Many of ProBlogger.net readers are reporting in comments significant changes in their blog’s Google Page Rankings in this latest update. Those sites that are reporting the largest changes tend to be new sites (which is understandable) with older more mature blogs reporting only minor (if any) changes.
Every time Google updates like this I find my email inbox full of questions about Page Rank – questions like”
- what is Page Rank?
- why is it important?
- how do I improve my blog’s Page Rank?
- why isn’t my Page Rank changing?
- how do I check my blog’s Page Rank?
- why has my blog’s Page Rank gone down?
- is Page Rank still relevant?
The questions are many and varied so I thought I’d attempt to answer a few (keeping in mind that on many of these questions no one (outside of Google’s inner circle) really knows the answer to some of them).
Google describes Page Rank (PR) like this:
‘The heart of our software is PageRank, a system for ranking web pages’ that provides’ the basis for all of our web search tools.’
So they’re writing that it’s an essential part of the way they determine which sites rank in what order on their search results. They continue by writing:
PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.’
Ok – so this is the official spin on PR. But many ‘experts’ (outside of Google) believe that whilst this might have been the way things were at the beginning of Google – that things have changed and that Page rank is no longer such a central and important part of the way they rank sites. Theories abound about PR ranging from that it’s been abandoned, downgraded, modified, superseded, that it’s a publicity stunt, through to it still being the same as always. Some see conspiracies in PR, others take Google at face value.
So what and who should we believe?
My personal opinion (and I’ve stated this previously) is that Page Rank is still a factor to watch – but that it’s not the be all and end all of getting your blog on the receiving end of lots of traffic from Google.
Why isn’t it everything? Here are a couple of my experiences that lead me here:
- I have a number of blogs with Page Ranks of 6 and 7 which get little traffic from Google.
- A couple of PR updates ago a number of my blogs went from PR of 0 to a PR of 6. Traffic did not alter that day or any time shortly before or after the changes.
There may be many explanations for these experiences – many argue that they illustrate that PR is irrelevant and has nothing to do with Search Engine Results Positioning rankings (SERPs). I’d probably not take it to this extreme – but think that it is pretty clear that an increase in PR doesn’t automatically lead to a direct and proportionate increase in your SERPs and therefore traffic.
I’d be arguing that PR is just one factor that Google looks at when they determine your blog’s SERPs and that the day we see an update to our PRs is not the day that Google first determines them and that they change our SERPs. Instead many argue that the day we see a change in PR publicly in Google toolbars (and other tools) is actually days (or even weeks) after Google has worked out our PR and has taken into account the effect of this on our SERPs (some argue its the other way around and that PR takes a few weeks to have an impact upon SERPs).
Another important factor that many believe is more important that PR in determining SERPs is backlinks (or how many links from other sites (and even within your own sites) point to your domain. In fact backlinks seem to have a more direct impact upon traffic levels. I know that late last year that the number of backlinks Google recorded as being pointed at one of my sites decreased significantly during an update and that on the same day my traffic decreased by two thirds. Many others have noticed this also (although as usual there are many divergent opinions).
Another theory that many ‘experts’ have about Page Rank is that it could be more important in how powerful a site is with its outbound links. ie if my blog links to your blog and it has a page rank of 2, that link does your blog less value than if my blog with a page rank of 7 links to it. This makes sense to me and I’ve seen a number of people try and ‘prove’ it – none convincingly – but it seems to resonate with my experiences.
So is Page Rank important?
I would argue that it is on some levels. I can’t see that Google would keep it going as a system if it were not. Their PR updates come every couple of months usually and must take significant energy and resources for them to do. I doubt they’d do this just to keep us believing they still used it. It must have some usefulness to them.
I keep an eye on my blog’s page ranks because it gives me some sort of indication as to how important Google thinks they are. It may not be directly linked to traffic but it gives me an indication if I’m on the right track to improving quality which I believe eventually leads to more traffic.
PR is also important to me because it also helps me monetize my blogs. On a number of my blogs I sell text links to other site’s operators. One of the few ways that seems to be used to judge the worth of a site for such purposes is Google’s PR. As a result if I see one of my blogs promoted from one level to another it’s a cause for a mini celebration. I guess in addition to this it’s good for the prestige and reputation for your site to be highly ranked.
Whilst most of the above is just opinion and speculation – it’s about as good as I can do at this point and comes out of experience. I’m sure there is ALOT more to it than I’ve mentioned and that Page Rank is one of those things that Google is constantly monitoring and adapting as they themselves learn and observe patterns on the web.
I’m interested in the thoughts of others and invite your suggestions and lessons learnt below in comments.