Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What is PageRank and why should I care?

Google (currently the most popular search engine with 88% market share in Australia according to Hitwise with MSN/Live Search with 6% and Yahoo with 4%. Note that the results from US searches show a different distribution with Google having 70% and Yahoo WITH 19%) uses two main measures to rank search results: 1) relevance to the words you are searching for (ie the more matching words in the right order in the right context) and 2) the relative importance of a site (as measured by the number of times other sites link to this site and their relative importance).

PageRank is the term that describes the relative importance of a site to Google. It is also a Google trademark and a patented process at the core of the success of Google. It is also a play on words - the 'Page' is from Larry Page, one of the founders of Google.

Let's look at a few medical and non-medical sites and understand what this really means:

Medical Website PageRanks compared as at August 2008 (these will change over time as the sites put on new content and Google adjusts its algorithms)

PageRank 10: There are only 6 sites that have this ranking, 3 of which are US Govt sites, one for the World Wide Web Consortium and 2 for commercial organisations.
PageRank 9:
PageRank 8:
Google.com.au, News.com.au, DMOZ
PageRank 7:
The Victorian Government's Better Health Initiative
PageRank 6: The Australian Medical Association (AMA), The Medical Journal of Australia, Royal Australian College of GPs, The Womens Hospital
PageRank 5: Royal Australian College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Australian Doctor, MyDr.com.au, Virtual Medical Center, Health Directory
PageRank 4: Menstruation.com.au, Pulse+IT Magazine
PageRank 3
Frances Perry House, Health Engine
PageRank 2
PageRank 1
PageRank 0: Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consulting Group (I'm not too sensitive about this - see comments below about how this reflects a historial rating and our website is still very young - but always on the lookout for tips to improve this).

Feel free to suggest other names and I can put them in the table for comparative purposes. If you are in another health related industry or country your can easily find the big sites by doing a Google search for common words or looking up the DMOZ directory for some sites.

Incidentally did you see in the Hitwise research that about 40% of people use a search engine to find information on health and medical topics? That is more than any other category surveyed and this hasn't changed significantly over the last year. Clearly people search the web for these topics quite often so it is worth focusing on promoting your site in search engines.

How do I find the Page Rank of my site?

The easiest way I have found to get a feeling for a sites Google PageRank is to install the Google Toolbar which has a PageRank gadget. It displays the PageRank as a green bar for the page you are visiting and if you hover the mouse over the bar it will display the ranking out of 10 for the site. If you are just starting out you will have a PageRank of 0. The scale of PageRanks is logarithmic meaning that it gets exponentially harder to achieve a higher ranking.

It is believed the PageRank for a site is only updated every 3 months for display by the tool (ie it is a historical measure of your PageRank rather than being the exact figure used by Google to rank your page at the time of doing a search. As such it is an indirect measure of success of your search engine optimisation activities.

Popularity vs PageRank

There are other ways of ranking sites such as the number of people who visit a website (hits). This may be useful to describe how many visitors there are to a website but it has no direct relationship on the PageRank. For example Virtual Medical Centre is ranked at number 1 in terms of visitors by HitWise but its PageRank is 5 - less than some other health related sites. You will need to determine how you will measure the success of your website. More on this later.

You can find information about the concept of PageRank and get a basic understanding of the process and why Google's approach revolutionised search from Wikipedia.

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  1. Love the technical stuff. My page fluked it - and still does, in the top 3 usually under "locum pharmacist". shame I haven't been doing it for 4 years. I will see how I go as I bring the new site into being www.bitethedust.com.au/newsite over the next few weeks.


  2. Hi Robbo

    I suspect your page is in the top 3 not just because you "fluked it". There is some very specific content you have there on the site and you, like a lot of us, have a niche.

    You did well to edge out all the ads for locums though - those medical recruiters seem to take up a lot of space. PageRank of 0 I noticed so plenty of room for improvement. Key question for you is what other words and phrases that people search do you want to be found under?

    Good luck on the new site - a perfect time to think about website optimisation.