The reading level for this article is Novice
Search Engines Uncovered
Uncovering Google’s PageRank System
by Jerry West
Updated July 3, 2003
By now everyone on the web has heard of Google, touted as the cleanest and best search engine on the web. How they got there was pure genius … they got there with simplicity.
They ignored meta tags, hidden text, spamming techniques, etc. The bottom line was you couldn’t trick Google with techniques that worked on other search engines like AltaVista and HotBot. What was visible on your page was what Google indexed. Their results were pure. There was not a chance of typing in “investment advice” and getting a porn site.
People loved that.
Google literally pillaged the search engine community of market share. Left in its wake were Infoseek, Excite, Lycos, HotBot and AltaVista. Search engines which once dominated the industry now combine for a fraction of the market.
How great is Google’s dominance right now? Since they have taken over the primary search results from Yahoo! on October 9th, and including market share from AOL Search, Netscape, Go and iWon, Google now commands approximately 68% of the market.
So, how exactly can you get traffic from Google? In a word, it’s simple: hard work. Okay, not so simple, but achievable. While increasing your PageRank is just one of the 100+ forms of criteria Google uses to rank sites in their search results, our testing has concluded that without it, you cannot compete for the popular keywords. The same keywords that will actually bring your site the traffic you need to turn a profit. This is often referred to as the keywords “above the threshold.”
The keywords “below the threshold” are ones that are very specific and do not carry the weight of hundreds or thousands of queries per day. Keywords “below the threshold” are those you can achieve top ranking with optimization techniques. But what you are after is getting top listing for the heavy weights. The keywords that dazzle your client, your boss, or your prospect. What follows is a step-by-step breakdown on how to achieve a higher PageRank.
First of all, you need a few tools at your disposal:
Alexa Toolbar – This toolbar is a MUST for any owner of a website. It informs you of web traffic ranking for every site you visit, the contact information for each site, and provides reviews on each site. Yes, they track where you go on the web, but you need this … more on this later.
Google Toolbar You will wonder how you lived without this toolbar. You can search Google at anytime and the added tools will boost your effectiveness online. Google tracks you much of the same way that Alexa does. The Google Toolbar will inform you of the PageRank of every site on the web. This is information you can’t live without.
We will break down both toolbars throughout this article.
What is Google’s PageRank anyway? PageRank is Google’s method of ranking individual web pages. Google looks at the pages which link to your page and how they rank in terms of importance. In a nutshell, pages that have links from important, high quality pages, receive a higher PageRank. Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages which are both important and relevant to your search. For more information, see Google’s explanation of PageRank.
The PageRank system is a numerical grade from 0-10. There have been great articles written in the past on how to estimate and compute PageRank, and they can be confusing to some. So, in a simplistic breakdown, think of PageRank in terms of point value. The following numbers are not valid, they are just used to visualize the process:
From this example, the values increase by ten fold for each level of PageRank. This is very similar to how it actually is. It is approximately ten times more difficult to climb to the next “rung” in the PageRank ladder.
You may have noticed a few months ago that Google increased the levels for PageRank of 5 and above. Many sites have seen an increase in the number of links to their site, while their PageRank has dropped a point. This caused a lot of panic to site owners, wondering if they had been penalized. Not so. Google simply “raised the bar”.
The biggest mistake most webmasters make when requesting links is they look at the PageRank of the home page. “They have a PageRank of 5, not bad, I’ll request a link.” But the link isn’t going on the home page. Instead it goes on a “links page” that has a PageRank of 3. According to the testing we have done, pages with a PageRank of less than 4 are not counted in the PageRank formula. This link is worthless.
When determining value of a link, you must go to the page where your link will be present. If that page has a PageRank of 4, write down “100”. This is the “value” of the page. The value of that page is then shared with every link on the page including any graphics that serve as links (i.e. banners). Count up the number of links on the page. If there are 20 links, you divide 100 by 20 to get a value of 5 per link. If it takes 1,000 points to reach a PageRank of 5, you would need 2,000 of these types of links to achieve that level.
However, had that page been a PageRank of 6, with the number of links being equal at 20, each link would be worth 500 points. It would take just two of these links to achieve a PageRank of 5. See the difference? It is called quality. This is why link farms, web rings, etc. are worthless. The PageRank value becomes dilluted. Also, particpating in these types of programs does not benefit the web community, they are done for no other means than artifically inflating your PageRank.
The engineers at Google are smart; they have in the past, and will in the future, penalize for poor ethics.
What is the best way to increase your PageRank? Making sure the majority of the links pointing to your site match the “theme” of your site. Otherwise known as “theme sites”.
What is a theme site?
A theme site is one that has links to other sites of parallel industry. For example, I am going camping this weekend. I did a search in Yahoo! on “camping gear.” One of the results was Camping Gear Equipment. I will use them as an example in this article.
