PageRank – How to use it wisely

Over the past 3 or 4 months we’ve seen Google update its Toolbar PageRank at least 3 times.  That’s quite unusual because in the past it’s only been once or twice a year that we’ve seen an update.

I’ve been fairly scathing of toolbar PR in the past, suggesting that it’s fairly irrelevant when looking at a website.  It’s still not the be-all and end-all, but now that it’s been updated so frequently it removes one of the criticisms of PR which was that it was always hugely out of date.  It’s still out of date of course, but not AS out of date!

Some background: there are actually two PageRank values:

  • Internal PR:  this is constantly changing as Google crawls the web.  It is used to calculate search results and rankings.  Nobody outside of Google sees this.
  • Toolbar PR: this is a snapshot of Internal PR at a moment in time and this is what appears in the Google toolbar. This is what we see.

To illustrate the point, imagine that one of the top blogs linked to you in their latest post.  The latest post is always on the home page which usually (not always) has a higher PR than the rest of the website.  When Google crawls the site, it sees that it’s linked to you, assigns a certain amount of PR to you and calculates your internal PR.

Now, assume that Google decides to do a PR update from the latest results.  It will take the current internal PR, which includes the value of that link from the home page.

However, as soon as a couple of new posts appear on the blog, then your link will disappear from the home page down into the lower level pages and you won’t have a link from such a high PR page.  Google will see this almost immediately, recalculate the internal PR and your site will move down the rankings accordingly.  However, you will still have a high Toolbar PR until Google decides to update the toolbar PR, which could be months away.

If you decide to obtain a link based on toolbar PR then you’re going to get burned.

The converse is true as well.  You may find that a brand new blog post has been linked to from all sorts of high value places but because it’s new then it doesn’t have any toolbar PR.  However, it will have significant internal PR and when the next toolbar PR update comes round and it turns out to be a PR 5 or 6 link then you’ll be kicking yourself!

With the latest PR changes, you’re less likely to be burned because the updates have happened so frequently but my advice to you is to look at the context of the page that you would get the link from.  Ensure that it’s relevant to you and that it doesn’t have hundreds of links going to all sorts of random pages.  Also, take a look at the backlinks to the page and see what the value of those links are.  Are they likely to stay there for a while or do they look like they’ll disappear soon?  Finally, see if the page is caches in Google and if it is ranking in Google for the page title.  If it isn’t then the link is fairly worthless.

Only when you have a set of useful data can you make a useful calculation on the value of a link from a page. Toolbar PR can help you identify a potential link source but that’s only the start of finding a link, not the end!

Have I missed anything?  Put your thoughts in the comments below.