How Important is PageRank, Really?
Webmasters can spend most of their waking hours doing everything they can to raise their Google PageRank. It is common knowledge that PageRank, which is largely based upon the number and quality of backlinks a webpage has, is an important factor in how well a particular webpage ranks within the Google search results. Since webmasters spend so much of their time worrying about PageRank, an important question is: how important is PageRank, really?
Many webmasters will tell you from experience that other factors besides PageRank, such as keyword density and placement, have recently taken a larger role in website ranking. No one will argue that PageRank has become irrelevant, but there is significant evidence to suggest that PageRank is not quite as important of a factor in website ranking as it once was.
To illustrate this point, I utilized a very useful tool you can find at prlookup.com. The tool returns regular Google query results with one interesting addition - they also give the pagerank for every webpage. Thus, you can type in any word or phrase and see the pagerank of those webpages that rank well (or not so well) for that keyword. Looking at the results, you probably notice something almost immediately. Some sites with low PRs do surprisingly well in the results, while some higher PR sites do quite poorly. Some of this difference can be contributed to sheer content - that is, how many times, and in what manner, the keywords you entered actually show up on the webpage. Google takes a close look at keyword usage and density in determining ranking. However, some pages clearly have very close keyword densities, yet in some cases the page with the lower pagerank will somehow still receive a better ranking.
Let us take a more quantitative look at this. Taking 20 of the most popular keywords from rankpulse.com (for this particular day), and entering them in prlookup.com, it is possible to get a better feel for the importance of pagerank. Looking at the first five results only, I wanted to see how many followed in order of highest PR to lowest PR. Surely, out of the results for 20 keywords, a good portion of them will display such an order, right? I have listed the number of webpage results that appeared in correct PageRank order for each keyword (i.e. 5 would indicate that 5 out of 5 results were in order of highest to lowest pagerank). You can see the table with results at Google Advisor.
Although limited by sample size, the results indicated that PageRank is not an overwhelmingly dominant component of website ranking on Google. If it were, the average of correct PageRank order for these keywords really should be somewhere around 4 to 5 (the real average was about 2.15). Thus, other factors including keyword density in webpage content, title, and even the URL, play a significant role in webpage ranking. I want to mention that, while looking over these results, I noticed that about 4-5 of these keywords came up with at least one webpage within the first 10 results (first page on Google) that had absolutely no PageRank at all (PR 0). In addition, a couple keywords came up with results with exactly reverse-order PageRanks - that is, the first result at the lowest PR and the fifth result had the highest (for example, PR8, 7, 6, 6, 5 or something similar).
So what does this all mean for the average webmaster concerned with SEO? The first lesson is that keywords and other non-PageRank factors can be absolutely crucial. They can put a PR6 site above a PR8 site (if you don't believe me just use the tool I mentioned above). Does this mean that website owners should not worry about links? Not at all. It's just that all the time people spend on exchanging and acquiring links for the sole purpose of increasing PageRank may be better spent developing website content and keyword strategies instead.
As far as keywords are concerned, we discovered that having keywords in the website title and URL can help a site rank much more competitively. Good content tends to have the fortunate effect of both increasing your one-way in-bound links (people like to link to sites they find interesting, thoughtful, informative, or helpful), thereby improving your PageRank, while at the same time producing keyword rich webpages good for both human viewers and search engine spiders.
The take home message here is that PageRank is important, but it certainly is not worth obsessing over; there are many other factors involved in website ranking that should be given nearly equal consideration. In addition, simply building a good website is the best thing you can do to attract visitors, even without a great PageRank. PageRank, however, will likely follow - consider it a welcomed byproduct of your hard work.
Bradley James is Webmaster of GoogleAdvisor.org, an informational site providing free information to casual searchers and Webmasters about the Google search engine.
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