Top 10 Google Myths Revealed. Myths 1 - 4.
Published on : Saturday Sep 23, 2006 09:12 AM
Author: Chris Beasley
Chris is the founder of Website Publisher
Chris Beasley has written 8 articles for SitePoint with an average reader rating of 8.1.
Google is the Web's most popular search engine, powering not only the popular Google.com Website, but also Yahoo! and AOL. Being listed in Google is very important, and being listed highly in Google can bring great benefit to your site.
However, there are many myths about how Google works and, while fairly harmless in themselves, these myths tend to allow people to draw incorrect conclusions about how Google works. The purpose of this article is to correct the most popular Google myths.
Myth #1: The Higher Your Google PageRank (PR), the Higher You'll be in the Search Results Listing
This myth is frequent, and is the source of many complaints. People often notice that a site with a lower PageRank than theirs is listed above them, and get upset. While pages with a higher PageRank do tend to rank better, it is perfectly normal for a site to appear higher in the results listings even though it has a lower PageRank than competing pages.
To explain this concept without going into too much technical detail, it is best to think of PageRank as being comprised of two different values. One value, which we'll call "General PageRank" is nothing more than the weighting given to the links on your page. This is also the value shown in the Google Toolbar. This value is used to calculate the weighting of the links leaving your page, not your search position.
The other value we'll call "Specific PageRank." You see, if PageRank equated to search engine results rank then Yahoo, the site with the highest PR, would be listed #1 for every search result. Obviously, that wouldn't be useful, so what Google does is examine the context of your incoming links, and only those links that relate to the specific keyword being searched on will help you achieve a higher ranking for that keyword. It's very possible for a site with a lower PageRank to in fact have more on-topic incoming links than a site with a higher PageRank, in which case the site with a lower PageRank will be listed above its competitor in the search results for that term.
PageRank aside, there are also other factors that contribute Google search results -- though PageRank remains the dominant one.
Myth #2: The Google Toolbar will List Your Actual PageRank
When Google created their toolbar it was a boon for many Webmasters as this was the first time we got to see any value related to our PageRank. However, the toolbar has also caused some confusion.
The toolbar does not show your actual PageRank, only an approximation of it. It gives you an integer rank on a scale from 1-10. We do not know exactly what the various integers correspond to, but we're sure that their curve is similar to an exponential curve with each new "plateau" being harder to reach than the last. I have personally done some research into this, and so far the results point to an exponential base of 4. So a PR of 6 is 4 times as difficult to attain as a PR of 5.
The exponential base is important because it illustrates how broad a range of pages can be assigned a particular PR value. The difference between a high PR of 6, and a low PR of 6, could be hundreds or thousands of links. So if your PR as reported by the toolbar increases or drops, it's important to remember that it could be the result of a small change, or a large change. Additionally, it's possible to lose or gain links and see no change in your reported PageRank.
The other issue with the toolbar has to do with the fact that sometimes the PageRank it displays is only a guess. People will often notice pages on Geocities or another free hosting provider having a high PageRank. This is because when Google hasn't spidered a page, but has spidered the root domain, the toolbar will guess a PageRank based on the value of the root domain. Therefor it's common to see pages on Geocities with a PR of 6 or 7. The PageRank does not equate in any way to a high Google listing, in fact in this case it indicates the opposite: that the page isn't even in Google. Once Google spiders the page, it will be assigned a more appropriate (and usually lower) PageRank.
Myth # 3: PageRank is a Value Based on the Number of Incoming Links to Your Site
This myth is a frequent source of incorrect assumptions about Google. People will often see that a site with fewer incoming links than their own site has a higher PageRank, and assume that PageRank is not based on incoming links.
The fact is that PageRank is based on incoming links, but not just on the number of them. Instead PageRank is based on the value of your incoming links. To find the value of an incoming link look at the PR of the source page, and divide it by the number of links on that page. It's very possible to get a PR of 6 or 7 from only a handful of incoming links if your links are "weighty" enough.
Also remember that for PageRank calculations every page is an island. Google does not calculate PageRank on a site-wide basis -- so internal links between your pages do count. This is very important, as instituting a proper structure for your internal links can drastically improve your rankings.
Myth # 4: Searching for Incoming Links on Google Using "link:" will Show you all Your Backwards Links
Similar to Myth #3, people will sometimes look for backwards links to a site on Google and fine none, but if the site does have a PR listed and it is in Google's cache, they know that the toolbar isn't just guessing.
The reason for this is that Google does not list all the links that it knows about, only those that contribute above a certain amount of PageRank. This is especially evident in a brand new site. By default, all pages in Google have a minimum PR. So even a page without any incoming links has a PR value, albeit a small one. If you have a brand new site with 20 or 30 pages, all of which Google has spidered, but you have no incoming links from other sites, then your pages will still have a PageRank resulting from these internal links. As your home page is likely linked to from every page on your site, it might even get a PageRank of up to 1 or 2 from all these little boosts. However, in this situation searching for incoming links will likely yield 0 results.
You can also see this happening on pages that have been around for awhile. For instance, this page has 0 incoming links listed in Google, yet it has a PageRank of 3. We can see that Google has spidered it by checking its cache, so the PageRank is not a guess. We also know that Google has spidered this page, again by checking its cache. Therefore, we can be sure that Google knows of at least 1 link to the page in question, both by its listed PR, and the fact that Google has spidered a page that links to it.
However, if you look at the DMOZ.org page with the Google Toolbar installed, you'll notice the page has a PR of 0, which is very low. Furthermore, if you count the number of links on the page, you'll notice it has over 20. So you're dividing a very low PR among over 20 links. Thus each link carries very little weight, so Google doesn't list these links when you search for them. However, Google does count the links, which is why the page in question has a PR listed.
It's very important to remember how Google lists incoming links. Often, people see their number of incoming links drop, and they think they have lost those links. In reality, the linking page could have lost some weight and consequentially, the links might have dropped below the value threshold that's required in order for links to be listed. Or the linking page could have added more links, causing each link's share of the weight to be lower, and again causing the link to drop below the value threshold. In either case the link is still counted, it just isn't listed.
Why does Google do this? Perhaps the answer has to do with technical limitations. If the average number of links per page is 20 then Google would have to deal with over 60 billion links, which might create an index that was too large to be publicly searchable.