What Is PageRank? A Comprehensive Guide to Google’s Algorithm

As a website owner, you may have heard the term “PageRank” thrown around in conversation, but what exactly does it mean? In this blog post, we’ll answer the question “What is PageRank?” to help you understand the mathematical algorithm used by Google.

It’s essential to understand how Google PageRank works because it can have a significant impact on your website’s search engine visibility and traffic. Keep reading to learn about Google PageRank below, including its importance and how it works.

Key Takeaways

  • PageRank (PR) is a mathematical algorithm used by Google to determine the importance and relevance of a web page.
  • Developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the algorithm is based on the concept of citations in academic research, where links are used to measure the importance of web pages.
  • PR takes into account the number and quality of outbound and inbound links, including relevance, authority of linked sites, and overall quality of all the links and content. This link juice, or the value passed from one page or site to another, affects the authority of your pages.
  • Various tools like Ahrefs and Semrush can be used to assess website domain authority and gain insights into PageRank.
  • Link-building strategies need to focus on acquiring high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources for an improved PR score.
  • Over time, Google has updated its ranking algorithm with other factors, such as link flow of authority to enhance search engine performance and accuracy. T
what is pagerank

PageRank Definition

What is PageRank (PR)? PageRank is a mathematical algorithm used by Google to determine the importance and relevance of a web page.

So, how does PageRank work? When Google first launched, it used PageRank as the primary algorithm for ranking search results. However, over time, it has become one of many factors that Google uses to determine search rankings. Today, PageRank is still a crucial component of Google’s algorithm, but it’s just one of many factors to consider.

Google takes into account over 200 factors when determining search rankings, including page content, website speed, mobile-friendliness, and more.

The Algorithm

PageRank was developed by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University in 1997. The algorithm is used by Google Search to rank web pages in their search engine results.

It measures the importance of website pages by looking at the quantity and quality of other pages linking to them and then assigning a value based on those backlinks. In other words, it interprets links as “votes” to determine a page’s authority.

The PageRank algorithm considers the importance of the pages linking to a specific page. This link juice, or the value passed from one page or site to another, affects the authority of your pages.

Ranking Factors

There are several factors that determine the quality of the linking sites.

  • Relevance. Websites that are more relevant to yours, such as those in the same industry or niche, are more valuable than those that are not.
  • Authority. The higher the authority and reputation of the linking site, the more weight and link juice their vote will carry.
  • Number of outbound links: The quantity of links on the linking site affects the value of their vote. The fewer outbound links on the site, the higher the value of the link to your site.

This means that a link from a highly ranked page is considered more authoritative than a link from a lower-ranked page.

By doing so, the algorithm ensures the ranking of web pages is based not only on the number of links pointing to them but also on the significance of those links.

Nofollow links are hyperlinks that don’t pass on the PageRank score to the linked website. These links don’t affect the linked website’s search engine ranking. Search engines, including Google, introduced the nofollow attribute, which webmasters can add to links to prevent passing on PageRank score. Nofollow links are usually added to links in comments sections, user-generated content, and advertisements.

Dofollow links allow a PageRank score to flow from one website to another, contributing to the linked website’s search engine ranking. All links are dofollow links by default, meaning they pass on PageRank score to the linked website. However, webmasters can add a nofollow attribute to links to indicate that they don’t want to pass on the PageRank score.

Historical Context

While studying at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the concept of PageRank as a method to analyze and evaluate the importance of web pages on the World Wide Web. The project was initially called “Backrub” and was later incorporated into Google’s search engine when the company was founded.

The PageRank system was patented, with the patent being assigned to Stanford University and licensed to Google.

The introduction of the PageRank algorithm revolutionized search engines. It has played a crucial role in shaping how users navigate the internet and find relevant information. PageRank allowed Google to provide more accurate and reliable rankings, which, in turn, contributed to the company’s growth and success.

Although the weight attributed to PageRank in Google’s search algorithm has diminished over time, its core concept still plays a significant role in search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.

