Google, the search engine that has evolved into the focus of all search engine optimization professionals, has in the past half of a year introduced the Page Rank feature. This is nothing new to the search engine optimization industry, and probably nothing new to most of our readers as we have mentioned it in previous search engine articles.

For those who are not familiar with Google's Page Rank, which is commonly known as PR, it is Google's calculation or score of a web page based on external and internal linking of a site, as well as on-page criteria of the web page being linked to as well as the web page being linked from. The Page Rank calculation is much more detailed and complex, and we go into the calculation in more detail later in the tutorial, as well point out other places that you can read up on how Google calculates a web page's PR.

Before you can begin to develop or increase the PageRank of your website and individual web pages, you will need to evaluate what the PageRank of your site's pages is currently. To view the PR of your site you will need to download the Google Toolbar.

PageRank is in some ways related to link popularity, but the calculation is dependant on the quality and strength of the links, not just the number of links. So, how does one go about building and increasing their Page Rank. It is not as difficult as some may think.

Internal linking

Internal linking also plays a factor in the Page Rank of the pages within a site. It is most common to see the homepage, index.htm, to have the highest PR of the website.

The linking structure within the site should follow the themed approach to internal linking, which stresses importance on minimizing linking between 2nd and 3rd level directories and pages. In our article, Surviving the Google Update, we discuss the importance of good internal linking and how to apply this linking structure to your site.

Let's run through an example. The homepage of your site has a PageRank of 6. This usually means that there are a good number of other websites that link to your homepage that also have a PR of 5,6, and above. You link your homepage that has a PR of 6, to your second level pages, which will in turn have a PR of 5. You link all of these second level pages to each other, which will not affect the PageRank of the pages. Now, you link all of the secondary pages that have a PR of 5 to the tertiary pages that will in turn have a PR of 4. If you have quarternary pages, you would link the tertiary pages that have a PR of 4 to the quarternary pages that would in turn have a PR of 3.

Why does this PR reduction take place when digging deeper into the structure of your website? There have been many discussions, theories, and speculations among the search engine optimization professionals in the industry as to why this takes place. Some think that Google does this as a result of the deep structure as it does not prefer it. Others think that this PR reduction takes place as a result of the smaller amount of internal linking that takes place. Instead, why not consider all of the factors? The tertiary and quarternary pages have several different characteristics than the primary and secondary pages. These pages with the lower PR are deeper in the site structure, have less internal linking, and in most cases less external linking. What can be done to make sure that these important pages that are deeper in the site increase their PageRank?

Since the internal linking of your site plays a factor, not in increasing PR, but in sharing the PR of the site, and the dilution of your keyword strength and theme, it is important to review the internal linking structure of your site. If your linking structure follows the example above, then there are modifications that could be made to improve the site's internal linking. Follow this checklist of internal linking questions and comments:

  • Make sure that your primary page(s), the index.htm page, links to your secondary pages or secondary levels.
  • Make sure that your secondary pages link to each other
  • Link your secondary pages to the third level pages within their sub-directory, sub-domain, or level
  • Link the third level pages within each specific sub-directory or sub-domain to each other.
  • Link the third level pages back to the secondary page that it was linked from
  • Make sure that the there is not heavy linking between third level pages
  • Link to pages, regardless of level, that are relevant
  • Link to pages, regardless of level, where the text on the page being linked from is keyword specific to the page that you are linking to
  • If there are fourth level pages, follow the same linking structure that has been laid out in this checklist

Other reminders:

  • Only link pages within your site that are relevant to each other
  • Use keyword specific link text when linking between pages
  • Use standard HREFs in links that are easy for the search engine robots.

These tertiary and quartenary pages are the most important pages as they are the web pages that are targeting the refined keywords within your keyword set. In some cases it would be detrimental to the ranking of these pages if they have a PR of 3 or 4, and not the 5 or 6 that the top-level pages enjoy. In other cases it is possible for a page with a PR of 3 or 4 to rank very well, but this depends on a number of other variables. A good Page Rank is the icing on the cake for the web page that has been fully optimized. When attempting to increase the PR of a web page through the influence of external linking, it is necessary to work on the PageRank of each web page separately and as if the pages are a site in-of-themselves.

