They say that it’s Google PageRank that laid the foundation and built the web search engine into the giant it is today. Many, in fact, know it not only as Google’s premier algorithm, but also as the ranking system that has impressively withstood the test of time.
If you ask Google, though, the comments might leave you a bit confused, with more questions than answers. While the company acknowledges the important role that PageRank has played from the beginning, it has reportedly been releasing conflicting reports about the status of the algorithm.
For instance – it turns out that, on one hand, PageRank was allegedly discontinued between 2006 and 2016. Then, on the other, some of Google’s executives claim that it’s still relevant to date, albeit rather covert.
So, which is which? Is Google PageRank dead or still running strong? And what does it all mean for webmasters and digital marketers?
Well, here’s the truth and nothing but the truth about how Google PageRank works, its journey so far, plus its current impact on rankings and search engine optimization…
What Is Google PageRank?
Google PageRank is a proprietary search algorithm that was developed to analyze the authority and importance of indexed web pages based on their inbound link profile. It calculates and allocates each page a numerical score between zero and ten – which is then taken as the URL’s relative value on Google search.
The original definition of PageRank. Google via Stanford
Now, a simpler way of looking at this would be, PageRank is essentially an automated formula that determines the search engine rankings of a web page based on the links that connect to it.
The higher a web page scores on this zero to ten scale, the better it’s subsequently ranked in the SERPs.
That said, it’s worth noting that the computation for web pages is not handled aggregately. Rather, each search query is treated separately, with the results ranked according to their individual backlink profile.
The formula itself is based on the principle that external links are more like endorsements, with each representing a vote for a web page’s significance in the subject matter. As such, the more links a web page receives, the higher it’s placed in terms of authority and relevance.
Google PageRank algorithm quantifies all that in the form of a value between 0 and 10, which is technically known as PageRank Score. This is what partly establishes the order in which the search engine results are sorted out.
Is PageRank still important?
Yes. Although Google doesn’t openly refer to it by its original “PageRank” name, the algorithm is still as important as ever when it comes to ranking web pages across the search engine results,
But, make no mistake about it. The ranking algorithm doesn’t exist and operate in the same manner it did back in the 2000s and early 2010s.
You see, according to the 1999 “The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to the Web” paper that was published by Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, PageRank was created in 1998 to organize the web by ranking the search engine results based on their importance to the surfer.
This happens to be the same principle that drives the Google PageRank algorithm today. It seeks to place users right at the center of the Google search experience, with the pages that are most helpful to them appearing at the top of the SERPs.
But then get this. While the underlying concept remains the same, a lot has since changed in terms of the definition of “important pages”.
The PageRank algorithm that we knew back in the day largely determined the importance of a web page based on the total number of backlinks.
For instance – 20 inbound links to the same web page meant that it would get a higher PageRank score than its counterparts that had the same volume of SEO keywords but with fewer backlinks.
Today’s PageRank algorithm, however, has evolved beyond prioritizing just the volume of backlinks. While it still conducts quantitative analysis, the rankings of the results are principally dictated by qualitative analysis.
You’ll find, for instance, that the influence of the backlinks on the search engine results depends largely on the relative authority of the referral domains, the anchor text terms, the Nofollow to Dofollow link ratio, the context of the links, the number of broken links, etc.
The intricacies don’t end there, though. While the original PageRank existed as an independent algorithm for the most part, the current version operates alongside 200 ranking factors.
And with that, we can settle this debate once and for all. It’s evident that Google PageRank isn’t dead. The company has never pulled the plug on it.
Rather, what happened in 2016 is, they discontinued the publicly accessible version and replaced it with an even more sophisticated PageRank algorithm – whose scoring mechanisms remain closely guarded by Google.
A Brief History Of Google PageRank
Google PageRank’s journey can be traced as far back as 1996, when Sergey Brin and Larry Page built the algorithm as part of a study into the inner workings of search engines.
The two had this brilliant idea that the information on the web could be systematically arranged by sorting out content based on link popularity. Web pages that attracted the highest number of links would be considered to be the most popular, hence ranking above the rest.
For the trademark, the two merged Larry’s last name with the verb “Rank” to form the compound word “PageRank”. Then its ownership rights, on the other hand, went to their alma mater, Stanford University.
