Demystifying Google PageRank for SEO Novices

3 min read


What Does PageRank Mean?


PageRank, an algorithm by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, is based on the total relative strengths of all hyperlinks on the Internet.

While some contend that Larry Page’s last name inspired the name, others assert that “Page” is short for “web page.” Both points of view are accurate, and the overlap was deliberate.

The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to Web is a paper that Page and Brin wrote while attending Stanford University.

The paper, published in January 1999, presents a comparatively straightforward algorithm for assessing a web page’s strength.

The Evolution of PageRank: Tracing the Growth and Changes

During their tenure at Stanford in the late 1990s, Brin and Page delved into information retrieval methods. They introduced a revolutionary approach: using links to determine the relative importance of web pages. Though computationally challenging, this idea laid the foundation for Google, a fledgling entity in the search world at that time.
The trust in Google’s approach was so profound that the search engine launched without a revenue model. Back then, known as “BackRub,” Google employed the PageRank algorithm to rank pages in its search engine results.
The Google Dance emerged as a challenge for PageRank due to its iterative mathematical processing. This process, taking days at the turn of the millennium, caused fluctuations in Google’s SERPs as new PageRanks were computed.
Subsequent iterations of PageRank introduced concepts like “trusted seeds” to initiate the algorithm and the “reasonable surfer” model, weighing link values based on user click probabilities.
Initially deemed challenging to manipulate, PageRank lost its invincibility as the backlink industry expanded. Google eventually pulled it from public view while relying on it internally for ranking algorithms. The PageRank Toolbar disappeared by 2016, ending public access to PageRank data.
Google gradually shifted its reliance away from PageRank, adopting new methods following acquisitions like MetaWeb’s Knowledge Graph. As Google altered its algorithms, it aimed to deter link manipulation by SEO professionals.
Originally proud to share its algorithm publicly, Google’s PageRank toolbar extension provided a score between 0 and 10 for web pages. This visibility led to the realization that links heavily influenced rankings, fostering a secondary market for buying and selling links based on PageRank values.
The issue was exacerbated when Yahoo introduced the Yahoo Search Explorer tool, allowing easy access to page link data. Later, tools like Moz and Majestic built their indexes, evaluating links separately.


Transforming Search: The Impact of PageRank


While other search engines focused on analyzing individual page content, their methods needed to differentiate between influential pages and those filled with random or manipulative text. This made them susceptible to manipulation by SEO professionals.
Google’s PageRank algorithm emerged as a game-changer.
Paired with the concept of “nGrams” to gauge relevancy, Google established a winning formula that swiftly surpassed dominant incumbents like AltaVista and Inktomi (which powered MSN, among others).
Operating at a page level, Google found a more scalable solution than Yahoo’s directory-based approach and later DMOZ (the Open Directory Project). Although DMOZ initially provided Google with an open-source directory, Google’s methodology proved to be far more dynamic and effective in revolutionizing search.


Understanding the Mechanism of PageRank


PageRank operates through a straightforward yet intricate process. Initially, every web page receives an initial PageRank estimation, which can be any numerical value. Although historically displayed publicly within the 0 to 10 range, these estimates are independent of this scale.
Each page’s PageRank is divided by the number of outgoing links, resulting in a reduced fraction. This reduced PageRank is then allocated to the linked pages, repeating this distribution for all web pages.
In subsequent iterations, the new PageRank estimate for each page becomes the sum of the fractions from pages linking to it.
The formula integrates a “damping factor,” akin to the likelihood of a web surfer discontinuing their browsing. Before each algorithm iteration begins, the projected new PageRank undergoes reduction by this damping factor.


Is PageRank Still in Operation?


Despite public access to PageRank being revoked in 2016, indications suggest its persistence within Google’s search systems.
Leaks from Yandex revealed that PageRank continued to affect its operations.
Google engineers hinted at an evolved version of PageRank that demands less computational power for computation. While its significance in Google’s page ranking has diminished, it continues to be a consistent metric for each webpage.
Despite the potential integration of other algorithms by Google, PageRank likely retains its place within several systems of the search behemoth.

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Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]