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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How website structure impacts PageRank

Many website and blog builders are only familiar with and concerned about the final number which Google displays to other users as their PageRank. This can be a big problem because if you don’t truly understand the basics of how something works it is really hard to make the most out of using it. Every page that resides on your site has a PR “point” value as long as at least one other page links in to it and it is important to be able to get the most out of those points. How many of these PR points your site is worth is a combination of factors including how many pages your site has, what links are pointing into and out of them, and how they are structured and linked together internally. Large sites can accumulate hundreds of thousands or more PR points to distribute, and each one matters. The way your website or blog is built and linked can make a huge difference in your final point values.

When Google actually grants a website or webpage a visible PageRank score, it is directly based on the number of PR points. How they actually use the final point total to calculate the PageRank is a secret known only to Google. We can speculate on it, but it really doesn’t matter and we can’t control it. It is enough to know that we need to get as many PR points as we possibly can, and to know how to do so. By focusing on making the most of the part of PageRank (the PageRank points) that we can fully understand and control; the final score Google assigns will be the best we can make it without having to know how Google arrives at it.

How are PageRank points calculated?

There is a published formula that Google uses for this; which I am not going to get into in great detail because I don’t enjoy blogging about algebra equations, and most people find them boring to read about. For our purposes it will be enough to understand the basics of how it works. Each page has a starting PR point value of 1. That one PR point per page is then distributed based on what links are coming into and going out from the page, with each link being considered a vote of equal value. By equal value I mean that if two links are going out from the same page they will both be evenly split as far as points, with how many points are given to the pages they point to being impacted by the PR of the page containing the links. Let’s use some examples and say that we have a basic three page website.

In the first example, all pages contain one link going to each of the other two pages, which creates a kind of loop. All pages maintain a PR of 1, because they all have the same amount of voting power both coming into and going out of them. Total PR points for the site are 3, with each page having one PR point.

In the second example Page A links to both pages B and C. B and C each only have one outgoing link, which goes back to the main page A. Page A will end up with a final PR value of 1.459459, with pages B and C each having 0.7702703 each. The site overall still has a PR point value of 3, but the way the points are distributed have changed the PR of the pages to give more weight to the main page. This is because Pages B and C are no longer casting votes for each other, and all of their voting power is going to Page A only.

For example four, let’s add page D to our site, which will be a page for outbound links. In theory, my site should have gained an extra PR point for a total of PR4, because it now has four pages on it. If we continue the setup we used on example 2 with all pages only linking back to page A, we would expect Page A to gain yet again on PR points. Now let’s add four outbound links to page D which go to someone else’s site and see what effect that has. Page A will now have a PR of 0.92. Pages B, C and D will have 0.41 each. Site total PR points are now only 2.15, so it has in fact gone down from example 2, even though it now has more pages and voting power to assign! This is because we have now lost a significant amount of our site’s voting power to the four external links we have built on page D. Those links will now benefit and raise the PR points of whatever pages those four links point to, and will benefit them and not our own site.

Now that we understand a few basics of how internal structure and PR points within sites and pages work, it is very easy to see that even small changes can seriously hurt our potential PR points. The bigger a website or blog is, the more serious this issue can become. The more pages and content the site contains; the more chances it has to either accumulate or lose and waste these points. Of course there are other things that can help you build up your PageRank, but this is the keystone on which all other factors will build. It is also the one issue over which you have the most control, since you are totally in charge of how your website or blog is built and linked. This means that serious thought needs to be given to how to structure your site to best achieve your goals.

Most sites will benefit most from trying to assign the PR points either to only the main page, or a small handful of significant pages by linking them together as done in example 2. Keep in mind that making too many branches off these main pages at lower tiers, i.e. subdirectories and sub-pages, will lower the PR points of those main pages. Pages that do not have any outbound links are called dangling pages. These types of pages are in effect wasting their voting power, because Google does not clearly know what to do with their PR points. For this reason every page on your website or blog should always have a link back to either your main page or another page which you have decided needs to be of focus.

Using no follow links to retain PageRank points

Now that we have gotten our internal structure planned out and are starting to build pages, we may find that we need or want to create outgoing links that could lower or redistribute our PR points to unintended places and mess up our planning. This is why you will want to use a feature called a “no follow” link in almost all cases where you place links on your site. A no follow link works the same functionally on your website as a regular link does and does not differ in appearance on your site. Readers will still be able to use it to connect to and view whatever page you wish to refer them to. The difference is in the HTML code structure itself, which gives specific instructions to search engines about how to treat the link. The “no follow” link code tells the search engine that even though there is a link present, that they should disregard it as an outbound link. This will allow you to connect to other pages without assigning them any of the PR points from the page the link resides on.

To make a no follow link, use the following code: HYPERLINK TEXT

So how do we know when we should use no follow links internally as opposed to regular ones? If we have decided that our goal in building our website and accumulating PR points is to assign as much value to the main page as possible, then we would use the following formula. All links from the main page to our individual posts or pages should be regular links, as well as all links from those posts or pages back to the main page. Any additional links to other pages in our site like related articles should be no follow, so that we don’t change the way our PR points distribute.

Regular links and sharing PageRank points externally

There are some times when you will need or want to link to other websites using regular links, but you should only do so when there is a good reason for it and it is of some benefit to you. Let’s use two examples of external links to see the difference. The first link is placed in an article about online advertising and points to Google AdSense. This should definitely be a no follow link, because Google is not going to link back to my website or blog, and does not need me to share my PageRank points with them. They are already gaining benefit by any traffic I may send to them, and using a regular link to connect to them is just a waste of my PR points by giving them to a large site that already has all the PageRank it needs.

On the other hand, let’s imagine that I join a large blog directory site. One of the requirements of joining is to place a tag on my main page which is an outgoing link back to their site. I would be very willing to do this, because in return my main page will be listed in their directory. Both parties benefit from this arrangement. Only reciprocal links tend to be of enough value to warrant using a regular link on and you must be very careful and choosy on whom you decide to exchange them with.

To learn more ways to get the most out of PageRank points aside from how to structure your site and use links, we highly recommend that you read our article on Google PageRank Tips.



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