Blog Myths Part 1: PageRank

Very few things in the blogosphere are as misunderstood as Google PageRank. Everyone and their mate’s mum likes to run their mouth on the subject… whereas about 9 out of 10 of them are rather clueless, I’d like to run through some of the misinformation out there, lest you miss out on one of your most powerful allies in the blogging game–Google juice.

A couple of things before we begin

  1. When I say PageRank I do not mean “how Google ranks pages”, but specifically the patented linking algorithm that Google used to revolutionize web search about 5 years ago.
  2. PageRank is often abbreviated as “PR” (which is somewhat confusing, since public relations is also abbreviated as such)
  3. How it works: 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.” The scale goes from 0 to 10, with 10 being most important, and 0s and 1s making up most of the web. The homepages of many blogs (that have been promoted a bit) are in the PR4 to PR6 range, if you need a frame of reference.

A bit of history

For the last few years, many webmasters have been crazy for this PageRank. Some have even used automated programs to swap links with thousands of other sites, thus manipulating their PageRank. Others also used programs to insert links into blogs’ comments or trackbacks (thus earning a nasty reputation). And still others did nothing but swap links with a few relevant sites, and write content that naturally attracted inbound links (and PageRank).

The first two types used to game Google pretty well, but those tactics have lost much of their effect in Google lately. Wherease the last type–those that swap links with a few relevant sites, and write content that naturally attracted inbound links–are still humming along and receiving the bulk of the Google referrals out there. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone: the folks at Google are pretty darn smart, and they have engineered better and better algorithms to combat this type of stuff.

With that in mind, let’s tackle a few…

PageRank Myths

  • PageRank is the ‘trump card’ for ranking in Google. Many people think a PR6 site will always outrank a PR4 site. This simply isn’t true currently (if indeed it ever was). Actually sites that rank highly in present-day Google tend to have links from trusted sites (there’s some debate about what ‘trusted’ actually means — but, for instance, a link from Engadget or the New York Times would be ‘trusted’)
  • Linking out to other blogs will ‘leak’ PageRank. There is a tiny grain of truth in this one (no time to explain it right now), but, practically speaking, linking out will almost always help, not hurt, a site’s ranking in Google (provided it is linking out to relevant pages)
  • The Google Toolbar list’s a site’s current PageRank. In fact, the values shown by the Google toolbar are almost always 1-4 months out of date.

One other myth, which doesn’t directly relate to PageRank but which many people believe, is that Google’s “link:” command returns all of the backlinks that Google knowns about. In fact, the results returned are a random sampling and Google knowns about many more backlinks than it shows.

That’s it for now, kiddies–this “SEO” stuff will fry your mind if you spend too much time on it!