While the search engine initially had a Google Toolbar extension, it removed it in 2016. The Google Toolbar PageRank showed data site owners could use to help improve their scores. But the Google Toolbar PageRank extension made it too easy for site owners to manipulate scores, which led to its removal.

Importance of Google PageRank

Understanding PageRank is essential for any website owner looking to improve their search engine visibility and traffic. Here’s a breakdown of why PageRank is so essential to your search result performance.

Impact on SEO

PageRank is a critical component of search engine optimization efforts, as it helps determine the authority and relevance of web pages. Google’s algorithm considers link juice — the number and quality of links pointing to a page when assigning a PR value. Higher PR values indicate greater authority, which can lead to better visibility in search engine results and improved organic traffic.

Websites with high PR typically benefit from greater trust and credibility, as other web pages are more likely to link to them. In turn, these backlinks can further improve the site’s PR and SEO performance. To optimize their search rankings, webmasters should focus on acquiring high-quality backlinks from relevant and authoritative sources.

Some strategies to accomplish this may include:

  • Creating valuable, shareable content
  • Building relationships with industry influencers
  • Engaging in guest posting opportunities
  • Participating in relevant online communities and forums

Ranking Factor

While PR is an essential component of Google’s ranking algorithm, it is not the sole factor determining a page’s position in search results. Google considers various aspects such as onsite optimization, relevance to the user’s query, content quality, and user experience (UX), among others. However, PR remains a crucial factor in measuring the overall authority of a page.

A higher PR value indicates a more authoritative page, which can boost its ranking in search results. Additionally, acquiring links from pages with high PR can significantly improve a website’s own PR and consequent search performance. Webmasters should, therefore, strive to maintain a balanced approach to SEO, with a focus on obtaining high-quality backlinks and optimizing other on-page and off-page factors to improve their PR and search rankings.

Google PageRank is an important aspect of SEO and plays a significant role in determining a page’s authority and ranking in search engine results. By focusing on acquiring high-quality backlinks and optimizing other ranking factors, webmasters can improve their PR and overall search performance.

How PageRank Works

PageRank plays a crucial role in determining a website’s quality and position on the search engine results page (SERP). The algorithm assesses the importance by ranking web pages by quantity and quality of pages linking to it and assigns a score based on the backlinks.

Damping Factor

The damping factor is a key component of the Google PageRank algorithm. It represents the probability that a user will continue clicking on links while browsing the web. The damping factor usually takes a value between zero and one, with a typical default value being 0.85.

Google’s engineers chose the specific value of 0.85 as a balance to prevent cycles or loops in the link structure from influencing the PageRank value too much. Lower damping factor values may weaken the impact of high-quality links, while higher values may strengthen the effects of low-quality links.

Probability Distribution

The probability distribution in the algorithm represents how likely a user is to land on a specific page while browsing the web. The algorithm models this as a random walk, where each user starts on a random page and follows links from one page to another. The probability of reaching a specific page is influenced by the PageRank of the other pages linking to it.

In simpler terms, the algorithm distributes a hypothetical user’s browsing probability across all web pages within its index. It uses the damping factor and the structure of links on the web to calculate the final score for each web page.

A higher Google PageRank score indicates that a website has a higher probability of being visited by a user, considering both the quantity and quality of incoming links. This makes PageRank a useful measure in search engine ranking algorithms, helping to surface relevant and authoritative web content for users’ queries.

pagerank algorithm

Learn how PageRank affects inbound and outbound links below. Keep in mind that these links differ from internal links. Internal links are links between pages within your website. They help to navigate your website, allow your audience to explore your website’s content, and help the web crawlers to understand the structure of your website.

Inbound links are the links that come from other websites to your website. These links serve as “votes” that indicate the perceived authority and credibility of the content on that page.

PageRank takes into account the number and quality of inbound links (also known as incoming and outgoing links or backlinks) to evaluate the importance of a web page.

When a page has numerous high-quality inbound links, it is more likely to have a higher Google PageRank, reflecting its elevated status online. However, not all inbound links are equal. Google evaluates the quality and relevance of the backlinks by considering factors like the linking site’s authority, its relevance to the linked page’s content, and the diversity of linking domains. The stronger the inbound links, the more impact they will have on a page’s PageRank.