Yes, that’s right – it’s Stanford University that secured the patent for PageRank, which was filed under US patent no. 6,285,999 on the 9th of January 1998. This happened after Sergey and Larry approached their university’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) for assistance in commercializing the revolutionary algorithm.
At first, the two, in conjunction with Stanford’s OTL, tried hawking PageRank to internet giants in Silicon Valley. But, fortunately or unfortunately, nobody could match up to their asking price of one million dollars.
It was not until the 2nd of September 1998 that the Google search engine was finally rolled out, with the PageRank algorithm powering its rankings. This new approach to search engine ranking saw Google grow quite exponentially, as web surfers were increasingly using it to find relevant results.
At that time, the company didn’t have any reason to withhold information about its revolutionary formula. Google was open about how the algorithm worked, and even proceeded to give webmasters a tool for monitoring their PageRank score.
This came in the form of the now-famous Google Toolbar, which was introduced in 2000 to keep site owners abreast of their (and their competitors’) PageRank scores.
The rise of black hat SEO
With time, however, the company’s openness proved to be detrimental to the integrity of its SERP ranking system. Once people understood how the whole algorithm worked, some webmasters developed various black hat SEO techniques to manipulate Google PageRank.
They started artificially spamming the web with backlinks and stuffing web pages with keywords. This then gave rise to link farms, which used bots to quickly multiply the quantities of spammy backlinks.
As a website owner, all you needed to do was pay a small fee to an “SEO network”, and they’d get the bots to randomly distribute your backlinks across a vast network of websites and forums.
So far-reaching were the bots that they even invaded the comment sections on blogs. You’d find, for instance, a series of hyperlinked comments that encouraged readers to “click here for magic pills”.
Thankfully, it didn’t take Google long to pick up the unnatural links that were desperately trying to manipulate its ranking algorithm. The company subsequently responded by clamping down on blackhat SEO practitioners – starting with the prominent link farms that masqueraded as “ad networks”.
This was soon followed up with multiple algorithm updates – such as the Nofollow attribute in 2005, which was introduced to suppress the influence of backlinks published in forums.
Here’s the thing, though. While these measures helped to clean up SERPs, they didn’t completely eradicate black hat SEO. The few remaining link farms kept developing smarter ways to work around the Google ranking algorithm.
For instance – as soon as the Nofollow attribute dropped, black hat SEO practitioners switched their tactics and started to capitalize on its loopholes. They used a tactic known as “PageRank Sculpting” to maximize their link juice through Nofollow metatags.
When and why Google PageRank was discontinued
In 2005, when Google gave Stanford University 1.8 million of its shares in exchange for ownership of the PageRank patent, it seemed like the company had big plans for the algorithm, and was perhaps planning to hold on to it indefinitely.
However, according to recent revelations by an ex-Googler, the company proceeded to drop the original PageRank in the subsequent year. It was replaced by an algorithm that operates under the same principles, but with faster computation and less vulnerability to manipulation.
Support for the original Google PageRank didn’t cease immediately, though. Updates continued until 2013, right around the time when Google Penguin came in to reinforce the search engine’s efforts in the link wars.
Then in 2016, just when Penguin was finally being inducted into Google’s core ranking algorithm, the famous PageRank Toolbar was killed off along with its reports. This meant that webmasters would no longer be able to monitor their PageRank scores.
But, the drama didn’t end there. What came as the ultimate surprise to many was the expiration of the original PageRank patent in 2019.
That proved to be the final nail in the coffin, and a confirmation that we won’t be reverting to the original Google PageRank algorithm. The future now lies with the new PageRank version, which works closely with Penguin to qualitatively analyze and rank all types of links.
Why Did Google Retire The PageRank Toolbar?
As we’ve already established, Google pulled the plug on its PageRank toolbar because black hat SEO practitioners were exceedingly misusing it.
Google Toolbar is no longer available. Source: toolbar.google
That’s not to say that it wasn’t helpful at all. The Google Toolbar was rolled out in the year 2000 to give webmasters accurate insights into their PageRank scores.
It then went on to serve them as an SEO tracker and competitor monitoring tool for 16 years. With just the PageRank toolbar, you’d be able to keep an eye on your competitors’ relative status, as well as monitor how your link building efforts are progressing.
