Why the Page Rank Toolbar has Little to do with Links

Everyone assumes that green line is all to do with backlinks.



I’ll demonstrate.

Seasoned SEOs have been trying to tell you for years to stop looking at that little green line on the Google Toolbar plugin. I only found out this morning that the toolbar has recentlly been updated, when Evilgreenmonkey twittered verbal abuse at realizing Jane Copland was Page Rank 5 from nowhere. First things first… congratulations Jane, but that’s certainly no disrespect to Rob, who (apart from being far too young) certainly knows his stuff! I admit that vanity then got the better of me and I looked at my own page rank. (Note to self – listen to your own advice… ignore that green line, at least for link purposes.)

Let’s look at these three bloggers – PR5: Dixon Jones (your unworthy narrator); PR5: Jane Copland (Erstwhile Mozzer) & PR4: Rob Kerry (Evilgreenmonkey).

So two at PR5 and one at PR4. Evilgreenmonkey must have the least links, yes? er… no. He has the most. He has ALWAYS had the most. Rob started actively blogging (it seems) back in April 2007. Compared to myself – latecomer – in September 2007. I’ve never caught him on links as you can see below.


But WAIT… maybe back links is a bad measure? Maybe it is actually the number of referring domains that we should be looking at? Well I would be inclined to agree, but here, Rob trumps me even more:


Now Janecopland’s site is so new that I can’t even see her site in the Wayback archives and Majestic hasn’t gotten around to analyzing her backlink data yet, but Receptional’s own backlink tools take a more up to date source and we can see that she is even further behind Rob at the moment in every metric:


Heck – according to Google and Yahoo, Jane’s only got 11 pages indexed!

So there you have it. That PageRank green line is not all about links.

So why DOES Google give the green lines out the way it does? Well Google says it in the first screenshot… it is about “Google’s view of the importance of this page”, not “Google’s view of the importance of links to this page”. It is a long way away from the “PageRank” described in the original Stanford patent and is more like a horoscope reading than a scientific measure.

Let’s face it, you don’t need to go far to see why Google makes the distinction. Prior to Evilgreenmonkey posting on 4th April, his previous post on that domain was September 3rd (presumably 2008). Before that, July 4th. When he writes, Rob gets heard and plenty of people comment, but you still need to actually write content for Google to chew up and digest.

I think that Jane will have to work hard to maintain Google’s impression of her site, though. From the limited data I have, Compete.com concurs that Jane’s site has some traction – but we have seen time and again new sites doing well in Google for a short period and then retracting back as Google gets more data.


I hope that’s cleared things up a bit about that green fairy dust as Mike Grehan calls it.


Link Training Workshop Feedback

Last month I ran the Link Building and Reputation Workshop at SES – a four hour session the day after the Search Engine Strategies conference with a much smaller group. It’s my fourth SES workshop now and I have to admit to being petrified before each session. The group was incredibly diverse and the demands and skill levels very different. I am therefore pretty pleased with the feedback survey that I just received from Incisive Media:

Feedback Survey Results

What is your overall evaluation of this workshop? 4.00

How would you rate the workshop leaders in terms of knowledge and presentation style? 4.14

Please rate the workshop leaders’ effectiveness (e.g. rapport with group, methods and models used). 3.86

What parts of the training were most interesting and useful to you?
1. The reputation
2. Quality of links
3. One to one input from Dixon on issues specifically relevant to me
4. Link audit tools

Please enter any additional comments about this workshop.
1. It was really interesting. It was possible to speak about our business case. May be the first part in the internal linking could have been more developed.
2. The workshop was a bit too technical for my knowledge
3. Dixon did a good job of generating content to satisfy a broad range of user levels, and took the time to find out our respective levels. I think as the industry matures you will find it increasingly difficult to speak to the broader range of abilities and may need different training levels. Dixon provided me with some fabulous one to one advice which will pay for the cost of the training alone.

I am very grateful to those that wanted to put “1” or “2” for politely not responding and I also hope that the marking was out of 5, bot 10 (otherwise I’m going to get very embarrassed). For my part – I’d like to say thanks to everyone on the course for participating and joining in.

If you would like training, the SES training sessions are well worth a look. They are run all over the world. If you have a larger corporate group, Feel free to ask what training Receptional can offer.


Proving a page passes PageRank and other secrets

I came up with an interesting finding today, whilst testing whether having a link on a Google Profile passes PageRank. Writing it up prematurely, I am going to end up tainting the experiment, but since I inadvertently spotted something interesting, I decided to stop anyway and tell the world. So this post:

  • Shows you how to tell whether a page really passes page rank
  • Shows you why I think Google Profiles don’t pass PageRank (even though they are not nofollow) and
  • Shows an error in Google’s algorithm…. clear as day.