External Linking

External linking is the largest factor in determining PageRank, and is the place where you have the least control. There is no way to force another web master to link to your site, especially when they already have a high PageRank. For this reason and many more, increasing your PageRank is difficult, but important nonetheless. In this section we will discuss why external linking is important to the PageRank of your web pages, what the correct way to link is, who to request links from and why these links have such importance.

The actual amount of effect that Google's PageRank has on the ranking of a website or web pages is debated, and it is probably safe to say that Google will not be letting us know anytime soon. What we do know is that a web page's PR does play a role in Google's indexing and Google's ranking. The higher a web page's PageRank, the more frequently it will be crawled and refreshed. While in most cases, a higher PR will accompany a higher-ranking site; it is not always the case. As we mentioned earlier, a high PR can sometimes be the icing on the cake, or what gives a strong hold on a good ranking.

PageRank is a pretty complex mathematical calculation, but can be broken down into a simple version. PageRank is Google's scoring of Page A. This scoring is based on the external links that point to Page A, and certain variables within the pages that the links come from. A link from Page B is held as a vote for Page A, and if Page B has a high PageRank, this will is taken into account and will have a positive effect when calculating the PR of Page A. If Page B, C, and D, all link to Page A, but Page B, C, and D all have a PR of 2, then this will be taken into account when calculating the web page's PageRank. In the second situation, the pages with low PageRank's that link to Page A will not affect Page A's PR in a negative effect, but will also not affect it in a positive way.

Google PageRank Diagram

Another very important part of the PageRank calculation is the use of on page criteria and title tags by Google when determining PageRank. When Google is determining the PR of Page A by evaluating the votes, or links, from Page B and others, it will also take into account the on page criteria and title tags of Page B and other links that are pointing to Page A. If Page A's target keywords and theme are "widgets" then this is what Google will look for in the external links that are pointing to your site. If Page B, C, and D all have a high PR (above 6), and all have the keyword "widgets" in the on page criteria and title tag, Google will notice this and use these links when determining Page A's Page Rank. What does this mean?

This means that when contacting other websites to link to your site in the attempt to build and increase your Page Rank, these web pages that you are requesting a link from should be relevant and of the same theme and market of the page that you are requesting they link to. Perform a search for your target keyword in Google, ODP, and Yahoo to start, and check the top 40 ranking sites. Can you find a place where they would place a link to your web page? If so, contact them and request that they link to your site. Be prepared for them to ask for a reciprocal link. Dig through your category and related categories in the Google directory, and contact sites that are listed high within each category. Google's directory will show you the PageRank of each site listed in the category, which help you to determine which site's are of the highest value to contact.

Another important part of the external linking campaign is the actual links and the way that they are formatted. Following the same example that we have been using, let's assume that you are attempting to improve the ranking for a web page that targets "widgets". Still following the example above, you would contact other websites with a high PageRank that target "widgets" and ask them to link to your "widgets" page. To maximize results from these links, you would want the link text pointing to your site to read "widgets", or other link text that is keyword rich and descriptive.

To continue upon the external linking development for your website, there is another point that must be made that will be crucial to the successful building of PageRank. One common mistake when building PageRank is that webmasters or search engine optimization professionals will contact other webmasters and request that they only link to the homepage or the top level of a section. This can have two effects, which will be explained shortly, but the pages that are below these pages linked to will not encounter the full effects of being linked to.

If you request a link to a top-level page or the homepage of your site, this will have a positive effect on this page. If the PageRank of this page increases, then the page below it will increase (if the internal linking structure is correct), but it will still be one PageRank number below the page above it that was linked to. If you have quality content pages that are deep in your site structure, you will have to go further than this to increase the PageRank for those pages.

Let's follow an example. Your site's main topic is "flowers", with one of the next sub-directories being "roses". Within the sub-directory "roses", you have 4 different sub-directories: "yellow roses", "red roses", "pink roses", and "white roses". Within these 4 sub-directories, you have a number of pages dealing with each type of flower. The way that this site is set up follows the themed approach.

