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Introducing PageRank - shattering the myth

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Introducing PageRank - shattering the myth Powered By Docstoc
					Introducing PageRank - shattering the myth
by: Dave Collins
Copyright 2005 SharewarePromotions Ltd

One of the most fascinating aspects of the web is its dynamism. We all know that it
develops at an astonishing speed - yesterday's craze is today's old news, and bigger
and better things seem to be springing up every few days. Some of them crumble
quickly into dust, while others seem destined to tower above the rest.

Naturally, search engines also follow this pattern. Some of the early search engine
giants remain with us today, but many of them are gone - and every so often, a new
champion seems to emerge. Recent years have seen the growth and development of a
search engine that puts all others to shame. It might have once stood at the same level
as its rivals, but there is no doubt that for now at least, Google rules the web.

Many of the companies we work with see more traffic from Google than all the other
search engines put together, and there are more than a few Search Engine
Optimisation services who focus almost exclusively on this one engine.

What is Google's secret?

So why is Google so successful? The answer is simply that when a user goes searching
on Google, they're likely to find what they're looking for, and more quickly than on any
other search engine. Exactly how Google manages to do this is trickier to answer, as
they tend to guard their secrets well. They don't want us to know too much about how
they determine their search results, simply because they don't want anyone to be able
to manipulate their own ranking.

Of course, human nature dictates that many of us aren't satisfied with this. We
desperately want to be able to affect the ranking of our sites, and some of us will go to
great lengths to do so. We work hard to find the perfect keywords, tweak our meta tags
and optimise the content of our site to what we hope is Google perfection.

But recently, a new word has entered our vocabulary, and is surrounded by so much
hype that very few people actually have a realistic understanding of what it is - or what it
isn't. PageRank is where the attention is focused today, and many companies are
determined to find a means of improving their magic number. "I want to be an eight,"
they say, as if PageRank was a dress size that they could grow into with the help of
some heavy-duty calorie shots. Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy as that.
So what exactly is PageRank? There's a surprisingly simple answer: it is Google's way
of estimating how important a web page is. On a basic level, Google decides that if one
page links to another, the second page must be considered important. If one page on
one site has 15,000 pages linking to it, it must be for a good reason, right?

Page Rank is about pages, not websites

Let's begin by straightening out a few basic points. First of all, PageRank is assigned on
a page-by-page basis. A whole website does not have this score, and different pages
within a site can have very different PageRank values assigned. Another important point
is that the rating (out of ten) assigned is essentially little more than an approximation of
a given page's PageRank. The actual values cover a far greater range than zero to ten.

Before going any further, we should take a look at the most important point of all, often
overlooked when we get caught up in the PageRank frenzy. PageRank is only one
factor that Google takes into account when displaying the results of a search. There are
still other factors of equal significance in performing well on Google - so don't make the
mistake of thinking that you would live happily ever after if your PageRank was a little bit
higher. Other factors include a page's title, and the use of keywords within the page's
text - not in the keyword meta tag.

PageRank is still one of Google's more ingenious strategies, and is certainly one of the
many reasons that it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Partly, this is due to a
combination of two factors. Firstly that the very nature of PageRank is difficult (but not
impossible) to manipulate, and secondly that the exact details of how the value is
assigned is a closely guarded secret.

However, there is one very useful source of data - an academic paper detailing the
formula used to calculate PageRank from Google's early beginnings as a university
project. This formula will have certainly been altered and expanded over the years, but it
is generally accepted that it still represents the essence of their PageRank system

The Page Rank Formula

The exact details are lengthy, and far beyond what I am capable of dissecting. But the
basic formula is as follows:

PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + ….. + PR (Tn)/C(Tn))
PR(A) is the PageRank of a particular page (A) - not a website as a whole.

1-d is the dampening factor, as explained below.

PR(T1) is the PageRank of the page that links to our (A) page, and C(T1) is the number
of links contained on that same page.

The formula is repeated throughout every single page that contains a link to this (A)
page.

Two important points to take into account. First of all, if you're thinking that the formula
would in practice be an infinite loop, then you're correct. This is the very nature of the
web itself, and is also why Google has introduced the so called dampening factor.

The second point concerns the way that PageRank is awarded by one page to another.
The generally accepted means of understanding this is to consider that a given page
has, according to its own PageRank, a certain amount of voting power. If the page in
question links to five other pages, then each of the pages being linked to receive their
PageRank "award" of one fifth of the original page's voting power. It's also worth noting
that the number of links on a page includes a website's internal links.

Link farms don't work

This makes it quite obvious that the so-called link farms, where each page of a website
contains many hundreds of links in an attempt to artificially boost so called "link
popularity", are doomed to fail from the start. In addition to this, Google has its own
system for not only minimising the effect that these sites have, but eliminating it
altogether. As the formula shows, PageRank works as a multiplier of a site's overall
value, so Google has made sure that link farms have their own value of zero - which
means that a link from them counts for nothing, quite literally.

