Pagerank, Relevance, and the SERPs

We’ve previously talked about why pagerank doesn’t matter, but a number of people still attach a great deal of importance to it. It’s easy to see their point: plug pretty much any search term with any competition into Google, and the top results are likely to be mostly high-PR sites.

What many people don’t realize is that the high PR is a symptom of what’s making the page rank well, not a cause.

What does that mean? Well, suppose I have a website talking about topic X. This is a really good site, so I get a lot of links to it, many of which will have anchor text that says “X”, “page about X”, etc. All of these links are telling Google that my page is about X; additionally, each one is also a vote for the page. Thus, when somebody searches for X, Google sees that my page is both relevant and popular, and thus returns it close to the top of the search engines.

However, all these pages that are linking to me are also passing on link juice, especially if some of them have a high page rank. As a result, the PR on my page goes up!

Just as one example, go to Google and search for the term pagerank doesn’t matter. I did that just now and looked at the top five results. (Granted, this isn’t a particularly competitive term). Three are PR0 (including the page on this site, which in spite of being fairly new comes up second), one is PR3, and one is PR5. The PR5 page is in 5th place, behind the three PR0 pages! Interestingly enough, that PR5 site is actuall Matt Cutts (who heads the Google webspam team). Why is our page beating his? Because even though his has better page rank (due largely to being on a PR7 site), it’s talking about PageRank sculpting; our site is more relevant to the search term.

Would that page show up in the top five if it didn’t have PR5? Probably not; the PR does elevate the page’s importance over other pages with similar relevance but less link juice. This is, however, a good example of how relevance trumps pagerank.