Now let's suppose that your site is of decent stature and Google gives the homepage a PageRank of 6. (A PageRank of 6 is good, but it is not good enough that you wouldn't want to increase it.) With the home page at 6, the second level, "roses", would have a PR of 5, each sub-category, "yellow roses" for example, would have a PR of 4, and the pages below that would have a PR of 3. These sub-categories and pages that are below are the niche keywords and the ones that are going to bring you the targeted traffic that is easily converted.

To increase the PageRank of these pages and sub-categories, first you need to follow the internal linking structure that was outlined and illustrated earlier in this tutorial. Next you need to work on the external linking, or link popularity, for each page and sub-category page. Following the example above, you should start with the homepage and work your way down. Since the theme of the homepage is "flowers", search for pages and sites with a high PR that have the same theme of "flowers" and request that they link to your homepage. The second level is "roses", so you would want to search for web pages and websites that have the theme or main topic "roses" and request that they link to your "roses" section. (If you have them link to the homepage, this will not work) See the pattern forming here?

One problem that you may encounter is finding sites or pages with a high PR that match your theme. For example, it may be difficult to find sites that are dedicated to simply "white roses", and not just "roses" or "flowers". Instead of the desired linking pages having a PR of 6 or 7, they have a mere 3 or 4. If this is the case, you should ask for the links from these pages with a mediocre PageRank, and then continue your search. Seek out more of these sites to make up for the low PageRank. Once you have contacted these sites within your theme or main topic, you should contact some of the sites from the level above and request that they link to these pages.

Your site and pages within your site must meet certain criteria for this to work, with one piece being the most important: the site and pages within your site must be quality content that people will actually want to link up to. This is one of the basic points of PageRank: Google can tell which pages and sites are authorities as they have a large number of high quality links pointing them. If your site is full of spam, or otherwise undesired content, it may be difficult to get the quality links, whether internal or external, that you need for a high PR.

Other places to read about Google PageRank calculation:
- Google's explanation of PageRank
- The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hyper-textual Web Search Engine


February 7, 2002





Andrew is the Director of Search Engine Optimization Operations for a market leading company. Since the Fall of 2001, Andrew has served as the moderator of the Search Engine Promotion forum within Webmasterworld.com - a leading online community of web professionals. Andrew's articles appear regularly on informative sites including Search Engine Guide, SEO Today, SitePoint and others.






Comments(12)

Very useful information. Helped in building the ranking of my site! Thanks!

This is probably the best explanation I have read so far. Thanks for the info!

Thanks for the information, very useful!

Andrew, I second those who came before me: thank you for your clear article.

Great explanation on page rank. Developing page rank is easier said than done for someone starting out. PR is not the be all end all for seo but it is one of the factors that can make a difference.

Thanks for your effort in putting this excellent article up. After lots of searching and reading this article is by far the best.

Hi Andrew
Thanks alot for the very good explanation.
Have a great year
Al

We achieved PR 4 easily, and have been working to get to PR 5. Finding it to be particularly troublesome. Thanks for your coverage of this topic. Every little bit of knowledge helps!

I have 2 sites that we have achieved PR 4 on like you Steve quite easily but that pushing the sites beyond that is also proving troublesome. I have actually moved one of the sites over to a wordpress installation in order to improve the internal linking.

Can you please tell me when google will update the page rank of sites?

its esay - PageRank is a numeric value that represents how important a page is on the web. Google figures that when one page links to another page, it is effectively casting a vote for the other page:)

When I make my pages I always try to think like a web user. How do I find the information I want. In order to do this I follow a logical navigation system that starts from the homepage and goes deeper via sections. I only link pages within a topic if they are related to the topic. The article on this page is useful and if you follow the pattern/ideas mentioned and make great pages and get some great links, I think in time you will get a good page rank, but it takes alot of hard work. Vic

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Search Engine Guide > Andrew Gerhart > Understanding and Building Google PageRank