The results were in the form of a numerical value between 0 and 10, which represented your PageRank score. This came directly from Google’s own analysis of how your site compares with its competitors in terms of link authority.
A high score meant that you had a stronger backlink profile than your competitors. Hence, Google would consider you as a more authoritative resource in the subject matter, which ultimately translated into a favorable ranking.
The whole system was pretty simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, however, this also meant that black hat SEO practitioners would have an easy time keeping abreast of the search engine’s inner workings.
You see, by providing real-time insights into the perceived relative importance of different websites, the PageRank Toolbar gave the black hat SEO world a much-needed headstart. They used the findings to strategically structure campaigns that would manipulate the ranking algorithms.
For example, by tracking how different tactics affected the PageRank scores, they were able to figure out what worked and what didn’t. What’s more, they’d set their bots to compare the scores and identify the high authority sites on which to distribute spammy backlinks.
Well, of course, Google tried to fight back. But, it turned out that the more the search engine cracked down on low-quality backlinks, the more black hat practitioners relied on the toolbar’s analytics to identify any remaining loopholes that they could capitalize on.
This is how, in fact, they were able to build on the Nofollow attribute with PR sculpting.
How Does PageRank Work?
Although the Google PageRank algorithm has been updated multiple times through the years, its underlying principle remains the same – that a site’s backlink profile is a reliable indicator of its relative authority in a particular subject matter.
At first, the original version of PageRank determined the importance of web pages based on the number of links. Sergey Brin and Larry Page built it to crawl through the web, prepare a log of all the links, and then work out the total volume of links pointing towards each destination domain.
Google PageRank algorithm would eventually compare the findings across the websites, before proceeding to allocate each one a PageRank score that reflected their relative performance in a particular subject matter.
The score itself came in the form of a value between zero and ten – with the weakest backlink profile getting the lowest, while high PR scores were reserved for web pages that had the strongest backlink profile.
In simple terms, therefore, the more links you had over your competitors, the higher the PR score you’d get, and the more credible you’d seem in the subject matter. This ultimately translated into favorable rankings in the SERPs.
With time, however, Google evolved and adopted a slightly different approach. The original PageRank algorithm was dropped and in came a new system that considered more than just the sheer volume of links.
Google PageRank algorithm now takes into account the quantity and quality of the links. Instead of blindly treating all the links as equal, the value of each backlink is analyzed separately.
That said, the technical term for this value is “link juice” or “link equity”. You can think of it as an indicator of the level of ranking influence posed by an inbound link.
Basically, every single instance of a dofollow link is considered to be an endorsement that passes on authority from the referral domain to the destination domain. This authority flow between the linked web pages is what we call “link juice”.
And to determine the resultant link value, Google PageRank calculates the amount of authority passed on to the destination page based on several parameters.
For starters, it takes into account the relative authorities of the referring and destination domains. The most impactful backlinks are the high-quality ones that pass on the link juice from highly authoritative domains.
Take a site like Wikipedia, for instance. Since it ranks 11 on Alexa, every single inbound link that you get from its articles packs way more value than the combined referrals from hundreds of average sites.
So, if you intend to drastically improve your page’s PageRank scores and search rankings, you might want to prioritize high authority sites.
Wikipedia’s Alexa Rank. Source: Alexa
Other than that, another factor that potentially influences the link value and quality is the number of external links on the referral page.
The higher the number of backlinks from a referral domain, the less the link juice each will pass on to the destination domain. That’s because authority is distributed evenly across all the outgoing links.
A referral domain with PageRank of 6, for example, would end up transferring a PR of 2 through each of its 3 outgoing links.
How PageRank is distributed based on the number of outgoing links. Source: Stanford
The analysis doesn’t end there, though. Google PageRank additionally takes into account the context of the inbound links, the referral domain’s backlink profile, the relevance of the referring website, the diversity of the link sources, etc.
How is PageRank calculated?
Well, as it turns out, no one really knows the formula that powers the current version of Google PageRank. The company learned its lesson the hard way, and now chooses to keep the inner workings of PageRank a closely guarded secret.