To become a “theme site” they will want links not from other camping gear sites, since those are competitors. Instead, they will seek links from camping destinations, fly fishing destinations, dehydrated food suppliers, etc. If I am in the market for weekend fly fishing trip, it is very probable that I would also be interested in upgrading equipment.
Pulling traffic to your site through Google does take work, but the rewards will be well worth the effort. We will list the steps briefly and then we will expand the discussion using a real-life example.
1. Review your site content and design completely.
2. Verify that all of your links work.
3. Build a site map.
4. Submit your site to the Yahoo! directory.
5. Submit your site with the Open Directory Project.
6. Create a “resource” page on your site.
7. Begin your research.
8. “Theme based” site research.
9. “Competition based” site research.
10. Affiliate based site research.
11. Compare your lists.
12. Other sources for links.
13. Send emails.
14. Follow up, follow up, and follow up.
Example site referenced: CampingGearEquipment.com
Review your site completely. Corporations should have their sales teams review the entire site top to bottom and make suggestions. After all, they are the driving force behind your market share. What helps them sell in the field will help you sell more on the web. If you are a sole owner of your site, read all of your content out loud. Have two or more associates review your content. What sounds fine to you may not make sense to another. Test your site on a modem connection. Is it fast? Are there long waits for pages to download? Now is the time to streamline your site. In reviewing our example site, the site could use some improvement. It takes over 35 seconds to load on a standard 56k modem connection, which is very poor. It’s no wonder, they have a graphic that is 72k in size. The standard is 20 seconds or less. By optimizing their graphics, they could get to a load time of 18 seconds. You can use OptiView to test your site for free. There are pages which are “under construction” and the navigation on the left is difficult to read on some screen resolutions.
Verify all of your links. Don’t just verify links internally but the external links as well. There are link checkers built in to programs like DreamWeaver. There are also link checkers available on the web. A great tool that is not well known is Xenu. Mark Herre of 10x Marketing gave me that tip. All links are valid when performing an audit on our example site.
Build a site map. The site map should list every page on your site that you want indexed. Make sure you have a text link at the bottom of your Home Page to your site map. Google will spider your home page, hit this site map and index every page listed. By doing a site map, you are ensuring your entire site will be indexed. Plus, Google loves site maps … it makes GoogleBot’s job so much easier and faster.
There is not a Site Map for our example site. All the webmaster needs is Xenu and the job is done – fast!
Submit your site to Yahoo! ($299.00 annual fee). In seven (7) business days your site will be reviewed and either accepted or rejected by the Yahoo! editor. See our tip sheet for getting a successful listing. Going to Yahoo! and typing in “campinggearequipment.com” and searching produces the site at the #1 position. You will notice a red arrow pointing to “More sites about: Camping > Gear and Equipment”. This is referring to the site’s Yahoo! directory listing in the Gear and Equipment section.
Since Yahoo! is not pulling their primary search results from their directory, why should you submit your site and pay $300.00? There have been numerous articles against submitting your site to Yahoo! until they change their criteria back. I disagree. Why? Yahoo! is not just the #1 portal on the Internet, they are the #1 site in terms of traffic. Why would you not want your site listed in the best portal in cyber-space? Also, being listed in Yahoo! brings an often “un-published benefit” that will be discussed later.
Get listed with the Open Directory Project (DMOZ). Since AOL switched from DMOZ to Google for their search results last year, DMOZ is no longer vital as a source for solid traffic. Instead, look at them to boost your quality link popularity. DMOZ is humanly built, just like Yahoo!. But unlike Yahoo!, DMOZ is free a submit. You are allowed to be listed in up to two categories for your site: a general category and a local category.
Google has openly stated that they are more interested in directories that are actually used, and with the rapid drop of DMOZ traffic in late March, Google may be turning away from DMOZ in the near future. However, since they are still pulling from DMOZ, and DMOZ is still a top 200 site, it is important to get your site listed.
One major complaint is the “staleness” of DMOZ as the directory is not updated frequently. However, the directory just had an update on April 24, 2003. If you have a submission pending inclusion, check to see if your site is listed.
Create a “links” or “resources” page on your site. The term “links” has been overused in my opinion and I am suggesting using the term “resources” instead. It is on this page you will list your link exchanges with other webmasters.
Begin your research. My suggestion is to use a spreadsheet. You will need three: one for your theme page research, one for your competition research and one for your affiliate research. If you use Excel, you can create three separate tabs. You want columns to cover the following: Company Name, URL, Alexa Ranking, PageRank, Yahoo! inclusion, DMOZ inclusion, Google links, Quality of the site (eye appeal), Link Request Date, Link Approval Date, Last Verified and Comments.
Theme based site research. Perform searches in Google for search terms that show results of sites which relate to your theme, but who are not direct competitors. You want to establish a list of at least 50 web sites that would be viable for you to request a link from. Remember, these sites are NOT competitors. Use your Google Toolbar to ensure they have a good PageRank (5/10 or above) and use the Alexa Toolbar to ensure they receive decent traffic. We would recommend you bypass any site that is ranked 500,000+ in Alexa.
