Step back in time ten years, and PageRank was the SEO metric that everyone talked about.
If you have been working in the industry for more than a few years, you will undoubtedly remember the excitement that came when you heard that there had been an update to the PageRank toolbar.
With any luck, your recent efforts would have delivered an increase in your PageRank score, knowing that this meant that Google was now viewing your site as more authoritative than it previously was.
An increase in your PageRank score was a great demonstrator that your SEO strategy (and, in particular, your link building strategy) was working.
Fast forward to 2020, and PageRank is rarely mentioned.
But that is not because it is no longer important, just that it is no longer a public-facing metric. And when SEOs can no longer measure something, they eventually stop talking about it.
In this guide, we will dive deep into everything you need to know about Google PageRank, and it’s importance in 2020.
- What is PageRank?
- A Brief History of Google PageRank
- Understanding How PageRank Works
- Factors That Influence(d) PageRank and That Still Matter
- Why Did Google Retire the PageRank Toolbar?
- Why PageRank Still Matters in 2020
- Does a Replacement PageRank Metric Exist?
What is PageRank?
If you remember PageRank, this is what probably best comes to mind when you think about it:
That is Google’s infamous PageRank toolbar.
This is what we all came to associate with PageRank and the metric that SEOs became universally obsessed with.
But there is far more to PageRank than the toolbar.
PageRank — a System for Ranking Web Pages
PageRank is a system for ranking web pages that Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed at Stanford University. And what it is important to understand is that PageRank is all about links.
The higher the PageRank of a link, the more authoritative it is.
We can simplify the PageRank algorithm to describe it as a way for the importance of a webpage to be measured by analyzing the quantity and quality of the links that point to it.
The PageRank Score
Perhaps unsurprisingly, PageRank is a complex algorithm that assigns a score of importance to a page on the web.
But as far as the everyday SEO was concerned, PageRank was a linear representation of a logarithmic scale of between 0 and 10 that was displayed on the PageRank toolbar.
A PageRank score of 0 is typically a low-quality website, whereas, on the other hand, a score of 10 would represent only the most authoritative sites on the web.
The key to understanding PageRank scores is that it uses a logarithmic scale. Not sure what that means in layman’s terms?
A logarithmic scale is a way of displaying numerical data over a very wide range of values in a compact way—typically the largest numbers in the data are hundreds or even thousands of times larger than the smallest numbers.
As reported by Search Engine Watch, “It has an estimated base of 4-5. In other words, assuming a base of 5, PR2 links are comparable to 5 PR1 links; a PR6 link is comparable to 5 PR5 links, and so on.”
Very quickly, we can see that a PR10 link is comparable to thousands of PR1 links.
The reason why SEOs became so fixated on this metric is that PageRank passes from one page to another, meaning that a website can gain authority by being linked to from another that has a higher PageRank score.
Quite simply, PageRank (that is passed between websites by links) helps a website to rank higher, and the algorithm is based around the concept that a page is deemed to be important if other important pages link to it.
Google still uses PageRank as part of its algorithm today, but the original patent has expired and, in this original form, hasn’t actually been used since 2006, and the one that we now see is ultimately far more complex.
A Brief History of Google PageRank
The first PageRank patent was filed on September 1, 1998, and became the original algorithm that Google used to calculate the importance of a web page and rank these.
In short, Google was literally formed based upon Sergey Brin’s idea that information on the web could be ranked based upon a page’s link popularity, that the more links point to a page, the higher it ranks.
And if we take a look at the paper that introduced Google, we can clearly see PageRank referenced when explaining the search engine’s features:
The Google search engine has two important features that help it produce high precision results. First, it makes use of the link structure of the Web to calculate a quality ranking for each web page. This ranking is called PageRank and is described in detail in [Page 98]. Second, Google utilizes link to improve search results.
PageRank is literally what made Google so unique.
The paper goes on to explain that, “The citation (link) graph of the web is an important resource that has largely gone unused in existing web search engines.”
The Introduction of the Google Toolbar
In 2000, Google introduced the toolbar that we all now come to remember as the way in which we could see our site’s (and our competitors’) PageRank score.
As a result of this, SEOs began to become fixated solely on increasing PageRank as a metric for improving rankings, driven largely by a simplified understanding of the algorithm that suggested that a web page with the highest number of links should rank the highest.
A simple explanation of the approach by many in the early 2000s was that their goal was to get as many links as possible from web pages with as high PageRank as possible.
This, of course, began to see PageRank manipulated, with money changing hands for links as well as what many of us will remember as link farms.
Fast track almost 15 years, and Google would stop updating this public-facing toolbar in 2014 (with the last confirmed update being December 2013) and retire it completely in 2016.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Google stopped using PageRank as part of the algorithm, just that it stopped being a public-facing metric.
An Updated PageRank Patent
The original PageRank patent from 1998 expired in 2018 and, to the surprise of many, wasn’t renewed. Around this time, a former Google employee confirmed that the original algorithm hadn’t been used since 2006.
But that doesn’t mean PageRank is dead, far from it.
The original patent was replaced by this new one. To fully understand the differences with the original, we recommend you read Bill Slawski’s analysis here.
This new patent references “seed sites in the trusted seed sets” and defines these as “…specially selected high-quality pages which provide good web connectivity to other non-seed pages,” with two given examples being The Google Directory (this was still live when the patent was filed) and the New York Times.
“[Seed sites] need to be reliable, diverse enough to cover a wide range of fields of public interests & well connected to other sites. They should have large numbers of useful outgoing links to facilitate identifying other useful & high-quality pages, acting as “hubs” on the web.”
The new patent looked to give a ranking score to a web page based upon how far away it is from a seed set. That said, this patent doesn’t actually reference PageRank (or claim to be an updated version of the algorithm).
Rather, it has been understood by the SEO community that it acts as a PageRank modifier based upon the proximity to the seed set of sites. – Read more