My site’s Google “PageRank” dropped in January, from a 3 to a 2, which is pretty much as low as you can go. Smaller numbers mean less “relevant”, at least as far as Google is concerned. I’d like a higher page rank but when I think about it doesn’t matter all that much to me. I’m more curious, however, to observe the impact of the ranking drop.
My site was averaging somewhere in the 350 unique visitors per day range back when my page rank was 3. Now, with a page rank of 2, that has decreased to around 150. This reflects the fact that a lower page rank means a site shows up lower in Google search results. With a page rank of 2, my site rarely shows up on the first page of results except for very specific search terms. You can imagine how this would impact a business or someone who made some appreciable portion of their living from their website.
So how do you increase your page rank? No one really knows in great detail, the Google ranking system is their “secret sauce”, and they do a lot to keep the mechanisms used unknown and unknowable. But the basic elements have remained unchanged since Google first appeared as a search engine. The more sites that link to your site, the higher your page rank. The higher the page rank of the linking sites, the higher your page rank. So if you have (for example) 100 sites linking to your page all of which have a page rank of “1”, that won’t mean as much as someone who has 100 sites which have page ranks of 10 linking to their page. Apparently Google re-calculates page rank “rarely”: something on the order of once every 90 days for sites like mine; so once you get a ranking, it sticks with you for a while.
I suspect several things have contributed to the decline in my site’s ranking. First, several of the links to my site that formerly contributed to a higher ranking have “aged” out of relevance. Secondly, I believe my site has several design elements that Google considers “negatives”. Duplicate content, for one thing- If you look at the main (Home) index page of my site, you see all the entries I post. If you click on one of the sub categories, you see a subset of the posts from the main page, but with relevance to the category you selected. From the Google analysis perspective, this “categorized” content is a duplicate. If you click on the Archive link, you see the same content yet again, this time in a slightly different format: more duplicates! Google doesn’t like these features, and thinks I’m trying to “pad” my ranking with duplicate links, so it drops my rating as punishment. However, I have these features as a convenience for the people who visit my site. I’m more concerned about making it easy to find the relevant content on my site, and if making my content more convenient to navigate drives down my Google page ranking, so be it. I’ve installed some WordPress plugins recently that are supposed to tell Google to ignore the duplicates, but I have my doubts about the effectiveness of this approach.
I find the whole Google search/page ranking system to be rather flawed in any case. It is probably the best/least arbitrary system one could come up with that doesn’t involve massive human intervention, and I laud Google for that. But with their stupendous brain trust you’d think they could come up with a system that wasn’t so easily gamed. If I was really a scuzzball, I could establish a whole circle of cross-referencing link farms and drive up page ranks across all of them to profitable levels- all without actually creating any content at all. There are dozens of sites that used to link to my site that I’ve “cut off” because they were these kinds of farms: nothing more than a collection of scripts scraping content from real blogs and cross-linking the hell out of it. I moderate all comments posted to my site and immediately delete any blatant link farming attempts. As a user of Google, I often find 50% or more of the results for a given query lead to these kinds of bogus link farms right on the first page of results- that suggests to me that they are much more highly ranked than they should be.
If you’ve found my site by accident or as a result of going through several other pages of results first, I thank you for your patience. What I write here may not be particularly valuable, and it doesn’t aim to answer all of your questions in a structured way, but it is truly my thoughts and words. No scripts were abused in the generation of this post, and Google be damned 😉