In our example site, let’s go to Google and type in “camping food “. The #4 listing is Mountain House. Clicking on the listing takes us to the site. The Alexa Toolbar tells us that the site is ranked #428,443 and the site has been online for over four years (Site Info). Hovering your mouse pointer over the PageRank on the Google Toolbar informs us that the PageRank is 6/10. This is a site that we will put into our spreadsheet. They would not only be a perfect link opportunity, but this is a great resource for potiential customers. So we will put them in both the Theme and Affiliate spreadsheets. You will continue in this fashion until you have at least 50 theme sites.
But wait, do not leave the site so fast. On your Alexa Toolbar, click “Related Links”. The two sections you want to review are: “People who visit this page also visit” and “Other sites that link to …”. These two sections will give you sites which are similar and who link to their site. This will speed up your research. Next is determining their listing in Yahoo!, DMOZ, and checking the number of links in Google.
Competition based site research. Again you will use Google as your search engine. This time you will input searches using your direct keywords. Note: If you already know your competition, start with visiting their sites and then expand your list with searches in Google and using the Alexa toolbar. Competition research is a little different as you are focusing on who can realistically compete with you. If you are a small business that sells general merchandise, Sears is NOT your competitor! Just the same way that McDonalds’ competition is not the Ma-and-Pa burger stand. It is Burger King, Wendy’s, etc. Just because this is the Internet does not mean you can compete with the “Big Boys.” Be realistic in your views.
Continuing our example, type “camping equipment” in Google. Check out the sites one by one, beginning with the ones listed first in the search results below the Sponsored Links. Look at the URLs in the description of the search result. If your market is specific to your country, do not click on any results that are from other countries. Also, avoid web sites which are not worth your time (i.e. geocities, yahoo stores, aol, etc.) as they can be gone tomorrow. Plus, sites which are a secondary domain (i.e. www.aol.com/bobsgifts/) have the traffic and link information for the parent domain, not the sub domain. In this case it would report aol.com, not bobsgifts.
Going back to our example, the first listing is REI’s site. REI is far above our example site in terms of quality, price, and availability. An example of a competitor would be result #3, A Happy Camper. This site ranks #559,962 in Alexa, but also has a 6/10 PageRank. Far better than the 4/10 PageRank of our example site. On the Google Toolbar click on “Page Info” and then choose “Backward Links”. This will show you exactly who is linking to this site – just 240 sites. This means, that with a PageRank of 6/10 and a low number of links, the links are high quality. We just found a “diamond in the rough”. This is a great addition to your spreadsheet, and by reviewing each of these sites, and contacting each site for a link exchange will allow the owner of Camping Gear Equipment to increase their Internet exposure and their PageRank in the process.
Affiliate based site research. This is done while you are doing your competition research. When you find affiliates of your competition, you want to contact them so they become YOUR affiliate. It’s that simple. By taking away an affilate from your competition, you double the damage to your competitor, as you are increasing your affiliate base by one and taking one away an affiliate from your competition. You want at least 50 quality affiliates to contact.
Compare your lists. Make sure you don’t have duplicate sites. For example, it wouldn’t be very professional if you contacted the same company twice, once for a link, and once to become an affiliate. To be successful, it is vital for you to be both consistent and professional.
Other sources. If you have suppliers, Michael Campbell suggests getting your “upstream” and “downstream” suppliers to link to you. And of course, you should link to them. This will form a strong “theme” base for your business. If you are a wholesaler, list your top ten retailers as a reward to them. Advertising agencies and print shops can link to their customers and vice versa.
Robin Nobles suggests that you go for authoritative sites. Look for vertical engines and directories in your topic areas. Look for popular sites. One or two authoritative sites as a link will be more beneficial than 1,000 irrelevant links. Turn to searchengineguide.com or beaucoup.com for a listing of vertical engines and directories.
Unpublished Yahoo! Tip: Do not discount the number of webmasters contacting your for link requests. This is where a listing in Yahoo! is beneficial. Webmasters seem to use Yahoo! more than any other portal as a means for finding sites to link to. Get a listing in Yahoo! makes increasing your PageRank easier.
Send emails. Contact the Webmaster of each site and custom craft your message and make your request (link exchange or affiliate offer). If appropriate, it may be more productive to pick up the phone and start dialing. Never send out mass email no matter how much time you might think it will save you. It is poor ethics. You have probably received a few dozen already … “Hi, I found your site while surfing my favorite search engine Yahoo! and wanted to ask to exchange links with us.” Your initial thought is, “You’ve never been to my site!” You don’t want the same reaction to your email, so custom write each request.
Follow up, follow up, and follow up. Keep good records. Make sure the link requests follow through. Many webmasters will agree to exchange links but they never post your link. We suggest doing the above at least every 30 days. This will ensure that your site has quality links, they are up to date and they match your theme. With quality link partners, solid affiliates and good customer service, your site should have its most profitable year in 2003!