Updated December 1st, 2018 — version 271

The UnFair Advantage Book
Winning the Search Engine Wars

Chapter Seven, PageRank, Algorithms, & Search Engine Updates

Chapter Seven
PageRank, Algorithms, & Search Engine Updates

Google uses several algorithms to rank web pages. The oldest and best known of them all is PageRank. PageRank assigns a number ranging from 1 to 10 indicating the relative importance of a page. For instance, a page that is rated 7 on the PageRank scale (expressed as PR7) is considered to be an important page. Any web page rated PR8 or above is considered a very important page.

Loosely interpreted, the scale breaks down as such:

PR0 (zero) Very Weak
PR1-2 Weak
PR3-4 Moderate
PR4-5 Strong
PR6-7 Important
PR8-10 Very Important

Here are some examples of well known brands and their corresponding PageRank. As you can see, their home pages range from Important to Very Important.

  • PR6 - GEICO.com, RedBull.com, TacoBell.com
  • PR7 - GE.com, YellowPages.com, TheOnion.com, NFL.com, PGA.com, McDonalds.com
  • PR8 - eBay.com, bing.com, Slate.com, NASA.gov, NBA.com, Weather.com
  • PR9 - NYTimes.com, Yahoo.com, Wikipedia.com, CNN.com, Amazon.com, facebook.com, youtube.com, Coke.com
  • PR10 - Google, twitter.com

According to Google:

"PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites."

To gain some visual insight into how this works, let's consider the hypothetical network of links in the graphic below.

PageRank or Link Juice Illustration

Notice first that all of the percentages add up to 100% (actually, 99.9%). That's the maximum available PageRank. And, since Page B has the most incoming links, it has 38.4% of the available PageRank making it the most important page in this network of linked sites.

Most importantly, you should notice that Page C is the second most important page based solely on the fact that the most important page (Page B) is linking out to Page C. In fact, since Page B is passing along to Page C all of its available link juice (SEO jargon for passing along PageRank), it becomes the second most important page even though it has only ONE link! If Page B were linking out to any additional pages, then Page C would not be getting as much link juice and therefore would be much less important in terms of PageRank.

Next, take a look at Page E. It is linked-to by Page F (which provides it with a fair amount of link juice) and also linked-to by 5 other not-so-important pages which all contribute a small amount of link juice. But it all adds up to give Page E a pretty good boost in PageRank totaling 8.1% of the available PageRank. And the fact that Pages E and F are reciprocally linked means they are passing link juice to each other and thereby increasing each other's PageRank.

Now take a look at Page A. Although it has only one link, it's getting a fair share of link juice from Page D because Page D is linked-to by the fairly important Page E. In other words, Page E is passing link juice to Page A through Page D.

Confused? ...don't be. Simplified, it works like this. Important pages are king makers! But, generally speaking, the more high quality inbound links a page has, the more important Google thinks the page is. And, the more important a page is, the more link juice that page passes along to the pages it links to. Such link juice can be diluted, however. For instance you might notice that Page E is linking out to three pages; D, F, and B — and therefore passing along only a fraction of its available link juice to each page it links to. If it were linking only to Page D, for instance, then Page D would be getting something like 7.2% of the link juice instead of only 3.9. Get it?

The bottom line is that links from important pages pass along significant amounts of link juice. This helps your PageRank. And the more outgoing links on a page, the more the link juice is diluted. Therefore, you should strive to acquire links from important pages that do not link out to very many, if any, other pages.

A few years back Google's toolbar was an easy way to quickly see PageRank and as you can image was a top tool for link building. Over the years PageRank has been seen as an old school term by new SEOs because many believed it was retired when proof of it disappeared from the Google Toolbar officially in April 2016. However, although it's not available for public viewing, PageRank is still alive and well internally at Google

PageRank is suddenly back on the everyone's radar because Bill Slawski, who is known for his brilliant interpretations of Google Patents, just reported on an update to Google's original PageRank Patent that was granted on April 24th, 2018. Or as he put it...

A continuation patent of an updated PageRank was granted today. The original patent was filed in 2006, and reminded me a lot of Yahoo’s Trustrank (which is cited by the patent’s applicants as one of a large number of documents that this new version of the patent is based upon.)

So what's changed? Well, the patent goes into detail on how pages are ranked based on how close they are to high quality seed sites that will be used as reference in Google's link graph. The distance is measured in a complicated way that has everything to do with links. The simplified explanation is that the Internet is now separated into topics/industries and, the closer a site is linked to the Google recognized high quality and spam free seed sites in their industry, then the higher a site will rank.