To improve Google PageRank through inbound links, consider the following strategies:

  • Create high-quality, valuable content that attracts natural backlinks.
  • Develop relationships with reputable websites within your niche.
  • Reach out for guest posting opportunities on authoritative sites.

Outbound links are the links that go from your website to another site. While less influential on PageRank than inbound links, outbound links still play an important role in determining the overall importance and authority of a web page.

When evaluating outbound links, Google considers factors like the relevance of the pages linked to site owners’ content, the authority of the linked sites, and the overall quality of the linking page’s content. In essence, well-curated outbound links can enhance the credibility and usefulness of the content on a page, which may indirectly contribute to its PageRank.

To maintain a healthy PageRank while using outbound links, follow these best practices:

  • Link to high-quality, relevant content that adds value to your audience.
  • Avoid excessive linking, as it may dilute the Google PageRank of your page.
  • Regularly review and update your outbound links to ensure they remain accurate and relevant.

PageRank is affected by the quality and extent of both inbound and outbound links. By focusing on creating valuable content, cultivating strong relationships within the online community, and thoughtfully curating outbound links, one can improve their website’s Google PageRank and overall visibility on the web.

Drawing Connections

Learn how citations inspired the creation of PR and how “votes” play into your score.

From Citation to PageRank

PageRank was inspired by the concept of citations in academic research. Just as the importance of research papers is often judged by the number of times they are cited by other papers, the PageRank algorithm uses hyperlinks to measure the importance of web pages.

In the early days of the internet, web users often relied on manually created lists of websites and search engines that used simple keyword matching. As the web grew exponentially, this became increasingly less effective, and the need for a more efficient method of ranking pages became apparent.

The transition from a citation-based system to the PageRank algorithm helped tackle manipulation by considering not just the number of links pointing to a page, but also the importance, or “vote,” each link carries.

Significance of Votes

The central idea behind PageRank is that when one page links to another, it is effectively casting a vote for that page. The importance of a page, and therefore its PageRank score, is determined by the total number, as well as the importance, of these votes.

However, not all votes are created equal. The Google PageRank algorithm treats links from more authoritative pages as having greater weight or importance than links from less-relevant pages. This ensures that high-quality pages with relevant information rise to the top of Google search, while less useful or manipulated pages are pushed further down.

For example, imagine a webpage with links from two different sources:

  • Source A has a high score and is considered authoritative.
  • Source B has a low score and is considered less relevant.

In this case, the link from Source A would carry more weight and contribute more to the page’s overall PageRank score than the link from Source B. This way, the PageRank algorithm maintains the integrity of search results by combating manipulation and rewarding genuine, valuable content.

The PageRank algorithm connects the concept of academic citations with the world of online search, using votes in the form of hyperlinks to determine the importance and relevance of web pages.

By assigning varying weights to different votes, the algorithm helps ensure that authoritative and high-quality content rises to the top of Google results, while preventing manipulation and promoting a better user experience.

In this section, we will discuss two popular tools that can help determine link authority and gain insights into your PageRank: Ahrefs and Semrush.


Ahrefs is a widely used SEO tool that provides valuable data on your website’s performance, including backlink profile, organic search traffic, and keyword rankings. One of the key features of Ahrefs is its integration of a proprietary metric called Ahrefs Rank (AR), which offers a close approximation of Google’s PageRank. AR is based on the number and quality of backlinks pointing to your site.

In addition to AR, Ahrefs provides many helpful features, such as:

  • Site Explorer: Detailed information about your website’s backlinks and search performance
  • Content Explorer: A database of content from various websites, sorted by performance metrics
  • Keyword Explorer: An extensive keyword research tool to identify search volume and competition


Semrush is another popular SEO tool that offers a wealth of information similar to Ahrefs, with a focus on organic search, paid search, and display advertising performance.

Like Ahrefs, Semrush also provides a proprietary metric to assess website domain authority, called Authority Score. This score aims to estimate how well a domain may perform in SERPs, incorporating data on the quality and quantity of backlinks.

