The PageRank algorithm marks one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of search engines due its effectiveness in helping Google show better results for search queries. It came at a time where the rapid expansion of the Internet made it increasingly difficult for Google to show the best results to users.

Although it’s been over 24 years since the inception of PageRank, it’s still relevant and in use even today, proving just how fundamental this technology is for search engines.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about PageRank, from its history, how it works, and strategies to improve your PageRank for improved rankings and traffic success.

What Is PageRank?

PageRank is essentially a way of determining how important websites are based on how many links they have and how important those links are. In other words, the more high-quality links a webpage has, the higher its PageRank score. This helps Google decide which websites to show you first when you search for something.

The initial PageRank formula that was published from the original paper is as follows:

PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))

Do note that this formula was published in 1998, and since then, the PageRank algorithm had been updated multiple times for improvements.

The History of PageRank

In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched a groundbreaking project that would eventually shape the Internet into what it is today. Their vision was simple yet profound: to rank web pages based on their relevance and quality, assessed primarily through the web’s intricate link structure. By considering each link as a vote of confidence, the PageRank algorithm could identify the most valuable pages on the internet.

Patenting the PageRank Algorithm

By September 1998, this vision had crystallized into the first PageRank patent, laying the foundation for what would become the core of Google’s search engine. Below is a diagram of how PageRank assign ranks (represented by the number) based on the linking of pages.

How PageRank assigns ranks based on the linking of pages.
How PageRank assigns ranks (represented by numbers) based on the linking of pages. Image from Patent US6285999B1, 1998, by Lawrence Page.

This groundbreaking algorithm not only helped Google outperform its rivals in delivering superior search results but also established it as a leading tech innovator, ultimately transforming it into the tech behemoth we know today.

The Google Toolbar Era

The year 2000 marked another milestone with the launch of the Google Toolbar. This tool displayed the PageRank score of websites directly in the browser for everyone to see.

While it democratized SEO by making page rankings transparent, it also opened the door to manipulation, as webmasters began devising schemes to inflate their PageRank scores artificially.

Revising the PageRank Patent

In response to these manipulations, Google updated its PageRank patent in 2006. This revision introduced the concept of seed and non-seed pages. These seed pages were expected to function as hubs, featuring numerous useful outgoing links that help identify and rank other valuable and high-quality web pages. While the new patent focused on the distance of a webpage from these seed sets as a factor in its ranking score, it is notable that it does not explicitly reference PageRank or claim to be a direct update to the algorithm.

This update was significant, incorporating measures to counter spam and manipulative practices, thereby ensuring the search results remained valuable and trustworthy. This revision also integrated new ranking signals, such as site speed and user interaction, further refining the search experience.

Below is a diagram of how this system ranks web pages by analyzing link lengths and distances from specified seed pages. Image from Patent US9165040B1, 2006, by Nissan Hajaj.

How system ranks web pages by analyzing link lengths and distances from specified seed pages.
A diagram of how this system ranks web pages by analyzing link lengths and distances from specified seed pages.

Phasing Out the PageRank Toolbar

By 2016, Google decided to retire the PageRank Toolbar, a move seen as an effort to shift the SEO community’s focus from predominantly link-based strategies to more comprehensive, quality-focused SEO practices. This was a pivotal shift, emphasizing a broader approach to SEO beyond mere link accumulation.

PageRank Today: Still a Core Component of Search Rankings

A popular myth going around in the SEO world is that PageRank is no longer relevant and in use by Google. Why? The first reason is due to Google retiring the public PageRank toolbar, as mentioned before. Another reason is Google’s employees consistently downplaying the importance of backlinks in influencing rankings. Also in 2018, the patent for PageRank officially expired. All this led some people to believe that Google isn’t using PageRank at all anymore.

But this is not true. PageRank is in fact still being used by Google internally.

This is confirmed by Google Analyst Gary Illyes, who said that Google is still using PageRank as one of the factors in ranking.

Google's Gary Illyes confirmed that they're still using PageRank as one of the factors in ranking.
Google Analyst Gary Illyes posted on Twitter.

If you look at the current state of search results, you would see that a lot of low-quality websites are still ranking high. Why? It’s definitely not because they have great content.

