Page Rank, and Query Specific Page Rank

Page Rank gets a bad rap sometimes. It’s easy to understand why. People got obsessed with Page Rank a few years back, and for a long time, people would not let go of the notion that Page Rank was the only thing you needed to worry about in SEO. For that reason, many really smart SEOs started to downplay it greatly, and to suggest that Page Rank is meaningless.

But that’s over doing it. Page Rank is still very, very important, and I still use it.

Page Rank still provides the best way of measuring the importance of a page, or a site. So let’s step back for a minute and talk about what I mean by importance. For example, why is Amazon more highly ranked than Joe’s Book Store? Because Amazon has a lot more links (page rank). Ultimately, a search engine has to decide two things about each page, in response to each search query:

  1. How relevant is the page to the search query – they do this by textual analysis of the page, the site, and an analysis of the relevance of the inbound links (by analyzing the text on the linking page, and the text on the linking site, and the relevance of the links to the linking site). As you can see, this rapidly becomes a highly recursive process, that provides the best results if you do this on a search query by search query basis. You can think of every page on the web as having its own “relevance score” with respect to every single search query.
  2. How important the page is compared to other pages that are relevant to the search query – This is a page rank calculation, as filtered by the relevance of the inbound links. I think of this as “query specific page rank”. So if the query is “bananas”, and your page is about bananas, and you have an inbound link from a site about selling used cars, that link will not add very much to the importance score of your page for the query bananas. But if the inbound link is from a page about bananas, on a site about bananas, and uses the word bananas in the anchor text of the link, the inbound link will add a tremendous amount to the importance score of your page. The final kicker is an evaluation of the importance of the linking page and the linking site. One simple way to do that is to look at their page rank. To get really artful though, look at how it ranks in the SERPs for the query bananas. If it’s on the first page, you have a killer link. So with this notion of query specific page rank, you have a way of thinking about your linking strategy, and you are acknowledging that page rank is still at the core of that strategy

In SEOmoz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors survey of top SEOs, the top 3 ranking factors selected were:

  1. Keyword Use in Title Tag
  2. Anchor Text of Inbound Link
  3. Global Link Popularity of Site
  4. Age of Site
  5. Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure
  6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site
  7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  8. Keyword Use in Body Text
  9. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site
  10. Rate of New Inbound Links to Site

Looking at this list, and our notion of “Query Specific Page Rank”, items 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 all fall into that category. That’s 7 out of 10 – not too shabby.

So, ultimately, page rank still counts for a lot. And when you adapt that thinking to thinking about Query Specific Page Rank, and relating it to the most important keywords for your site, you are really on the right track with your SEO strategy.


  1. says

    Interesting breakdown and good points, but you started with:

    “Page Rank still provides the best way of measuring the importance of a page, or a site.”

    In the context of pure SEO I’d agree, but not in the broader context of a site’s importance. There are PR 3 commercial sites / pages that make 10x more money than PR 7 commercial pages, there are parked PR 5 spam pages (probably higher), and PR 1 link lists with relevant citations created without commercial concern.

    IMO pagerank still doesn’t tell us anything about the importance of a site or page, but I still use it too for a quick gauge before digging deeper.

  2. says

    Hi Adam – When I used the word importance in the post, I really meant it to be “importance to the search engine”.

    I agree with you, there are lots of really good sites that have little, or less Page Rank than other sites, and these lower page rank sites are still more important in a broader context.

  3. says


    This is a nice writeup. I agree with your first point, but I am not sure about your second.

    Are you talking about “Topic sensitive PageRank” when you say “query specific PageRank” ?

    PageRank, as originally designed, is not query specific. HITS, another link analysis algorithm designed in the same year, is query specific.

    PageRank only measures the absolute importance of a page. Not the topicality. Topic-Sensitive PageRank is an improvement that makes PageRank query specific.

    It is hard to tell whether Google’s current PageRank is query specific. If they are, the little green bar does not provide any clues.

  4. says

    Hamlet – I believe that Google has implemented Topic Sensitive PageRank (what I called Query Specific PageRank), but they continue to combine it with the traditional measure of PageRank.

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