That, however, doesn’t stop us from making an informed guess. By reviewing Google’s original PageRank principles, you’ll get a vague idea of how the new version computes its PageRank scores.
Now, to get started, keep in mind that in mathematical terms, PageRank is a linear value system that is represented on a 0-10 logarithmic scale. It expresses the relative importance of websites as a figure between zero and ten – with ten being the most authoritative and zero being the least authoritative.
According to Sergey and Larry’s original paper, new websites would begin at 0 before they got the opportunity to build inbound links to their web pages.
With time, however, the two reviewed the probability distribution patterns between zero and one, and then ended up settling for 0.25 as the more practical assumption for beginners in later versions of the algorithm.
This is what formed the basis of the calculations, from which other values were computed based on the quantity and quality of the links.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that while quality and quantity are two different elements with varying parameters, Google PageRank doesn’t evaluate them separately. Rather, it conducts qualitative and quantitative assessments simultaneously while correlating and comparing the corresponding figures.
What you get in the end, whether a high PageRank score or a low one, represents the cumulative volume and value of all your outbound links.
Now, to simplify the math, consider this possible scenario involving 4 distinct websites – W, X, Y, and Z:
- W happens to have two outgoing links to Z.
- X has two outgoing links that point toward W, and another leading to Z.
- Y, on the other hand, has two outgoing links, but only one of them points towards Z.
To calculate the PageRank of Z, you’ll have to take into account the total number of the incoming links, plus the corresponding value of each link.
Here’s a simplified version of the formula:
PR (Z) = (2 x PR(W)/2) + PR(X)/3 + PR(Y)/2
This establishes the PageRank of Z as the sum of the link juice that comes with the individual backlinks from the three sites – after distributing the PR of each referral site equally across its outgoing links.
If the three publishers were all getting started with a PageRank of 0.25, for instance, the final PageRank of Z would be obtained as follows:
- W would transfer a PR of 0.125 from each of its links, which would then add up to a total PR of 0.25.
- X would transfer a PR of 0.083, since only one of its three outgoing links is pointing toward Z.
- Y, on the other hand, would contribute a PR of 0.125, since only one of its two links are connected to Z.
In total, therefore, the total PR of Z would be:
0.125 + 0.083 + 0.125
That translates to 0.333.
Google’s PageRank algorithm formula
Now, make no mistake here. The calculation that we’ve outlined above is only a simplified summary of the rules that drive the Google PageRank.
Once you’ve explored it and understood the basics that go into computing a website’s PR, you can proceed to the advanced version of the formula.
Now, to be specific, this is the equation that Sergey Brin and Larry Page injected into their original PageRank system. That means you can use it to accurately establish your site’s PageRank scores.
The formula itself is as follows:
PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))
To calculate the PageRank of (A), you’ll have to apply these three datasets:
- PR(Tn)/C(Tn): PR(Tn) represents the PageRank of each referral domain based on its position, with (T1) being the first page on the web followed by the rest of the page positions (Tn). Hence, authoritative sites get higher Pagerank values. C(Tn), on the other hand, distributes the accompanying link juice across its outgoing links.
- d(…: This is the damping factor by which you multiply the combined PageRank values computed from all the referral domains. Google, in fact, tends to maintain a constant of 0.85, which is meant to limit and standardize the amount of influence being transferred.
- (1-d): This is a probability value that’s based on the assumption that the sum of all web pages’ PageRanks should be 1. Its role in the equation is to provide a basis for defining the relative influence of the referral domains on your search engine rankings.
Does Google still use PageRank?
Google doesn’t just use PageRank. The algorithm has remained at the helm of Google’s operations through the years – from the moment the search engine was built to the complex multi-algorithmic system that Google is today.
In fact, despite Google now boasting over 200 ranking factors, the PageRank algorithm is still one of the most fundamental determinants of the search engine’s rankings.
Google itself admits that backlinks – which happen to be PageRank’s forte – are one of its top three search ranking factors.
And if that isn’t good enough evidence for you, maybe these direct confirmations by Google’s own executives might help clear all the doubts.
You could start with this 2017 tweet by Gary Illyes, the webmaster trends analyst at Google. He proclaimed that the search engine has been using PageRank for 18 years, and it now operates alongside hundreds of other ranking signals.