It’s because of links. Links are still important to Google for ranking websites, and PageRank is a big part of that.

Another thing to consider is something Google calls E-E-A-T, which stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. How can Google tell how authoritative a website is without looking at backlinks? Links are one of the best ways to measure how important, relevant, and trustworthy a website is.

So, even though Google got rid of the PageRank toolbar, all the evidence shows that some version of PageRank is still a key part of how Google ranks websites.

How Does PageRank Work?

Understanding how PageRank started won’t get you anywhere with SEO. To harvest the goodness from your PageRank score, you also need to understand how PageRank works. 

PageRank operates on a relatively straightforward premise: it evaluates the importance of web pages primarily through their link structures. Each link to a page is considered a vote of confidence, suggesting that the page holds some value. However, not all links are weighed equally. 

The PageRank algorithm is a sophisticated system that employs mathematical formulas to analyze and rank pages across the web based on their link structure.

The core principle of PageRank is that links from one page to another function as a vote of confidence, suggesting that the linked-to page contains valuable content. However, the algorithm’s complexity extends beyond merely counting links.

Here we will share 4 mechanisms that PageRank included by Google to ensure a fair and accurate ranking.

1. Iterative Ranking Process

Each page is assigned a score that initially depends on the number and quality of links pointing to it. This score is recursively refined as the algorithm assesses not just the quantity but also the authority of the linking pages. A page linked by highly ranked websites receives a higher score, amplifying its perceived importance.

A higher ranking page passes higher score.
A higher ranking page passes higher score.

2. Weighting Factors

These adjust the influence of each linking page based on criteria such as relevance and the contextual relationship between the source and the target page. For instance, a link from a highly relevant and authoritative site will have a stronger impact than a link from a lesser-known or off-topic site.

A higher ranking page and highly relevant site give a stronger impact.
A higher ranking page and highly relevant site give a stronger impact.

3. Damping Factors

To counter potential manipulation through link schemes, the algorithm incorporates damping elements that moderate the impact of inbound links. This prevents pages from artificially inflating their rank through excessive or irrelevant linking. The below sample shows the weight of the link is higher if Page B is just 1 click away from “Strong Page,” and the weight of the link to Page D is lessening after 3 clicks are observed. 

Impact on Page D is lessened due to it being 3 clicks away.
Impact on Page D is lessened due to it being 3 clicks away.

4. Random Jump Constant

Typically set around 0.85, this factor mimics a real-world user’s browsing behavior, where not every page visit is the result of a direct recommendation (link) from another site. 

This algorithm mimics a real-world user's browsing behavior.
This algorithm mimics a real-world user’s browsing behavior.

It serves to stabilize the calculations by considering random browsing along with directed links, PageRank prevents pages that accumulate links inorganically from dominating the results.

This element helps to spread ranking power more evenly across the web, ensuring that even pages with fewer links can compete fairly in search results, provided they offer valuable content.

The combination of these mechanisms makes the PageRank algorithm a dynamic and robust tool for measuring the importance and relevance of web pages.

Factors That Influence PageRank

Before we talk about how to improve your PageRank, it would be helpful to know the factors that influence your PageRank. Understanding these factors will help you to have a better hold at managing your linking strategies effectively. 

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink and plays a vital role in PageRank. Search engines use anchor text to understand what the linked page is about.

For example, if many sites link to a page with the anchor text “best chocolate cake recipe,” search engines infer that the page likely contains a great chocolate cake recipe. This relevance helps improve the page’s ranking for those keywords.

However, overusing exact-match anchor text can appear manipulative, so it’s better to use varied but related phrases. This approach is more natural and beneficial for SEO.

The Likelihood of a Link Being Clicked

The higher the chances of your readers clicking the link, the bigger the impact on your PageRank. In other words, a link that users are more likely to click carries more weight.

One of the most important elements that determine whether a link gets clicked is none other than its position. Links placed in the main content area are often considered more valuable than those in footers or sidebars.

Other than that, the context around the link also affects its value. For example, a link surrounded by relevant text is seen as more useful, whereas a link that is surrounded by irrelevant text might be flagged as link spam.

