Google PageRank 101

Google PageRankOver the past two decades we have seen how the internet created a tectonic shift in how we access information, communicate, and relate to each other.  The Internet has led to the rise of countless new phenomena, including social media platforms, massive changes in commerce, redefining business and our world along the way.   And the major player in all of this is search engines and the de facto search engine for the internet, Google.  Working below the surface of every front end webpage and resource are the countless algorithms (including Google PageRank) that tell Google that a website is important and relevant, and their content should be served to visitors first.

Google accounts for nearly two thirds of all search engine results around the world.  With Bing at 13%, Baidu 9% and Yahoo trailing at 8%, Google is dominating the search engine world.  So, what is the secret to their success?

Well, to understand the answer, we have to take a look at both what Google does and how it manages to do it.  Google ranks websites based on a series of criteria and provides results that people want.  Making all of this possible are a series of algorithms developed by the company to automatically rank and shift page rankings for any search done.  The oldest and best known (and understood) of these algorithms is PageRank.

So, what is PageRank, and what is it’s role in both Google and with website rankings?  Let’s take a moment to look at the origin of this ingenious web page rank algorithm, and see how it managed to effectively provide website page rank even among websites with different content.  In addition, we will look at how Google PageRank is still being used today, and what it may mean in terms of your own search engine optimization.

What Is Google PageRank?

In 1996, what would become PageRank was developed by two individuals, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

google search engine first logo

Google’s First Logo, 1997

Developed at Stanford University, PageRank was the continuation of an idea in analytical hierarchy processing.  PageRank is a mathematical algorithm that tracks links and hyperlinked text to rank how important websites are for search engine traffic. PageRank was the first algorithm to measure websites for relative importance, a novel concept at the time.

The method PageRank used was to looked to rank website pages based on link popularity.  Grossly oversimplified, websites with more links to them than other websites receive higher ranking. It was (and is) a brilliant methodology.  Instead of attempting to determine which websites were most popular when searching a phrase, Google let the internet decide for itself.  Sergey and Larry would found Google, using the PageRank as their first algorithm for determining relative importance of links, and it proved to be remarkably successful. PageRank helped to launch a company that is now known around the world.

PageRank was groundbreaking because it allowed for apples and oranges to be compared.  Basing criteria for comparison on a factor other than the content, PageRank provided a universal rule for ranking all websites.  With a single algorithm, it became possible to list various websites based on their link popularity.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2003.Their broundgreaking algorythm was Google PageRank.

Google founders Page and Brin in 2003. By Ehud Kenan – originally posted to Flickr as 100_0334, CC BY 2.0,

What is more striking is how good the algorithm was at producing results that people wanted to see.  They knew that individuals using their search engine want the most relevant search results first and not go through pages of results.

As a final note, the algorithm is amazingly simple, allowing for mass use without significantly affecting system resources.  An ingenious design, PageRank is still celebrated today as a landmark achievement and necessary step forward in the digital world.

How Is PageRank Used By Google today?

PageRank is still used by Google today as an algorithm.  Since it’s inception and use, PageRank has shown some vulnerability as savvy users have developed a variety of ways to manipulate and take advantage of the ranking system.  In response, Google has gradually tested and added additional algorithms; both strengthening the original purpose of the algorithm and adding new criteria as they were discovered to be important.  As exploitative techniques were discovered, websites began to be penalized in both PR and in search engine results.  The extent to which PageRank plays into Google’s search engine ranking now is undoubtedly less, however, tests with links and websites show that it is still a major influencer in in search engine results.

Why Should I Consider the PageRank Algorithm For Search Engine Optimization?

Google PageRank has been shown to play a major role in how your website is organized on search results today.  The basic premise remains the same, Pagerank is still a popularity contest.  Those with the most links still win, as long as Google doesn’t suspect you are rigging the contest (especially through manipulative, automated linking which are easy for them to detect).  This has led many to carefully manage their links in relation to their own website.

Considering the importance of being first on the list, targeting Google PageRank algorithms is still a proven way to help improve your overall website ranking.  While a lot can go into website page rank, making PageRank a part of your search engine optimization plan will show you better results.

Pulling It All Together

Just like the businesses that utilize them, the algorithms designed by search engine companies are constantly evolving to not only meet the needs of their users but to better reflect what people are looking for on the web.  A pioneer among algorithms, Google PageRank helped to lead the way in website rankings, making it possible to rank all websites regardless of subject content.

PageRank will be used for quite some time, and in fact, it may very well never go away.  This means that any SEO plan should include links and hyperlinks when building a more connected website.  With provisions put in place to detect websites attempting to manipulate the system to their advantage, PageRank is now flanked by a range of additional algorithms used by Google to keep the playing ground level.  Despite its age, Google still regularly updates  PageRank, and it remains among the most recognizable search engine ranking tools out there.

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