The 2017 tweet by Gary Illyes about the status of Google PageRank. Source: Twitter
This statement came barely a year after the company scrapped the Google Toolbar. It confirmed that although webmasters would no longer be able to track their PageRank scores, the algorithm was still alive and relevant.
Well, at least it settled the debate for some time, until new revelations started coming in about the status of PageRank.
It emerged that the patent for the original PageRank algorithm – which Google had acquired for a hefty price – went on to expire in 2019. And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, an ex-Googler threw people further into limbo after revealing that the company dropped its original PageRank in 2006.
Now, with that said, the interesting thing is, all these claims are somewhat true. But, don’t get it twisted – although the original patent as we knew it expired, PageRank is still operational.
You see, what happened is, Google made some changes to its original PageRank system and replaced the previous patent with this new one. So, you could say that the algorithm lives on, but under a slightly different framework.
Here’s even a more recent tweet that confirms it all. It was posted in 2020 by John Muller, who just like Gary, happens to be a webmaster trends analyst at Google.
He affirmed that Google PageRank is still running on the search engine – although it doesn’t quite operate in the same manner as the original one.
John Muller’s comments on the Google PageRank algorithm. Source: Twitter
How To Check Your PageRank
The painful truth is, you won’t be able to check your PageRank scores on Google. That has been the case since 2016, when the company unceremoniously killed off its famous Google Toolbar.
Gone are the days you’d use the tool to freely check on your site and your competitors’ web pages. Google decided to drop the toolbar PageRank feature after it emerged that black hat SEO practitioners had been increasingly abusing it.
But, that shouldn’t hold you back. It turns out that, on the flip side, Google’s exit from the scene opened doors for third-party data providers, who now offer PageRank metrics alongside other relevant SEO analytics.
We’re talking about the likes of SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, and SpyFu.
You’ll notice that while they don’t operate in the same manner as the retired Google Toolbar, at least they crawl extensively through the web to retrieve key data, which is then analyzed deeply to provide near-accurate indicators of your PageRank performance.
With the free Loganix DA Checker, for instance, you get to determine your site’s approximate PageRank status through a special metric known as “Domain Authority”. This is an SEO scoring system that was developed by Moz to predict your site’s possible ranking performance based on its link structure.
Loganix DA Checker. Source: Loganix
The analytics are drawn directly from Moz’s database, which has so far indexed over 8.01 trillion web pages, along with 43.8 trillion links, 743 million keywords, and counting.
Closely related to that is Ahrefs’ “Domain Rating”. But, unlike Domain Authority, Domain Rating measures the relative strength of your site’s backlink profile – which, in a way, is also relevant to your PageRank performance.
4 Factors That Influence PageRank
So far, we’ve explained that the Google PageRank algorithm generally takes into account the quantity and quality of your website’s links. What’s more, we’ve gone a little deeper and explored the link juice principles, as well as the formulas for calculating the amount of authority transferred from one website to another.
Now, to piece it all together, let’s review the finer details behind what really drives the whole qualitative and quantitative analysis. In other words, what elements does the algorithm examine in its analysis of the link quality and quantity?
Well, the truth is, there are many – some of which even remain unknown to date. As for the known factors, though, the four most fundamental ones are:
- Anchor text.
- The chances of a link being clicked.
- Internal links.
- Nofollow links.
Here’s more in-depth information…
#1. Nofollow links
The Nofollow link attribute was introduced in 2005. And over the next couple of years, the popular assumption was that Google would ignore all the external links that had this HTML attribute, and focus exclusively on the Dofollow links.
That belief even gave rise to a blackhat SEO tactic called Page Sculpting. It involved using Nofollow metatags to control the flow of link juice across web pages.
And it spread fast. So popular was the technique growing that by 2007, Google was already looking into ways to reverse the negative effects.
Well, they finally did. And the big announcement came in 2009, when Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that Nofollow links would no longer be completely ignored by Google PageRank. Although they still would not be used to pass on link juice, the amount of PageRank would be divided equally between both Dofollow and Nofollow links.
And that’s not all. Recent statements by Google suggest that the search engine now pays even more attention to Nofollow links. It assesses their placement for hints on the links that should influence the SERPs.
