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March 18, 2008

PageRank the next Y2K ?

PageRank… or is it really just a few green pixels? Every so often we hear of a new PR update and the craze that follows it. Has this addiction finally reached a pinnacle or has the worst yet to come? I shudder to think.

Funny enough, the name PageRank has little to do with actual web pages. The name is derived from Google founder and developer Larry Page, hence the name Page-Rank.

PageRank is defined by Google as: “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”.”

This translates into a democratic internet where the sites with more links are deemed more important, but that links from these important sites are deemed to be more important too.

I am sure that anyone who has an email listed somewhere in cyberspace has had a link request that has included the: “…please put a link to our site on a PR2+ page.” Possibly the most concerning is that nobody really knows what the PageRank of any page truly is, so how can anyone really verify this? With the current PageRank updates coming out so very slowly, about 4 times a year, how would a young website ever be able to compete with an established website?

Most web users, with the Google Toolbar installed, assume that PageRank goes from one to ten. This is little more than a very (and I do mean VERY) rough guide as to the popularity of the page. In this case the 1 really represents something silly like 0.000001 and the 10 virtually immeasurable. This all remains very subjective to the number of pages and the number of links on indexed pages and which of them Google gives weight to or ranks highly. As you can tell quite quickly, that value of 1 to 10 really could represent anything.

Now I say it: “I’m so very much over this PageRank craze!”

Okay, now that that has been said. Links are important. Links are possibly the most important attribute when trying to rank a webpage for a particular search term. You need only have a look back upon all the Link Bombs from the past to see that by simply adding links to a site you can rank it for virtually any search phrase. The terms “find chuck norris” and “miserable failure” come to mind. It must be said however that while many of these tactics do work, they often don’t last for very long.

PageRank is indeed a very valuable concern when trying to rank for competitive phrases. And as the PageRank description points out that the more links the better, the more popular the website sending the link even better still. But I think we can all appreciate that the true nature of this recipe is as closely guarded as the Coca-Cola or KFC recipe – perhaps even more so.

But perhaps it is the next level of the PageRank that really makes the most difference – Trust Rank. As mentioned before PageRank is calculated by the number of incoming links and from which site these links are from. A newly created website has little weight when it comes to casting a “vote” to another website. A site that has been online and active for the past 5-10 years would pass a lot more weight along. Usually you will see that these older sites do indeed have a good few green pixels in that toolbar. But possibly the most important factor here would be the age and traffic Google themselves have passed on over time. This would go some way to establishing trust. If Google has never blacklisted a URL and it has remained active and current throughout all those years then perhaps it is very much trusted. This TrustRank could indeed prove to be the real PageRank over time.

While it may be difficult to evaluate the true trust value of a website, especially a new website, there are a few tell tale signs to look out for:

  • Look for a security certificate; this is usually a good sign that someone else has already done the fine-tooth comb job for you.
  • Check the websites back links. Remember trust is often created by links themselves; these links will indirectly be linking you to the rest of the internet.
  • Check for indexed pages; this is where the green pixels do come in handy, if it has a visible PageRank then chances are that Google has ranked the page. It never hurts to use the “site:www.domain-here.com” command.

These are normally the easiest ways to establish the authenticity of website.

Links are very important in speeding up the indexing process to any new website as the more links that are incoming the more likely Google will notice your website. The weight of those links are more important than bulk. After all a site that has a high Trust Rank will pass on more weight to another page than a page that has 1000 links from spam websites.

As for right now, I believe that little green bar to be nothing but a big hoax as it is out dated, rarely updated and so far pretty meaningless, I wouldn’t give it any more credit than the Y2K bug. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google were to announce that its PageRank toolbar is little more than smoke and mirrors. If so, Larry Page is surely a better illusionist than David Copperfield.

Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development. http://www.propdata.co.za

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