendously help you determine which domains to target first for your link building campaign. But more on that later.
Go ahead and install the Chrome plugin and sign up for a free account (no credit card information required).
Once installed, activate it and it should work right away.
Note: Be sure to turn the plugin off when not in use so you don’t waste your allotted credits for the day.
You can now go ahead and visit pages with a high UR rating. With SerpWorx on, you’ll see the page’s domain authority and page authority (Moz) as well as its trust flow and citation flow (Majestic).
Use this information to find linking opportunities for your website.
And should both DA and PA end in a tie, you can use Majestic metrics to settle the score.
It also works the other way around.
The point is that you should target pages with the highest scores to get the most PageRank.
How to Improve Google PageRank Further
Getting backlinks is not the only way to improve your site’s PageRank.
You can improve your PR if you double-down on the following tactics.
Do not focus solely on links going to your page.
The links you add on your site are just as important. They play an important role in PageRank.
Your visitors are looking for information that would satisfy their queries. Google knows that. So it rewards webmasters who are able to meet their users’ needs.
And while your page should be able to supply all the answers, Google recognizes that external links can also be beneficial.
External links provide additional reading so users can follow-up on topics that you weren’t able to fully cover. They also help verify any information you’ve used on your post.
So if you don’t have supporting content within your site to flesh out the topic of your post, you should link out to reliable external pages. Just make sure your external links are related to your topic.
On a related note:
Links don’t stay online forever. Some pages go offline unexpectedly.
Because of this, there’s a need to rigorously check all links from time to time. Sites get penalized when they have broken links on their pages.
They hamper user experience and halt the flow of link juice in between pages, including yours.
How do you monitor broken links?
You can use tools like Ahrefs to address the problem.
Under Site Explorer, enter your domain and click Search.
From there, go to Outgoing Links > Broken Links.
This will show you all the broken links on your domain.
Should you find broken links on your domain, you should remove or replace them immediately. The longer you leave them alone, the more like they’ll impact your SEO performance.
You can’t just continue building pages and call it a day.
You need to be able to connect all your pages in the right manner for it to be really effective.
That’s when you create what’s referred to in the industry as a link structure.
Usually, SEOs create what’s called a content silo. Simply put, a silo is like a pyramid with the most important page on your site on the top (homepage) and the less important pages are placed in the bottom.
But there are a few SEOs who use a reverse silo.
Here’s an hour-long video that discusses the topic in deep detail.
It’s exactly how it sounds. You flip the silo and place the least important pages on top with the biggest page right in the bottom.
The reverse silo’s main advantage is that less important pages can now be linked from anywhere on your site so long as they’re relevant to each other.
Any site with a good link structure will have a leg up over the competition especially when it comes to PageRank.
Let’s see this in action.
However, for this example, I’ll be using Steve Toth’s structure from his seonotebook.com Evernote notes:
It’s difficult to see what the flowchart is about. But let me explain below.
Let’s pretend that your site has five pages.
- Topic A Blog Post
- Topic B Blog Post
- Topic C Money Page
- Topic D Blog Post
- Topic E Blog Post
You notice that there’s no real structure to these pages. Let’s fix that.
We want all blog posts to link to the money page and each other.
So we have to do some keyword research to determine which pages have more value. Let’s say our money page is targeting the keyword “window repair”.
Once again, let’s head on over to Ahrefs to see what their data has to say.
You’ll see that “window repair” is actually a great keyword and isn’t difficult to rank. Next, let’s check what queries can support our main keyword.
Scroll down a bit and you’ll find related keywords and queries.
In particular, let’s check the Questions section. These will tell you what other terms people ask about the term you searched for. In our case, window repair.
You need to find terms with the highest search volume. However, the terms you select need to be logical.
From our example, we get the following questions:
- How to repair window screen (Topic F)
- How to repair rotted wood window frame (Topic D)
- How to repair window sill (Topic B)
- How to repair window blinds (Topic E)
- How much does it cost to repair a window (Topic A)
Remember, Topic C (Window Repair) is our money page.
Let’s pretend that we haven’t covered these topics in our other posts. Then we have to create and add them to the link structure. Otherwise, all we do is optimize the pages to fit the topics.
How can you optimize the pages, you ask?
You can check out the Having Same Terms section on Ahrefs to find LSI keywords that you can include in the posts.
You can use another tool called Surfer SEO to get an idea of what you need to include in the post. Refer to the Common Phrases tab for the results.
The tool shows words and phrases that are mentioned in the top ten SERP results for your keyword.
Super helpful especially if you’re aiming to cover the same topics as your competition.
It also shows you the average word count and other factors you need to be comparable with the top results.
The point is to create the most relevant supporting content for your money page. This way, you can contextually and logically link back to the money page.
For the topic “how to repair windows screen”, mention that if readers don’t have the time to repair the screen, they should refer to the money page and place their order.
Then point to the “how to repair window blinds” blog post if readers have a different window type to fix.
After all your pages are optimized, link them to one another. Your linking structure should resemble this:
Do this for all your money pages and subpages.
Finally, here are some thoughts from Steve himself regarding this strategy:
We made a lot of careful decisions on how best to internally link all of this content together. The main hub page contained internal links out to all the highest volume pages for file type and profession. This was key as it funnelled the authority of the hub page through to the most important pages.
Then between those pages, contextually similar pages internally linked to each other from within the content. E.g. Our contractor page also linked to our electrician, plumber, construction, HVAC pages etc. and vice versa. It took a lot of careful planning.
All of this helped distribute the authority across these set of pages and is much more efficient relying on links to each individual page.
One last and very important part of the strategy is that each of the supporting pages always linked back to the hub page from within the content with varied anchors. It should also be noted that all of the pages contained unique content.
The Solution to No Internal Links
If you run into the problem of not having internal linking, you’re going to have to use an external tool.
After all, you don’t want to spend your time editing your pages and manually linking to other pages of your site!
Using a tool that would automate the process seems like a logical step. However, WordPress plugins that promise to get the job done can hurt your SEO.
Instead, we suggest using LinkWhisper.
What the tool does is suggest relevant internal links as you write a post.
Unlike other tools that link to a specific phrase or words in an article, Link Whisper intelligently looks for phrases within your content and matches it to link with the most relevant article on your site.
Here’s what it looks like once you purchased and installed the plugin on your WordPress text editor:
All you need to do is check the boxes of the sentences where you want the link to appear.
And as you can see, the links don’t look spammy because the anchor text is not an exact match keyword.
If you don’t have the time to link your internal pages, then Link Whisper is a very good alternative to help you save time.
PageRank isn’t dead. It’s alive and well, even if it’s flying under the radar.
And here’s why:
Google wants you to stop overthinking about it.
Believe it or not, PageRank isn’t everything. It’s just a number, for better or worse.
Right now, Google wants you to focus on other ranking signals first. In other words: deliver value to users.
However, if you need to check how healthy your site is SEO-wise, there are other metrics you can use like the ones from Moz, Majestic, and Ahrefs.
While not direct replacements to Google PageRank, they serve to help you determine the quality of the site using different factors just like PR did.
But again, don’t dwell too much on how high your PR is or how much DA/DR/UR/DR/TF/CF you have.
Just focus on the big better and the PageRank will follow.