From Page Rank To Relevance (Part I)

Every day I see someone offering to trade links with another site and listing their current page rank as incentive or see someone on a forum pleading for answers about how they can increase their page rank since theirs is so low. Seems like website owners have finally become aware of Google’s page rank. The only problem is that page rank isn’t very meaningful these days.

Over the next few posts I’d like to talk a little about page rank. Why it came into being, what it is, and why it’s falling off the radar in favor of relevance. A sort of the rise and fall of page rank or the story of page rank as told by me. There is certainly more to the story than what I present here though I hope to get across some major points about page rank and why it’s time to stop worrying about page rank and chasing after it.

Why Page Rank Was Necessary

Search engines came into existence in order to help people find information online. We all know how they work. You type in some words, click submit, and the search engine returns page after page of results. And the major goal of search engines was and is to present the most relevant results to your search query.

Ever wonder how they decide which web pages to return?

Search engines have always indexed the text on your web pages to determine what those pages are about. It’s not always an easy task to determine what a block of text is really about for an automated program though so there have always been extra things search engines do to determine what web page is most relevant to a given search. In addition to using the text search engines use other information about the pages and use complex mathematical algorithms to determine what pages are most relevant to your query.

One of the earlier ways was through the use of meta tags in the html behind websites. Meta information is information about information itself and meta tags were meant as a way to let a search engine know what your page was about. So if you listed things like ‘cell phone, mobile phone, cellular, flip phone’ etc then chances are your page was about cell phones and it would rank higher for searches about cell phones.

It all works great in theory, but had one major flaw. the system is very easy to manipulate. For example listing ‘cell phone’ thousands of times on the page and in the meta tags could assure that page of showing up #1 in the search results until the next site used the phrase 1001 times. Not only that, but you could really put in any words you wanted in your meta tags and be found for those particular searches.

People knew that the most common searches had to do with sex and so loaded up their pages and meta tags with the word ‘sex’ regardless of what the website was about. The reverse was also true where sites about sex could list ‘cell phone’ thousands of times in their meta tags and when you searched for cell phones you’d be presented with websites about sex.

So Google entered the picture, introduced page rank, set the world of search engines on it’s heels and got us all to watch these little green bars move right and left in our browsers. And in the process becoming the major search search engine used today.

I’ll pick up the story in Part II and talk about what page rank is, why it was so successful and how it subsequently lost importance.

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