That means that smaller sites with fewer links have the same chance of high rankings as larger sites with tons of links. If a smaller site gets great links that are close to the authority sites within their niche then it will give them enough of a boost to climb in rankings pretty dramatically. Here's a great quote from the patent:

One embodiment of the present invention provides a system that ranks pages on the web based on distances between the pages, wherein the pages are interconnected with links to form a link-graph. More specifically, a set of high-quality seed pages are chosen as references for ranking the pages in the link-graph, and shortest distances from the set of seed pages to each given page in the link-graph are computed. Each of the shortest distances is obtained by summing lengths of a set of links which follows the shortest path from a seed page to a given page, wherein the length of a given link is assigned to the link based on properties of the link and properties of the page attached to the link. The computed shortest distances are then used to determine the ranking scores of the associated pages.

Going forward, smart link builders are going to spend far more time identifying the authority sites in their niche and focusing on getting links as close to that source as possible. They're going to do link analysis on the top trusted sites in their niche and then do their best to get a link from one of the sites that is directly linked from those trusted seed sites.

By the way, competitive backlink tools like the one offered by WebCEO are essential when doing this type of link research.

Smart marketers are going to stay the course and keep focusing on building links naturally by providing amazing resources for users, doing local events to gain local attention and staying far away from thin spun content!

The NOFOLLOW tag: There is a way to avoid wasting or diluting link juice (PageRank) when linking out to other sites. It involves using the NOFOLLOW tag. This is an attribute added to the source code of a link that tells Google to ignore the anchor text and to NOT pass along any link juice. It looks like this:

<a href="signin.php" rel="nofollow">sign in</a>

Here are some cases in which you might want to consider using nofollow:

  • Untrusted content: If there's any chance you're linking to junk like untrusted user comments or guestbook entries, you should use nofollow on those links. Doing so tends to discourage spammers from targeting your site to manipulate their own rankings and will avoid inadvertently passing PageRank to bad sites that might cause your site to be associated with bad neighborhoods on the web.
  • Paid links: Search engine guidelines require bot-readable disclosure of paid links in the same way that consumers expect disclosure of paid relationships. Using nofollow on paid links, if you have them on your site, satisfies Google's disclosure requirement. (Learn more about Google's stance on paid links)
  • Crawl prioritization: Search engine robots can't sign in or register as a member on your forum or site. Therefore there is no reason to invite Google's bot to follow register here or sign in links.

While it's true that PageRank is only a part of Google's master algorithm for ranking web pages within its search results, it's the most important one related to links coming from external websites. This makes it critical that you understand the basics of PageRank, which we've covered in this chapter so you'll have the foundation for moving on to the next chapter that covers all of the off-site, external ranking factors.

Algorithms & Updates

In the world of SEO, Google's algorithmic evolution is referred to as Updates. And these updates are often given names that suggest they are algorithms unto themselves. If this only makes partial sense, don't worry about it. It's only important that you will know what people are talking about when they use an obscure-seeming term to reference a change in Google's algorithm.

Some of these updates are such minor tweaks that nobody bothers naming them. But some updates are MAJOR changes that completely alter the search ranking for thousands, if not millions of sites. To say these major changes have been upsetting to online businesses that depend on top rankings would be the understatement of all time, SEO-wise. Suffice it to say that if your site were benefitting from top rankings to the tune of a million dollars a month, which dropped close to zero overnight as a result of an update, then you'd probably be upset too. Believe us when we tell you that can happen because it most certainly has! Many times.

So, two things.

  1. When you hear someone like us or anyone else using terms like, Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda, Phantom, Dewey, Buffy, Big Daddy, Jagger, Gilligan, Bourbon, Allegra, Brandy, Austin, Florida, Fritz, Dominic, Cassandra, Caffeine, Boston, or Google Dance, please know that we are referring to the nickname that's been given to one of Google's algorithmic updates. And, you can bet that if the update is important enough to name, then it has significantly shaken up the order in which sites are being ranked.
  2. In every case there are winners and losers. Some sites benefit from algorithm updates. Some sites lose big time! Generally speaking, the sites that follow our advice tend to win. That's because we strive to alert you about the trends that Google is favoring or about to start favoring. But more importantly, we warn you about the so-called "winning" strategies that are about to fall out of favor so you can phase them out in time before you get hit with one of Google's updates.

Of course, we don't control Google, we aren't actually privy to their behind-the-scene plans. But we've been doing this since 1997 and our track record is excellent at predicting what Google will "hate" next. As a general rule, we figure that...

If Google CAN do something and it serves their interest to do it, then they WILL do it.

So far this logic has proven perfect. It even makes it easy to predict what they will do even if we can't tell you exactly when they will pull the trigger.

So, when we warn you (via your SEN Membership) about some SEO strategy that is currently working, and tell you to phase it out, then you had better listen.

And that's the best advice you will find in this entire book!