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September 18, 2013

What Is Google PageRank and How Is It Earned and Transferred?

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When a user types in a search query, the search engine’s number one goal is to return results that are high-quality, relevant, and able to best give them what they want. One of the 200+ factors Google takes into consideration to determine which web pages best fit the bill is PageRank.

What is Google PageRank?

PageRankPageRank is a link analysis algorithm used by Google to help determine the relative importance of a website.

Every website is given a Google PageRank score between 0 and 10 on an exponential scale. The handful of PageRank 10 domains, including, and Adobe Reader Download, have the highest volume of inbound links of any sites on the web. The top sites set the bar, so to speak, and the 10-point scale plummets exponentially down from there. and are PR 9. PageRank 5 websites have a good number of inbound links, PR 3 and 4 sites have a fair amount, and brand new websites without any inbound links pointing to them start at PageRank 0.

Since Google wants to return page one results that are high quality, relevant, and trustworthy, it may return web pages with better PageRank scores higher up in the SERPs, although PageRank is only one of many ranking factors taken into consideration.

Since PageRank is only one factor in the Google ranking algorithm, it’s important to remember that a high PageRank does not guarantee high rankings – but it can significantly help.

What is “Link Juice” and What are PageRank “Points”?

When Site A links to your web page, Google sees this as Site A endorsing, or casting a vote for, your page. Google takes into consideration all of these link votes (i.e., the website’s link profile) to draw conclusions about the relevance and significance of individual web pages and your website as a whole. This is the basic concept behind PageRank.

When a website links to your site, or when you link internally from one of your pages to another, the link passes PageRank points. This passing of PageRank points is also commonly called “link juice” transfer.

The amount of link juice passed depends on two things: the number of PageRank points of the web page housing the link, and the total number of links on the web page that are passing PageRank. It’s worth noting here that while Google will give every website a public-facing PageRank score that is between 1 and 10, the “points” each page accumulates from the link juice passed by high-value inbound links can – and do – significantly surpass ten. For instance, web pages on the most powerful and significant websites can pass link juice points in the hundreds or thousands. To keep the rating system concise Google uses a lot of math (ask me in the comments if you want to hear about it) to correlate very large (and very small) PageRank values with a neat and clean 1–10 rating scale.

How Link Juice is Passed

Think of it this way: every web page has a limited amount of link juice it can pass, and the top of that limit is the total PageRank points that page has accrued. So, a web page with 20 accrued PageRank points cannot pass more than 20 points of link juice per page. If a page with 20 PageRank points links to one other page, that one link will transfer the full amount of link juice to that one other web page. But if a page with 20 PageRank points links to five web pages (internal or external), each link will only transfer one-fifth of the link juice. Google applies a decay value to every pass, so the actual numbers will be a little less than our diagram shows below. But to explain the PageRank concept simply, the formula is PR points divided by number of on-page links, or in this case, 20 divided by 5:


Visualize it: This diagram shows what it looks like when a web page with 20 PageRank points links out to 5 other web pages that, accordingly, each receive approximately 4 PageRank points.

What if you want to link to several resources to aid user experience, but you don’t want to dilute your link juice transfer? You can tell Google not to pass PageRank by amending some links with a rel=”nofollow” tag. So if you have a PageRank 18 web page that has 4 links on a page and three of those links have rel=”nofollow” tags, the one link that doesn’t have a rel=”nofollow” tag will get the full 18 points of link juice.

Transferring PageRank/Link Juice with Internal Linking

You can help Google see pages of your website as subject matter authorities by linking to your own important pages from related articles. For instance, if you have an article called How To Do Keyword Research, you can help reinforce to Google the relevance of this page for the subject/phrase “keyword research” by linking from an article reviewing a keyword research tool to your How To Do Keyword Research article. This linking strategy is part of effective siloing, which helps clarify your main website themes.

A Word of Caution: Now that you understand basically how PageRank works, we don’t want to give you the wrong idea. It’s not true that the more links you have, the better off you are. In today’s world, QUALITY is more important than quantity. Google penalties have caused many web owners to not only stop link building, but start link pruning instead. Poor quality links (i.e., links from spammy or off-topic sites) are like poison and can kill your search engine rankings. Only links from quality sites, and pages that are relevant to your website, will appear natural and not be subject to penalty. So never try to buy or solicit links – earn them naturally or not at all.

Want to know more? Learn more about link building, link pruning (the action you take when links from low quality pages are giving Google the wrong idea about your website), and siloing.


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13 responses to “What Is Google PageRank and How Is It Earned and Transferred?”

  1. Vishal writes:

    The entire write up of page rank is worth reading but after February 2013, google has not updated the page rank. So I think , google is moving in another direction ie., social seo marketing and slowly eradicating the page rank concept.