Some noteworthy features of Semrush include:

  • Organic Research: A comprehensive overview of your website’s organic search performance
  • Keyword Magic Tool: A vast database of keywords for keyword research and targeting
  • Position Tracking: Monitor your website’s ranking progress in search engines

While Google Toolbar and Toolbar PageRank were once widely used to check PageRank scores easily, they have become obsolete. Nonetheless, Ahrefs and SEMRush serve as excellent alternatives to help you understand your site’s link authority. Both tools also have additional features that can assist in improving your overall SEO strategy.

Effect on Webmasters and SEOs

How will PR affect your link-building strategy? Keep reading to learn more.

PageRank has a profound effect on the link-building strategies of webmasters and SEOs. Since it’s based on the quantity and quality of backlinks to a webpage, they need to focus on acquiring links from high-authority websites. These high-quality backlinks help to improve a site’s PageRank, which can lead to better search rankings and increased organic traffic.

In their quest for valuable backlinks, webmasters and SEOs employ various techniques, such as guest posting, outreach, and content marketing. They create informative and engaging content that other reputable websites find valuable enough to link to. It’s crucial for them to continuously monitor their backlink profile to ensure they maintain a strong PageRank.

Impact on Internal Linking

Internal linking is another aspect of SEO that webmasters need to consider when optimizing their sites for PageRank. Internal links connect pages within the same website, distributing link equity and making it easier for search engines to crawl and index the site.

Webmasters should strategically use internal linking to highlight their most important content and pages. By doing so, they can improve their site’s overall PageRank, as well as the individual PageRank of the linked pages. Organizing the site architecture with a clear hierarchy and utilizing anchor text that accurately describes the linked content can boost the site’s PageRank and enhance user experience.

Webmasters and SEOs must pay attention to Google’s PageRank algorithm when planning their link-building and internal linking strategies. Building high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources and implementing an effective internal linking structure can significantly improve their site’s PageRank, leading to better search visibility and increased organic traffic.

Google Dance and PageRank Update

google pagerank

Google Dance refers to the process of updating Google’s search engine index, which happens on average once per month. Significant movement in search results can be observed during this period, as well as Google’s cache of indexed pages reflecting the status of the last spidering.

Historical Updates

Over the years, Google has made various updates to its PageRank algorithm. These updates aim to improve the quality of search results by considering factors such as the flow of authority via links and the importance of web pages as votes. As the algorithm evolves, it becomes more capable of delivering relevant and accurate results.

Some notable updates to the algorithm included the introduction of other ranking factors and enhancements to better identify and penalize low-quality content. As a result, web pages with a higher PageRank score are more likely to rank for their target keywords, providing users with more relevant results.

The continuous evolution of the Google PageRank algorithm and its regular updates through the Google Dance process ensures users are served the most relevant and high-quality content based on their search queries.

Challenges and Limitations

Learn the challenges and limitations of the PR algorithm below:

Manipulation of PageRank

The PageRank algorithm is an important yet vulnerable aspect of web ranking. One challenge it faces is potential manipulation from individuals or companies that attempt to increase their search ranking and scores.

By artificially creating inbound links or using other methods, some users attempt to boost their PageRank, which may result in an inaccurate representation of a website’s actual value. Google continuously works to refine and improve the PageRank algorithm in order to mitigate these manipulative tactics and provide users with an accurate and useful browsing experience.

The Toolbar PageRank extension also made it easy for site owners to manipulate scores, which led to its removal in 2016.

Another challenge for the PageRank algorithm is dealing with dangling links, which are web pages that contain no outgoing links. These pages pose a problem because they disrupt the algorithm’s ability to distribute ranking scores properly across all web pages. To address this challenge, Google incorporates a factor to account for dangling links, allowing the PageRank calculations to continue regardless of these disruptions.

Continued development and refinement by Google aims to address these issues and enables the accurate representation of websites’ value and quality in search rankings.

