PageRank was once the ultimate measure of a website’s place in the world. Today, PageRank is part of a balanced mix of measurements that, combined, provide a snapshot of a site’s importance.
Created in the late 1990s by Google co-founder Larry Page (hence its name), PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page. The basic assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.
Since the introduction of PageRank, Google and other search engines have introduced hundreds of algorithm modifications to provide users with more accurate search returns. Website owners, in turn, are the beneficiaries of more meaningful analytics (including PageRank updates) to help them make their sites more relevant to users.
While PageRank is updated a couple of times a year, other more timely and possibly more relevant measurements such as conversion rate, bounce rate and click-through rate are calculated daily or weekly.
Conversion rate – A conversion occurs when a visitor does what you want them to do on a website: complete a form, sign up for an email newsletter or download a whitepaper. When users convert they’re doing something measurable that directly benefits your business or organization. (PageRank, on the other hand, can go up or down without having a direct effect on your business.)
Bounce rate – A bounce occurs when someone comes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other pages. A high bounce rate, when someone comes, looks and leaves, usually means users don’t find your site interesting. By looking at bounce rates for different pages across your site you can identify underperforming content and create a content improvement plan. (PageRank doesn’t matter if most searchers are bouncing off your site as soon as they visit it.)
Click-through rate – A website’s click-through rate is a measure of how often people click on a site compared with the number of times the site appears in search engine returns. A low click-through rate means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site on the search engine return page looks better. (PageRank doesn’t matter if searchers don’t want to click through to your page when presented with your site on a search engine return page.)
Ranking Traffic: A Measure of Where You Stand
Traffic-ranking sites such as Alexa, Compete and Quantcast collect data on people’s browsing behavior to provide site statistics (typically for free) and search analytics (typically paid) that show users which keywords are driving website traffic to their site – and to the sites of their competitors.
Site statistics can include page views, bounce rate, length of time on the site, demographics, clickstream information and search traffic data. Here’s an example of the site data Alexa.com has collected about Facebook:
Most traffic-ranking sites use opt-in programs and browser-based toolbars to gather permission-based web browsing information, usually compiled from millions of users. That data is coupled with freely available search engine data, and it’s by combining the two data streams that traffic-ranking sites derive their measurements.
Social Media: The New (And Highly Popular) Frontier
PageRank is regarded as the old-fashioned way of judging the value of a page. Social activity is quickly becoming the new standard of a page’s relevance and popularity.
Keyword density and back links and other technical measures still matter. But the major search engines give more weight to personalized results based on people’s information-consumption habits, their location and their social media networks. What we share on Facebook, Twitter or in our Google+ circles all can signal search engines about the things we’d like to see in our search results pages.
And if hundreds of people repost and retweet the same content we like, search engines pick up on our sentiments and assign even greater value to highly shared content. So consider building a strong social program to support your web content, because socially shared content is relevant content. And relevant content gets the hits.