    Just my two cents,

  2. Chelsea Adams writes:


    I think Google will always be working to discern and deliver “quality, trustworthy” content and I think analyzing inbound links as endorsements is a solid tool the SE won’t be sunsetting anytime soon. Why would they? If the president of the United States links to your page that is undoubtedly an endorsement that tells Google you’re a legitimate trusted source. I know that is an extreme example, but I think it illustrates the principals of a linking-as-endorsement model well.

    That said, I do agree that the uprise of social signals as a more prominent ranking factor is on the horizon. I am not sure that social signals will replace a linking-as-endorsement model like PageRank; I think, rather, that social signals will accompany it. Reinforce it. Give Google alternative/additional linking-as-endorsement resources.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Brett Welker writes:

    Thanks for the post Chelsea! I think Google is starting to move further away from PageRank but I do agree that a higher amoount of links doesn’t necessarily mean a higher rank. I’ve seen many try to shortcut the system and end up spending weeks undoing these “shortcuts.” I wonder how much weight PageRank still holds today, considering the algorithms Google continues to put out there to provide more relevant search results.

  4. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Hi, Brett!

    Totally agree — more does not always equal better. Google takes a sort of ‘Birds of a Feather’ approach when analyzing inbound links, so it’s really all about associating yourself (via inbound links) with websites Google deems high quality and trustworthy so that Google deems YOUR web page high quality and trustworthy. As you mentioned, trying to cut corners, buy links, do one-for-one trades, or otherwise game/manipulate the system never works. The algorithm is too smart.

    Now, how much weight does PageRank carry? Like most every other part of the algorithm, it’s questionable. If we listed all the ranking factors, I don’t suspect it would be in the top 5, but it’s important to remember that the key to ranking well is to be the LESS IMPERFECT than your competition. IE: To have more of the right things that send the right signals in the right places so that Google sees you as a better, more relevant, candidate for the top three on page one. If you and your competitor both have optimized (on-page and technically) for the same keyword phrase perfectly, PR could be the deal breaker that pushes your blue link an inch up.

  5. ROEMIN writes:

    I totally agree with you. Now Google keeps updating in algorithm strategies so in present situation everyone should have a good quality site, quality content. Content is quality and should be fresh on your website and also it should be related to the topic. It will help you in your ranking.

  6. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Just a related note in passing: On October 6, 2013 Matt Cutts (Google’s head of search spam) said Google PageRank Toolbar won’t see an update before 2014. He also published this helpful video that talks more in depth about how he (and Google) define PageRank, and how your site’s internal linking structure (IE: Your siloing structure) can directly affect PageRank transfer. Here’s a link to the video:

  7. Rahid writes:

    Dear Vishal, Google always in working. Some days ago, google act upon those sites Which have illegal data. So kept it in your mind, Google always in working.

    Thank You..

  8. michi12 writes:

    yes what would you suggest to .. how should we then build backlinks to?

  9. Chelsea Adams writes:


    As I was telling Norman above, these days what we’ve come to call content marketing is really a big part of “link building.” You can’t buy links, and “you link to me I’ll link to you” requests often land on deaf ears. Its really all about creating high quality content (videos, images, written blog posts) that appeals to the needs/wants of your target market, and then naturally earning inbound links from sources that truly find what you have to offer worth referencing.

  10. Norman writes:

    I am still concerned about my site because, It doesn’t appear to have any change in rank. It is about 4 months old. Can you tell me how long before I would see any change in ranking? I know my niche is very high competition. It would help in being about to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Hi, Norman! PageRank is an indicator of authority and trust, and inbound links are a large factor in PageRank score. That said, it makes sense that you may not be seeing any significant increases in your PageRank after only four months; A four-month old website is still a wee lad! PageRank is a score you will see slowly increase over time as your website begins to make its mark on the industry and external websites begin to reference (or otherwise link to) your Web pages.

    There’s no way to speed up the process. To encourage your PageRank to grow, keep making quality content that others will want to link to. You may also consider participating regularly in social media communities to get the word out about the new content you are creating. (Social media participation itself won’t help your PageRank but it will help other humans know your content exists, which can help inspire an increase in natural inbound linking.)

    Make sense?

  12. Robin Thebs writes:

    Nice article.
    With recent change of google re: PR, things done properly seems to get good return.
    One point I would like to mention here is about Guest Blogging in relevant and high PR site does help a lot. I personally have seen some amazing result courtesy guest blogging, it can be a good link building strategy too.

  13. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Agree, Robin. When done right, gust blogging can help increase your PR by increasing the number of high-quality inbound links that point to your website. That said — make sure you never get too wrapped up in guest blogging just to acquire links. Google frowns upon that.

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