Link spam is the act of creating low-quality links to a website with the aim of manipulating search rankings. Link spam includes practices such as comment spam, forum spam, paid links, link farms, and excessive link exchanges. These practices violate Google’s webmaster guidelines and can result in penalties or demotion in search engine rankings.

Google Directory and PageRank

Google Directory was a human-curated directory of websites that was discontinued by Google in 2011. It was a valuable tool for webmasters to submit their websites to Google and to improve their PageRank. Google Directory was based on the Open Directory Project, which had a similar system of organizing websites by categories.

Google used the PageRank algorithm to sort the websites in the directory by importance and relevance. Many webmasters used to submit their websites to web directories as part of their SEO strategy to build incoming links and improve their PageRank. However, this practice started declining as Google began to see it as a black hat SEO technique.

Relevance Today

Is PR still as important as it once was when it comes to determining your rankings in the Google search engine? Here’s a look at how things have changed:

Current Significance

In the ever-evolving world of search engines, Google’s PageRank continues to play a crucial role. It remains a vital component in determining the importance and relevance of web pages to a given search query. Although Google has introduced numerous updates and additional algorithms, PageRank’s core concept of evaluating web pages based on the quality and quantity of links remains significant.

The importance of PageRank in search engines like Google can be observed through its impact on page ranking. Higher PageRank scores correlate with more authoritative web pages, which are more likely to appear at the top of search results. This prominence ultimately leads to increased traffic and visibility for the respective website.

Measuring Success

PageRank evaluates the success of a page by examining multiple factors, primarily focusing on:

  • Quality of backlinks: A page with links from high-authority websites is considered to be more relevant and valuable.
  • Quantity of backlinks: Pages with a greater number of diverse and valuable backlinks are seen as more important.
  • Internal linking structure: Proper internal linking can distribute PageRank efficiently throughout the website, improving its overall search rankings.

To assess and improve PageRank scores, website owners and marketers must prioritize optimizing their link profiles by:

  • Creating valuable and high-quality content that naturally attracts backlinks from reputable sources.
  • Actively engaging in link-building strategies, such as reaching out to relevant industry influencers and websites.
  • Regularly auditing and updating internal linking structure to ensure optimal distribution of PageRank.

While PageRank may no longer be the sole factor in determining search engine rankings, it continues to hold significant influence in today’s search landscape. By understanding the concept and employing strategies to improve PageRank scores, webmasters can enhance their websites’ search performance and overall online presence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did Google stop publicly updating PageRank scores?

Google decided to stop publicly updating PageRank scores in response to various issues. One of these issues was the rising use of black hat SEO techniques. Such techniques aimed to manipulate and exploit the PageRank system, resulting in inaccurate search results and rankings. By removing public access to PageRank scores through the PageRank Toolbar extension, Google aimed to minimize the impact of these black hat SEO tactics. Another reason is that Google realized the PageRank score was not the sole indicator of a page’s quality or relevance. As the search engine’s algorithms evolved, they started incorporating numerous other factors into their ranking considerations. This made PageRank just one of the many features considered by Google when ranking a page. Discontinuing public access to PageRank scores allowed Google to focus on providing more accurate and relevant search results, while also combating manipulation by black hat SEO techniques.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is PageRank?” you know it’s an algorithm that was developed by Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, during their time at Stanford University. The primary purpose of this algorithm is to rank web pages in Google’s search engine results based on their importance and authority, as determined by their inbound link profile.

By assigning each page a numerical score between zero and 10, PageRank helps Google determine the URL’s relative value and ensures that users receive the most relevant results.

As technology has progressed and the online landscape has evolved, the significance of PageRank has also shifted. While it was initially developed for Google’s search engine, its use has expanded to various other fields, such as social media ranking. Moreover, as search algorithms continue to become more sophisticated, PageRank’s role in search engine optimization has experienced some changes.

It is crucial to understand the importance of PageRank. As a core component of Google’s search algorithm, PageRank’s influence on a website’s visibility and ranking cannot be underestimated.

By understanding the principles behind this algorithm, digital marketers and website owners can optimize their content and link-building strategies to improve their online presence and achieve better search rankings.