Why PageRank says nothing about rankings

October 16th, 2006 – 15 Comments

Google PageRankSometimes you’ll get clients who say “my PageRank is x, yet I don’t get any visitors from Google”?. Understandable, I think. If you were graded 6 out of 10, by the biggest search engine out there, it’s only fair to expect some traffic, or isn’t it?

PageRank is based on the academic system of citing other people. In this system, he who is cited the most is considered the most influential. This idea was translated to the web: a link was seen as a citation, and the site with the most links, was considered the best.

This algorithm has changed over the years, in a way that is not really far away from these academic roots. In the academic world, each field of research has it’s own journals. The importance of these journals is measured using the Impact Factor, a measurement of the amount of citations of articles in that journal. Now, a citation from a journal with a high Impact Factor is more important than a citation from a journal with a low Impact Factor. Sounds a lot like how PageRank has evolved, doesn’t it?

There’s a difference though. Impact Factors and Citation Indexes are only used in the academic world to compare people and journals within a certain field. If you look at the journals with the highest impact factors, you will see that these are almost all health related, because this is the largest portion of the research industry. Someone might think the American Sociological Review is an unimportant journal, since it’s Impact Factor is way lower than that of “less important” medical journals. It is however, the most important journal for people studying sociology.

What does this teach us? PageRank is useless without context. You can use PageRank to compare yourself to other sites in your branch, and it’ll have some more meaning, but even that won’t guarantee you any results.

As it works now (for all we know), you get a higher PageRank as well if you get links from high PageRank sites that aren’t related to your business. It’s like getting quoted in a high rank medicine journal with your history research: nice, but it won’t get any of your colleagues, your intended audience, to read your research. Next to that, it doesn’t say anything about the quality of your research. We can’t expect an editor at a medicine journal to correctly assess the value of history research, can we?

Google looks at links like these the same way: the only way to get higher up in the rankings for your branch, is to get peers to link to you. Links from sites that match yours on topic, that’s what you need to rank higher on your subject of choice.

Summing up, this means that the only thing PageRank measures is the amount of your incoming links, and it says nothing, really nothing, about your rankings, or search engine traffic.

Read more: ‘Google update: Real time Penguin? Or something else?’ »


15 Responses to Why PageRank says nothing about rankings

  1. issa
    By issa on 21 April, 2008

    my PR is 0 but most of my visitors are from google. love it! =)

  2. joe
    By joe on 2 April, 2008

    Sometimes you’ll get clients who say “my PageRank is x, yet I don’t get any visitors from Google�. Understandable, I think. If you were graded 6 out of 10, by the biggest search engine out there, it’s only fair to expect some traffic, or isn’t it?

    PageRank is based on the academic system of citing other people. In this system, he who is cited the most is considered the most influential. This idea was translated to the web: a link was seen as a citation, and the site with the most links, was considered the best.

    This algorithm has changed over the years, in a way that is not really far away from these academic roots. In the academic world, each field of research has it’s own journals. The importance of these journals is measured using the Impact Factor, a measurement of the amount of citations of articles in that journal. Now, a citation from a journal with a high Impact Factor is more important than a citation from a journal with a low Impact Factor. Sounds a lot like how PageRank has evolved, doesn’t it?

    There’s a difference though. Impact Factors and Citation Indexes are only used in the academic world to compare people and journals within a certain field. If you look at the journals with the highest impact factors, you will see that these are almost all health related, because this is the largest portion of the research industry. Someone might think the American Sociological Review is an unimportant journal, since it’s Impact Factor is way lower than that of “less important� medical journals. It is however, the most important journal for people studying sociology.

    What does this teach us? PageRank is useless without context. You can use PageRank to compare yourself to other sites in your branch, and it’ll have some more meaning, but even that won’t guarantee you any results.

    As it works now (for all we know), you get a higher PageRank as well if you get links from high PageRank sites that aren’t related to your business. It’s like getting quoted in a high rank medicine journal with your history research: nice, but it won’t get any of your colleagues, your intended audience, to read your research. Next to that, it doesn’t say anything about the quality of your research. We can’t expect an editor at a medicine journal to correctly assess the value of history research, can we?

    Google looks at links like these the same way: the only way to get higher up in the rankings for your branch, is to get peers to link to you. Links from sites that match yours on topic, that’s what you need to rank higher on your subject of choice.

    Summing up, this means that the only thing PageRank measures is the amount of your incoming links, and it says nothing, really nothing, about your rankings, or search engine traffic.

    [tags]Google, PageRank, SEO[/tags]

  3. Debo HObo
    By Debo HObo on 14 March, 2008

    this is good it answered my questions as to why my pagerank is higher than John Chow but clearly his blog is more prestigiuos then mine.

  4. Alejandro
    By Alejandro on 27 November, 2007

    Thank you for the article. It helped me to clear and answer a very important question I was having about google.

    Greetings.
    Alex.

  5. ramon
    By ramon on 4 January, 2007

    Well i simply agree with you Joost, although i would nuance it a little by saying pagerank means just a little instead of nothing. But ofcourse that’s weblogwriting to provoke response :)

  6. Joost de Valk
    By Joost de Valk on 19 October, 2006

    hehe thx, i guess that’s a compliment ;) and i’ll think about the smileys :)

  7. Joost de Valk
    By Joost de Valk on 19 October, 2006

    there’s also ugly, and not so ugly, and smileys don’t fit into this layout IMHO ;)

  8. Joost de Valk
    By Joost de Valk on 19 October, 2006

    ehm why? you can’t read smileys when they’re not replaced by images? :)

  9. Joost de Valk
    By Joost de Valk on 19 October, 2006

    deejay: tbh, PR5 is not really cool :P Some PR-inflation has been in effect ;)

  10. Joost de Valk
    By Joost de Valk on 17 October, 2006

    You are SO right…

  11. Sint
    By Sint on 17 October, 2006

    Nice article!

    Indeed, people seem to forget relevance most of the time and just focus on their pagerank. But relevance of a website’s content and it’s bigger context is the most important factor in how the results are being generated, together with the value that had been given to a specific page.

    That’s why SEO is all about the combination of all the different factors. It’s like a chain, when one link is missing, the rest of the object is useless.

    Context being so important is also an advantage. Since a part of it is the context within your own site, this is something you have control about yourself: by chosing the right content structure, subjects and keywords. For most sites, a lot can be gained here. And in contrary to expanding your link popularity, you as the webmaster have absolute control about it.

  12. Svinus
    By Svinus on 17 October, 2006

    helemaal nutteloos is het niet. Het kan een prima graadmeter zijn. Stel je bouwt een website van 0 op en verzamelt enkel gerelateerde links naar je website.

    Je krijgt dan een pagerank 5 bv dan is dat een teken dat je goed bezig bent.


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