Internal Links

Internal links connect one page of a website to another within the same domain and help users navigate and find content easily. But they also spread link juice across your site, which impacts your PageRank.

A well-structured site with clear internal linking tells search engines which pages are important. For instance, linking to your most important product pages from your homepage boosts their visibility, ranking potential, and PageRank. The more internal links a page receives, especially from high-authority pages on your site, the higher its PageRank will be.

However, remember that too many internal links can dilute their value by spreading PageRank too thinly across too many pages. Focus on creating an internal linking structure that enhances user experience while strategically boosting the PageRank of your most important pages.

Nofollow Links

Nofollow links include a rel=”nofollow” attribute telling search engines not to follow them or pass on PageRank. Initially, they were used to combat spam, but now they serve broader purposes.

While nofollow links don’t directly influence PageRank, they can lead to indirect benefits like increased traffic or brand exposure. Thus, they shouldn’t be ignored entirely.

How To Improve Your PageRank

If you ask me, I would say that improving your PageRank should be one of the highest priorities on your SEO to-do list. The higher your PageRank, the more likely your pages will rank well organically in search results. And the higher your rankings, the more traffic you get.

Here are six best practices you can follow to improve your PageRank:

1. Optimize Your Site Architecture for Better PageRank Flow

A well-planned website architecture plays a crucial role in facilitating the effective distribution of PageRank throughout your site. This is because internal linking influences how PageRank flows and gets distributed across your pages.

By optimizing your site structure and internal linking strategy, you can ensure that your most important pages receive a higher share of your site’s overall PageRank.

When search engine crawlers can easily understand the hierarchy and structure of your website, they can better interpret the relative importance of each page. This, in turn, helps them allocate PageRank more accurately, with higher-priority pages receiving a greater share of the site’s overall PageRank.

Here are great ways to optimize your site architecture and internal links:

  • Use descriptive and keyword-rich URLs that accurately reflect the content of each page, making it easier for search engines to understand the page’s context and relevance.
  • Implement a clear, intuitive navigation menu structure that logically organizes your content into relevant categories and subcategories, helping search engines (and users) navigate your site more effectively.
  • Establish a sensible website hierarchy, with your most important pages (like the homepage and key product/service pages) residing closer to the root domain and receiving more internal links from other pages.
  • Use breadcrumb navigation to reinforce the hierarchical structure of your site and provide clear pathways for users and search engines to navigate between pages.
  • Conduct regular site audits to identify and fix any broken internal links, which can disrupt the flow of PageRank and hinder crawlability.
  • Leverage internal linking strategies like contextual links within your content, related post sections, and site-wide links in the footer to strategically distribute PageRank to your most valuable pages.

This is where you can leverage LinkVector’s powerful Link Analysis and Link Actions™ features. LinkVector provides in-depth insights into your site’s internal linking structure, page importance distribution, and crawl depth analysis. With these comprehensive analytics, you can identify opportunities to optimize your internal links and page hierarchy for improved PageRank flow.

Moreover, LinkVector’s tailored Link Actions™ offer precise recommendations to address issues like orphan pages, content without links, and excessive linking. By implementing these one-click fixes, you can streamline your site’s architecture, ensuring that your most valuable pages receive an appropriate share of PageRank.

LinkVector’s advanced technology simplifies the complex task of site architecture optimization, empowering you to create a well-structured website that search engines can easily understand and reward with higher rankings.

2. Create High-Quality, Engaging Content

Publishing in-depth, informative, and engaging content is vital for attracting natural backlinks from other authoritative sites. When other websites perceive your content as genuinely valuable and trustworthy, they are more inclined to link to it, thus boosting your PageRank.

Here are tips on how to create high-quality content:

  • Conduct thorough keyword research and create content that comprehensively answers your audience’s questions and concerns.
  • Use a conversational and easy-to-read writing style that keeps readers engaged.
  • Enrich your content with multimedia elements like images, videos, and infographics to enhance its appeal and shareability.

3. Acquire Backlinks from Reputable Sources

Backlinks from a reputable site carry more weight than a low-quality website. Therefore, actively engaging with other authoritative websites within your niche is one of the most effective methods to improve your PageRank. Remember, a few links from well-regarded, authoritative sites can have a much greater impact than many links from lesser-known, low-quality sources.

