How Google’s PageRank Works

July 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

The first thing we need to understand in order to have a clue in creating value on the Internet is the idea of Google’s PageRank system. While in the not too distant past it might have seemed somewhat of an overstatement to say that Google’s assessment of your worth is one of the defining characteristics of Internet value, I think by this time its become quite clear. If you show up as the first link on Google’s search you’re going to get vastly more traffic than the second and the second will get vastly more than the third. You don’t even want to consider the drop-off after you get off the first page.

We don\'t want to anger the Google.

We don\'t want to anger the Google.

To understand why this value is self-promoting and intrinsically interesting we need to discuss how PageRank works. There is an excellent explanation on eFactory, a German site which as is so common for foreigners has a better grasp of English than most Americans. It is also a very detailed and erudite explanation. I warn you there is a lot of math and theory that you may find boring unless you are at least somewhat as nerdy as I, additionally it is almost completely unnecessary to understand for any practical purpose.

A basic summary of this is that Google views the Internet as a digraph. The connection between each node of the graph is a link between them. So if my page links to your page, our nodes on the graph would be connected. Now each node confers onto each other node it links to a value based on its own value. So if my site has a good Google PageRank and I link to your site, I confer some of my pagerankiness onto you. Thus the recursive nature of this system promotes its own value. I can use my high PageRank to make other people’s PageRank high, so this rank adds value to my site.

So if I’m viewing this as real estate, any increase in my neighbors (the documents that link to me), leads to an increase in my value. Similarly any increase in my value leads to my neighbor’s good fortune. Bear in mind however that this value has NOTHING to do with page views. I could literally have a site that NOONE visits, but is linked to by many high PageRank pages. My PageRank would be very high, despite the fact that no one ever looks at my page.

The eFactory discussion makes this point and I think it is very much worth noting:

It is often argued that, especially considering the dynamic of the internet, too much time has passed since the scientific work on PageRank, as that it still could be the basis for the ranking methods of the Google search engine.

There are two interesting points related to this. One is that despite the fact that you can create this value there is an ephemeral nature to it. If Google decides to change their algorithm for search engine optimization tomorrow all sorts of chaos might ensue. Secondly this very chaos probably discourages them from doing so. Once they’ve significantly changed it once, people will be less inclined to assign it the weight they currently do.

It is also noteworthy as mentioned in the eFactory article that Google retains the ability to punish people for abusing their system by assigning them a PageRank of 0. Thus even if you are linked to by quality inbound links, you would have no value as an outbound link and would show up last on their pages. While we have our suspicions that this is rarely used, especially in less than egregious cases, we also consider it wise to follow Google’s recommended practices and pursue the spirit of their system as opposed to trying to abuse it. This makes it unlikely that we will see the horrors of a huge drop in value based on external factors.

We were curious as to how often the PageRanks are updated. While we found plenty of people speaking authoritatively on the subject, we found their remarks less than credible. There appears to be a PageRank export that comes out periodically which affects the output shown on the Google Toolbar, but I see no reason to believe that coincides with any frequency in their actual updates. My guess would be they are updated more or less constantly. I think the question is probably not regimented in the first place and the result of other factors like when it spiders pages.

When you look at websites for sale today, one of the key statistics always listed is their Google PageRank. If that number were to suddenly become meaningless it would have a dramatic effect on the value of Internet Real Estate. As such we consider it fairly likely that it will at least remain a component of Google’s method of ranking web pages. As such we see it as a valid way to create value to attempt to optimize PageRank on our properties as well as numbers of views. There is of course a synergy to these two tasks, but they can be pursued in a variety of different ways.

Categories: Theory

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