There is a scare story doing the rounds which claims that being listed on link popularity
sites, or for that matter any site with a large number of links, can get your site penalised
or even banned from Google. This is simply not the case. If it were, you'd effectively be
able to wipe-out your competition's Google presence with one afternoon's work. It
doesn't work that way.

Having links to your web pages on sites with a low page rank and a large number of
links means that the benefits are quite effectively minimised to zero. But this will not
detract from your current PageRank at all.
Obviously, what people really want to know is whether PageRank can be manipulated.
In the past it was often considered impossible to do so, but nowadays this is not always
the case. There are two simple factors involved:
Firstly: who links to you, and how they choose to do so. Secondly: your own website's
navigation and internal links.

Clearly, the sheer number of pages linking to you will not influence your PageRank. Of
far greater importance is the PageRank of each of these pages, and how many links
appear on them. Common sense certainly needs to be applied here. In theory, one
simple way to improve your PageRank might be to have Microsoft link to you from the
front page of their website. In practice, this might be a little difficult to achieve.

It is already quite clear that linking out to another website, even if it opens in a new
browser window, actually involves potentially giving away a lot more than a little space
on your website. My advice would be to look at your link exchanges as you would your
food. You always want to make sure you're not leaving yourself hungry, and if you do
choose to share, be selective. Exchanging a piece of your sirloin steak for a small piece
of stale bread, shared between hundreds of people, is far from an even trade. If you're
doing so to help another site, as an act of charity, then this is fine and well, as long as
you know what you're giving away. Choose wisely.

Well-known websites and their PageRank

Now that we have a basic understanding of how PageRank works, let's take a look at
some of the more well-known websites on the web today, and see how their main pages
perform.

Finding out a page's PageRank is couldn't be simpler. Follow the link to Services and
Tools from the Google home page, and find the Google Toolbar. After installing the
software, a bar appears at the top of the browser showing a value for each page you're
visiting. Hold the mouse over the bar, and you'll be told the page's PageRank - a score
out of ten. As already mentioned, this figure is little more than a representation of a
page's actual PageRank.

Not surprisingly, very few pages score ten out of ten, and those that do includes the
likes of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google itself, AltaVista, Adobe, AOL, Mozilla.org and others.
In other words we're looking at the biggest of the biggest websites - and not something
that most of us could ever hope to achieve!
Of course, there is a simple reason that search engines and directories have such a
high PageRank. Not only do they link to a huge, ever-growing list of sites and pages,
but more importantly, a truly staggering number of these sites and pages link back to
them. When you consider the importance of reciprocal linking, you start to understand
why they do so well. With Adobe, you only need to consider the sheer number of web
pages out there that link to a PDF file (with links to Adobe for their free reader software),
and you will see why they have achieved such a high number.

A nine out of ten score still puts you within a very small minority of the web. Should you
be able to achieve this high a PageRank, you'll be rubbing shoulders with the likes of
MSN, BBC News, Winzip and Internet.com. We're talking about the web's upper classes
here - not really attainable for the majority of normal website owners.

Eight out of ten starts bringing you to the "reachable" web. You'll find sites such as
CNN, TuCows, Simtel, the Association of Shareware Professionals, the Shareware
Industry Conference site and Lockergnome.

A PageRank of seven is starting to appear reasonably attainable, as long as we're
willing to work hard on the content and reputation of our site. The sevens include
companies such as D-Link, MSNBC, CNET's Download.com and our very own
SharewarePromotions.com.

Don't lose your perspective!
At this point, a little perspective might be in order. A critical point to remember is that
PageRank only plays a part in performing well in Google. PageRank's primary aim
involves ranking the results of a search - but in order to show up in the search to start
with, your site needs to be properly optimised and have good, solid content. So contrary
to popular belief, the era of Search Engine Optimisation is far from over. It's only had a
new, interesting factor thrown into it.

Finally, a note of caution. This article has been an attempt to very briefly summarise an
enormously complicated subject. Aside from constraints of space, much of the workings
of PageRank remain shrouded in mystery. The ideas presented are based on available
data, known facts, speculation and my own experience - but none of it should be
considered as insurmountable fact!

PageRank is undoubtedly an important factor in how much traffic you will receive from
Google. It is, however, merely one component in your arsenal of tools to win the battle
for one particular search engine. Even with the constantly evolving web, and the ever-
tightening systems employed by the search engines to quantify the usefulness of a
website, content is still by far the most important factor, and will invariably form the base
on which everything else is built. Be seen, be sold.

About the author:
Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions Ltd., a well established UK-based
company working with software and shareware marketing activities, utilising all aspects
of the internet. http://www.sharewarepromotions.comand http://www.davetalks.com

				
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