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What’s the deal with Google PageRank?

Google is my homepage, so every time I open my browser I see that www.google.com, a site with 19 words and a data field, has a PageRank of 10. So what’s the deal with PageRank?

Do high PageRank sites show up first when you do a search? No. In fact, if you do a search on Google for “search engines”, www.google.com doesn’t show up at all. Do the same search on Yahoo and www.google.com shows up in spot number 2, behind www.yahoo.com of course. If Google doesn’t manually interfere with their algorithm, and their homepage is a search engine with a PageRank of 10, why does their site not show at all in the search results?

This is what Google has to say about PageRank: “PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value.”

In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important”. That’s great information, right? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that information on Google’s site. Instead, I found it on Wikipedia, which is only a PR 7 site. Google itself, on the other hand, gets a PR 10. When searching for Google’s own PageRank, wouldn’t you expect it to be easier to find information from Google, a PR 10 site, rather than Wikipedia at a lowly PR7?

For a while, my conclusion was that the whole PR thing is a scam and that Google is the only PR 10 site. I was wrong. The United States Federal Government’s homepage, www.usa.gov, is also a PR 10. The US Senate (www.senate.gov) is a PR 9 as is the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/index.html) and fellow search engine, Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). The US House of Representatives (www.house.gov), the US Supreme Court (www.supremecourt.gov) and all three branches of the military (www.airforce.com, www.army.mil and www.navy.mil) are all only PR 8s. However, if you’re looking for information on any of these organizations, I recommend slumming it with PR 7 Wikipedia.

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3 of 3 Comments see all

  1. Nick Lewis

    I thought this was interesting (from the wikipedia page):

    ” PageRank is based on citation analysis that was developed in the 1950s by Eugene Garfield at the University of Pennsylvania, and Google’s founders cite Garfield’s work in their original paper.”

    Its an old idea, and one needn’t think about it for too long (how are links different from academic citations? [chuckle]). Google engineers are over it — like Einstein Vs. Newton. Here’s my wild speculation: 1. One of google’s primary algorithms tracks how long between a click through and the user returning back to google search results. Its a simple formula: [timestamp of returning to google search page] – [timestamp of click through] = (a time stamp: the more time, the more google thinks that page is important) If you continue to search, it means you haven’t found what you are looking for, no? 2. Yahoo is using del.icio.us to influence their search rankings. 3. I have no idea what’s up with MSN… but i will say this: they LOVE meta tags. 4. You’re doing great if you have anything between a 5-10 (but 7 is hard to surpass).

  2. Leo

    Although I don’t believe that Google’s PR is a scam, I do think it’s interesting that Google doesn’t show up among the top results for the search “search engines.” Unless Google has manually removed itself from the results, I find it hard to believe that any algorithm designed to produce relevant results about a search term would not include Google.com as one of the most prominent. Seems a bit absurd.

    Even more interesting is the fact that Yahoo ranks itself higher for the term “search engines” than Google. While I find it strange that Google removed its home page from its own results (if that is the case), I find what appears to be a manual manipulation of the Yahoo search results to favor itself in the natural listings even more unusual. I can’t imagine that search.yahoo.com (which like Google.com has nearly no text, nor the word “search engines” anywhere on the page) would naturally rank above Google.com for that phrase on any algorithm, so I can only assume that Yahoo manually adjusted the rankings.

  3. Mary

    Other than relying simply on democratic nature of link popularity to populate google results, it also takes into account relevant keywords, descriptions and meta tags that are part of a site. These items will naturally influence page rank, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    Additionally, make sure you aren’t signed into your Google account when doing a search, as this will also influence what google results appear for you based on your known preferences, past searches, etc. I just googled each of the service branches, and their official sites came up first, as they should based on relevance of content and SEO. Interesting take though, it’s always good to think for yourself and raise questions when you have them.

  • Mary

    Other than relying simply on democratic nature of link popularity to populate google results, it also takes into account relevant keywords, descriptions and meta tags that are part of a site. These items will naturally influence page rank, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    Additionally, make sure you aren’t signed into your Google account when doing a search, as this will also influence what google results appear for you based on your known preferences, past searches, etc. I just googled each of the service branches, and their official sites came up first, as they should based on relevance of content and SEO. Interesting take though, it’s always good to think for yourself and raise questions when you have them.

  • Leo

    Although I don’t believe that Google’s PR is a scam, I do think it’s interesting that Google doesn’t show up among the top results for the search “search engines.” Unless Google has manually removed itself from the results, I find it hard to believe that any algorithm designed to produce relevant results about a search term would not include Google.com as one of the most prominent. Seems a bit absurd.

    Even more interesting is the fact that Yahoo ranks itself higher for the term “search engines” than Google. While I find it strange that Google removed its home page from its own results (if that is the case), I find what appears to be a manual manipulation of the Yahoo search results to favor itself in the natural listings even more unusual. I can’t imagine that search.yahoo.com (which like Google.com has nearly no text, nor the word “search engines” anywhere on the page) would naturally rank above Google.com for that phrase on any algorithm, so I can only assume that Yahoo manually adjusted the rankings.

  • http://www.nicklewis.org Nick Lewis

    I thought this was interesting (from the wikipedia page):

    ” PageRank is based on citation analysis that was developed in the 1950s by Eugene Garfield at the University of Pennsylvania, and Google’s founders cite Garfield’s work in their original paper.”

    Its an old idea, and one needn’t think about it for too long (how are links different from academic citations? [chuckle]). Google engineers are over it — like Einstein Vs. Newton. Here’s my wild speculation: 1. One of google’s primary algorithms tracks how long between a click through and the user returning back to google search results. Its a simple formula: [timestamp of returning to google search page] – [timestamp of click through] = (a time stamp: the more time, the more google thinks that page is important) If you continue to search, it means you haven’t found what you are looking for, no? 2. Yahoo is using del.icio.us to influence their search rankings. 3. I have no idea what’s up with MSN… but i will say this: they LOVE meta tags. 4. You’re doing great if you have anything between a 5-10 (but 7 is hard to surpass).