Follow the tips below to gain reputable backlinks:

  • Guest post on popular, authoritative blogs in your industry.
  • Reach out to complementary brands or influencers for content collaboration opportunities.
  • Create visually appealing, data-rich infographics or studies that other sites will want to reference.
  • Participate actively in relevant online communities and forums, providing valuable insights that make others want to link to your site.

4. Deliver an Exceptional User Experience

Google prioritizes sites that keep users engaged and satisfied. A positive user experience leads to lower bounce rates and longer dwell times, signaling to Google that your content is valuable and relevant.

Below are various ways you can ensure great user experience:

  • Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and loads quickly on all devices.
  • Use clear, intuitive navigation menus and internal linking structures to help users easily find what they need.
  • Optimize for readability with proper formatting, whitespace, and easy-to-scan content.
  • Implement Schema markup to enhance your listings’ appearance in search results.

5. Keep Content Fresh and Updated

Regularly updating and refreshing your existing content helps maintain its relevance and SEO performance over time. Google favors recently updated pages, as they are more likely to contain timely, accurate information.

Follow the tips below to keep your website fresh:

  • Set a schedule to review and update your top-performing, evergreen content pieces periodically.
  • Incorporate new data, research findings, or industry developments into existing content to keep it current.
  • Re-optimize older content for new, relevant keywords to broaden its visibility in search.

6. Implement Comprehensive SEO Best Practices

While focusing on high-quality content and backlinks is crucial, there are numerous other technical and on-page SEO factors that can impact your PageRank and overall search visibility.

Here are quick tips on implementing SEO best practices:

  • Ensure your site uses HTTPS for a secure connection, which Google prefers.
  • Optimize your URLs, title tags, headings, and meta descriptions for relevant keywords.
  • Fix any broken links, duplicate content issues, or other technical SEO problems identified through regular site audits.
  • Implement an XML sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console to help search engines discover and index your pages more efficiently.

By consistently implementing these best practices, you can effectively improve your website’s PageRank and increase its authority and visibility in relevant search results over time.

Final Remarks

Does PageRank matter in SEO nowadays? A 100% yes. Despite its evolution, PageRank remains a fundamental aspect of Google’s algorithm, influencing how content is discovered and ranked.

TL;DR: PageRank is really not that complex. It simply highlights the importance of quality backlinks, which is not something new in this industry. Attract reputable backlinks by creating high-quality content, prioritize the user experience of your readers, and take note of the listed factors that will influence your PageRank, and you should score well for your PageRank algorithm marks.

Also, it’s important not to overlook the significance of your website’s internal PageRank – how authority is passed throughout your pages. This is where good site architecture and solid internal linking come into play. Because internal linking can be a difficult process to do manually, we recommend using an internal linking tool like LinkVector to implement the best internal linking strategies while saving much time and effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is PageRank and how does it work?

PageRank is an algorithm used by Google to rank web pages in their search engine results. It works by counting the number and quality of links to a page, determining a rough estimate of the website’s importance.

Why is PageRank important for SEO?

PageRank matters because it’s one of the factors Google uses to determine the ranking of a website in search results. High PageRank can lead to better visibility and more organic traffic.

What factors influence PageRank?

Factors include the quality and quantity of inbound links, the relevance and authority of linking sites, and the content’s quality on the webpage itself.

How can I improve my website’s PageRank?

To improve your PageRank, focus on creating high-quality content that other reputable sites want to link to. Also, building relationships with other site owners for link-building opportunities can help.

Does the age of a domain affect its PageRank?

Yes, older domains might be seen as more trustworthy by Google, potentially positively influencing PageRank. However, quality content and strong inbound links are more critical factors.

Is PageRank still updated by Google?

Google updates PageRank internally but has stopped publicly displaying PageRank scores for websites since 2016. Despite this, the principles behind PageRank continue to influence SEO strategies.

Can buying links improve my PageRank?

Buying links can harm your site’s reputation and lead to penalties from Google. It’s better to focus on earning links naturally through creating valuable content and engaging with your online community.