#2. Internal links
PageRank analysis isn’t all about the outgoing links and whatnot. Google tends to factor in even your internal links.
And the reason is, a website’s internal link structure is a reliable indicator of how its web pages relate to each other. What’s more, the search engine is able to establish the relevance, importance, and sequence of a site’s web pages.
It’s common knowledge, for instance, that internal links should be strategically placed on relevant keywords and phrases. This clarifies to Google the subject matters that should take priority in the ranking of the web pages.
Otherwise, it also turns out that the Google PageRank algorithm reviews even the navigation pattern formed by internal links.
In a 2018 Google Webmaster Central hangout, John Muller revealed that the search engine analyzes the authority of a web page based on, among other factors, the number of steps it takes to reach it from the site’s home page.
The fewer the number of clicks, the more authoritative the page is perceived to be.
#3. The chances of a link being clicked
Here’s a quick one for you – when’s the last time you clicked on a hyperlink that was embedded within, say, the Terms of Service?
Or, rather, what would you say are the chances of clicking on a banner ad link?
Well, Google can answer that for you, as it too understands just what resonates best with web surfers and what doesn’t. These are some of the insights it factors in to determine the perceived value of a link.
That wasn’t always the case, though. You see, the original PageRank algorithm considered all the links to be equal. Hence, a hyperlink on the first sentence of an article would carry the same weight as one in the deepest corner of the Terms of Service.
The rules eventually changed in 2004, when Google updated its algorithm through the Reasonable Surfer Patent.
In a bid to better align the search engine results with user behavior and preferences, the company decided that it would prioritize the links that people clicked on the most.
Query sequence as suggested via the Reasonable Surfer Patent. Source: Google Patents
That means, in other words, that links whose placement has a history of a high click rate will influence the search results more deeply than those that appear in areas typically ignored by users.
#4. Anchor text
With hyperlinks acting as bridges or paths that connect different web pages, it’s the anchor text that provides the context of the connection. The Google PageRank algorithm examines the wording, correlation, and placement of the anchor text to better understand the subject matter at hand.
Now, for the sake of clarity, anchor text refers to the highlighted words or phrases that serve as hyperlinks to other web pages.
In The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine paper – which formed the basis for PageRank – Sergey and Larry insist that anchor text offers more precise descriptions of web pages than the pages themselves. The stance hasn’t changed much through the years, and Google still considers the anchor text to be a fundamental part of web links.
You can, for example, expect Google to consider anchor text phrasing as the primary keywords for the ranking search terms. They’ll be used as references for the subject matters on which authority is being transferred.
And while at it, the algorithm additionally examines the anchor text to confirm if the linked web pages are contextually related. Otherwise, repeated inconsistencies here and there could attract major penalties from Google Penguin.
Over To You – How To Finesse Google PageRank Going Forward
So there you have it.
PageRank isn’t dead. Even with the Google Toolbar gone, PageRank is more alive and relevant than ever before.
But, it’s no longer operating in its original state. Google has had to update it over the years to prevent misuse, accelerate analytics, and, most importantly, optimize the search results for web users.
You’ll notice, in fact, that all along, web surfers have been the focus of these changes. Google PageRank’s fundamental objective has remained the same through the years – it always seeks to improve the relevance of its organic results to the users’ search intents.
As such, it’s growing more intelligent, the analysis is becoming more intricate, the penalties for violations are getting harsher, and the computation is progressively expanding to cover additional parameters.
These cumulatively translate into tougher times for not just black hat SEO practitioners, but also their grey hat counterparts. Gone are the days when you’d get away with buying backlinks from random blogs. Today’s PageRank has the eye and intelligence to spot such low-quality links.
So strict has the algorithm gotten that even seasoned digital marketers are increasingly feeling the heat. 41% of SEO experts today complain that link building has become the most challenging aspect of SEO.
Luckily for you, though, you don’t have to go through all that trouble. Just leave it all to Loganix.
Our advanced link-building tools and SEO teams will get you those natural, organic high-value links that PageRank exceedingly favors. What’s more, we’ll be sure to audit your current backlinks, as well as weed out all the low-quality links that may be compromising your website’s profile.
This is one opportunity that shouldn’t pass you by. So, go ahead and beat your competitors to it by getting in touch with us today.