How Does PageRank Affect SEO Rankings?

The thing about your website’s PageRank is that it has very little to do with your SEO ranking for a target keyword phrase. PageRank is a number that Google generates to indicate the overall value of a website in relation to all other websites on the web.

If Google were ever going to rank all of the websites in its index in a single list, PageRank would be the sort-by column of that list. It’s just a number. A probability. Calculated from the incoming links to a page. You want the PageRank formula? Here it is…

What does that mean? It doesn’t really matter… it’s simply a numerical formula. The sum of the value sent to your website, through links, from any websites on the Internet, regardless of source, anchor text, context or any other data. PageRank doesn’t care what your target keywords are, it’s just saying “this is how likely you are to be found on the web randomly”. But there’s one major thing missing from that: Relevance.

Relevance Is The Key To Achieving Top SEO Rankings

Google makes it very clear in a number of articles that they are dedicated to giving you exactly what you want. And while PageRank may give an indication of your website’s importance, relevance is how they determine ‘what you want’.

The thing to remember is that your position in the search results is dependent on the keyword phrase being used. Each keyword phrase delivers different search results because different web pages will be seen as relevant to each phrase.

The first step with a new website is getting into the index and as long as you have any amount of PageRank, Google will index you. But once you appear anywhere near the first few pages of search results for your target keyword phrase you can forget about your PageRank. When it comes to improving your website’s ranking from page 3 to page 1, the PageRank of that website is really quite unimportant.

Why?

It’s a common dilemma for many people; I have a PageRank of 4, so why does a competitor with a PageRank of 3, or 2, or even 1, still outrank me? It’s a fair question that comes from a fairly common misconception. Google PageRank has been hyped up over the years as a strong SEO measurement tool, and it can be. But that hype has made people think that it directly correlates to your position in the search results when it actually doesn’t. There are so many factors that the PageRank algorithm doesn’t take into account that Google’s ranking algorithm does.

SEO Ranking Factors Beyond PageRank

  • Anchor text – One of the most important factors in a link to your site is the text that is used within that link. That text says to Google, “this is what I think that page is about”. It stands to reason then that Google will use this text as a key factor when ranking that web page if that keyword is used as a search. PageRank on the other hand only looks at the URL within the link. So while Google’s algorithm is looking for textual indications of the topic a page and relevance to a given keyword, PageRank simply counts it as a link to the URL from a page with a value of X.
  • Position on page – The more prominent a link is on the page, the more importance Google is going to give it. Google is able to separate the various sections of a web page and will give more importance to particular areas. A footer link, for example, is less important than a header link or a link in the middle of the page and if the same anchor text or URL is used twice, priority is given to the first link that appears on the page. Google accounts for that in its ranking algorithm. PageRank simply counts it as a link to the URL from a page with a value of X.
  • Surrounding text – The text that surrounds a link to your website is considered the link’s context. If the context in which a link is used relates directly to the anchor text of the link, which also directly relates to the destination page, the link is going to have a higher importance in ranking for that keyword than the same link in an unrelated context or an unrelated section on the page. This context is taken into account when Google ranks a website for that given keyword. PageRank simply counts it as a link to the URL from a page with a value of X.
  • Topic of page – Much like the surrounding text of a link, the web page and even the entire website linking to you is also considered the context of that link. If an entire web page is directly related to the anchor text of a link, which is directly related to the destination page, the link is going to have even more importance in ranking for that keyword than just having surrounding text related. Again, Google takes this context into account when ranking sites for the target keyword. Regardless of context, PageRank simply counts it as a link to the URL from a page with a value of X.
  • Topic of destination – Now that we’ve looked at the websites linking to you, let’s take a look at your website. Who should Google trust most in determining what a page is about? Hypothetically, if you were Google and you had 500 links to a site that say ‘music’ from pages about music but the page title, description, all the text on the page and all of the site’s internal links to that page are about finance, which would you use? What you tell Google is far more important than any one link from any site. Sure, if you get enough ‘music’ links pointing to your site you may eventually rank for ‘music’ – just search for ‘click here’ – but what you say about your own web page on your own website is more important in determining the topic of that page than any one of those links. In the same scenario, those 500 unrelated links would still add to the PageRank of your website. So while Google’s algorithm considers more thoroughly if the links are useful for the keyword, PageRank simply counts them as 500 links to the URL from pages with values of X.
  • Destination relevance – When someone searches for a keyword, Google isn’t just looking for the ‘most valuable’ website; it’s looking for the most relevant web page for the keyword that was entered. Google isn’t looking for the website with the highest numerical value; it wants the web page that the searcher will find the most useful. And to find that page it uses all of the above factors and more.

Only after Google takes all of those factors into account does PageRank enter the equation. If, hypothetically, two websites were exactly identical in terms of relevance to the searched keyword (which is extremely unlikely), PageRank would be the determining ranking factor between those two sites.

George Cleanthous

George Cleanthous

SEO Strategist at Web Profits

Formerly of EY and Alcatel, George has extensive experience in many facets of online marketing and has developed an expert analytics skill set. Specialising in Search, George helps drive innovation and the application of our search engine optimisation strategy.

One comment

  1. gaurav says:

    this is the best description of pagerank i have ever read, this has taught me a lot

    May 6th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

required
required