Let’s illustrate it. Here’s a search for movies :
See how the search results have PageRank meters in them? I used the PageRank Search tool at SEO Chat to make that happen. See how Movies.com — listed first — has a PR8 score while the Internet Movie Database has a PR9? The page with a lower PageRank still got the higher search rank!
Like seeing these scores in your results? Google doesn’t make that an option for searchers. Seem odd? It makes sense and underscores my key point.
PageRank is one of many, many factors used to produce search rankings. Highlighting PageRank in search results doesn’t help the searcher. That’s because Google uses another system to show the most important pages for a particular search you do. It lists them in order of importance for what you searched on. Adding PageRank scores to search results would just confuse people. They’d wonder why pages with lower scores were outranking higher scored pages.
In contrast, if you’re looking at a single page, such as when you are surfing the web, you no longer want the search ranking but rather an idea of how important or reputable that page might be. This is where PageRank makes more sense.
Of course, SEOs and others may want PageRank in search results. The tool above is just one of many that does this (got a favorite? written a favorite? add them to the comments below). For a browser-based tool, try SEO For Firefox from SEO Book.
PageRank Versus “Toolbar” PageRank
Those PageRank scores that you can see? Those are often referred to as “toolbar” PageRank. This is different from what’s often called “internal” PageRank.
Internal PageRank are the PageRank scores that Google uses as part of its ranking algorithm. Those scores are constantly being updated. In contrast, the PageRank scores that Google allows the world to see — Toolbar PageRank — is a snapshot of internal PageRank taken every few months.
What’s important here? If you’re a brand new site, you’ll likely have a low or no PageRank score reported in the Google Toolbar. That might concern you, even though it will mostly impact whether you get crawled regularly (the higher your PageRank, the more likely Google will regularly revisit your pages). It does also have an impact on your ranking ability, of course.
It’s likely that after a few weeks, you’ll have gained some internal PageRank. You might see more traffic, as a result. But outwardly, the Google Toolbar PageRank meter will still show your same old depressing score. Then a snapshot will be made, and the better score you get will reflect what’s already been happening behind the scenes.
More info on PageRank from Google’s Matt Cutts explain more about this and other aspects of PageRank. You can also try the Future PageRank tool if you hear from various sources that a PageRank update is in progress for the toolbar. It might give you an early glimpse at your score to come.
PageRank Tech Talk
PageRank gets its name from Google cofounder Larry Page. You can read the original ranking system to calculate PageRank here, if you want. Check out the original paper about how Google worked here, while you’re at it. But for dissecting how Google works today, these documents from 1998 and 2000 won’t help you much. Still, they’ve been pored over, analyzed and unfortunately sometimes spouted as the gospel of how Google operates now.
If you still feel compelled to know more about PageRank — at least how it used to work, certainly check out Phil Craven’s longstanding Google’s PageRank Explained article, as well as The Google Pagerank Algorithm and How It Works from Ian Rogers.
Wikipedia, naturally, has an entry about PageRank with more resources you might be interested in. It also covers how some sites using redirection can fake a higher PageRank score than they really have. And since we’re getting all technical — PageRank really isn’t an actual 0 to 10 scale, not behind the scenes. Internal scores are greatly simplified to match up to that system used for visible reporting.
How does Google collect and rank results? from Matt Cutts, which he wrote for Google Librarian Central, is also a good read on the basics of how Google ranks pages, using PageRank as one part of that process.
Conclusion (Especially For Those Thinking I Don’t Have Time To Read)
There much more I could write about PageRank, but I hope this gives you a good introduction and some clarity about it. The key points to remember:
PageRank tells how important a page is, relatively speaking, compared to other pages. PageRank is just one of MANY ranking factors used to determine ranking in search results.
High PageRank does NOT guarantee a high search ranking for any particular term. If it did, then PR10 sites like Adobe would always show up for any search you do. They don’t.The anchor text of a link is often far more important than whether it’s on a high PageRank page.
If you really want to know what are the most important, relevant pages to get links from, forget PageRank. Think search rank. Search for the words you’d like to rank for. See what pages come up tops in Google. Those are the most important and relevant pages you want to seek links from. That’s because Google is explicitly telling you that on the topic you searched for, these are the best.