How to tell if a page really passes PageRank

Well first… I don’t believe in Page Rank. What I am actually testing is whether a link from page A to page B actually influences the ranking of page B in the SERPS. If you think that’s the same as green fairy dust, then please go back a few steps.

My test was to put some unique anchor text on page A that did not appear at all on page B. Most people trying to check or claim a page passes any authority or relevance tend to completely ignore this important part of such a claim. If the anchor text has any similarity with the content on the landing page, then you have screwed up your test, because there could easily be (and probably are) other factors affecting whether the landing page shows on a search engine for that term. Below is my test in pictures.

Why I think Google Profiles don’t pass PageRank

I did the above test on a Google profile… My own google Profile. I used the unique text:  “I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.” The profile went live in late November. Now in THEORY, that link is not “NoFollowed” so if Google finds it, then it should take some authyority from it’s parent domain (which is www.google.com!) and then in do couse, the landing page would show in the Google results for either the phrase “I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.” or just “just take out an allotment”… even though these words do not appear on page B right? Of course, just because Google doesn’t put “NoFollow” tags in its own links, doesn’t mean the links are “DoFollow”. Anyway… Heres what has happened with the test so far.

Day 1: Google hadn’t indexed anything. So no screenshot to show you.

6th January the result was like this:


Very cool… Compete.com seems to have cached the page, and its cache made it into Google’s SEPS before the original post! However… no sign of the landing Google profile or the landing page yet.

Jan 15th the result was like this:


Google has found Page A (The Google Profile) and has indexed it… and to be fair has given it more relevence than the Compete.com Cache, even though Google iondexed the Compete’s page before its own.

Feb 1st the result was like this:


Google managed to kick Compete out of the results altogether. But the Landing Page (page B) is still not appearing for either of my test search phrases. Now that I have published this post, my test must stop, because I have other links to the landing page. But a new test continues, I suppose, to see if THIS page passes anchor text link juice to the landing page. But I stopped the test, because the test already found two new things:

An error in Google’s algorithm…

Look closer at the above image. Is it my eyes, or does it say “No results found for ‘I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.’ and then… right underneath it… show a page with EXACTLY that result. Syntax correct… match case correct… everything correct. So the Hazard symbol lies.

Here’s another bonus secret for reading to the end…

Most people think that Google will call the first page it indexes with duplicate content the authoritative version. However, Google clearly indexed compete’s version first… some days later, it indexed my profile… then some days later again it dumped compete.com.

So that debunks the theory that the first call on content wins.

Much to think about there. Can you add to my findings?

Link Analysis tool update

If you ever see me at conferences, I tend to give away short term access to our in-house link analysis tool (Password below). We like the feedback, but we can’t give everyone the tool forever as it’s part of our “secret sauce” (or “secret source”). Maybe one day we’ll give people the chance to sign up, but for now, we are still playing with it.

It just got better – so here’s a free login for a few weeks…

What is it and what has got better?

The tool takes two web domains and compares the relative backlink quality of each site. Not only does it look at the number of backlinks, but it tries to extract links that may have a quality signal and record these “quality links” separately from any old spam.

In this release we have:

  • Added the ability to add a list of your own “trusted domains” to fit your industry
  • Allowed you to restrict results to back-links from pages containing a specific keyword
  • Added the ability to download the results into a spreadsheet
  • We added a metric: “backlinks per page” (see below)
  • Improved the retrieval speed

I analyzed two of my colleagues, Mike and David (hope you don’t mind, guys) who both were on the front page of Google just now for the phrase “search engine marketing”. Now – they are BOTH there, so I’m not going to argue with either result. I asked it to analyse the following:

“Analyse links to www.weboptimiser.com vs www.search-engine-book.co.uk from pages containing the phrase “search engine marketing”

Now – Mike only has 46 pages, but still gets first page, with only 1,590 inbound links compared to Weboptimiser’s 18,200. Why so different? Well for one reason, Mike actually has a huge number of links to the site (try the search again without the phrase filters).

I also note that over half of Mike’s links are not to the the home page. Now I suspect I know exactly why that is. But I’m not letting on.

I think the calculation to start looking at more and more, though, is the “Backlinks per page” statistic. Here we divide the number of backlinks we see pointing towards a site by the number of pages that we see indexed for a domain. We may do more research on this statistic at a later date.

You are free to use the tool for the rest of the month. Please tell us if you can see a way to improve it – and sign up if you want us to give out passwords to you in the future.