The BBC’s is 9 out of 10, Google’s is 9 out of 10, Parliament and OUT-Law.com are 8 out of 10, really big and important firms like Clifford Chance and Eversheds are (respectively) 7 and 6 out of 10, Delia Venables’ and Nick Holmes’ sites are both 6 out of 10, significant regional firms are 5 out of 10 and most High Street firms are between 2 and 4. We’re talking here about Google PageRank, not a school test. So, let’s start with some definitions.

This is how Google itself describes PageRank:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.

All clear? Perhaps not, so let’s see what Wikipedia has to say:

PageRank is a link analysis algorithm which assigns a numerical weighting to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents, such as the World Wide Web, with the purpose of “measuring” its relative importance within the set.

Basically, the Google PageRank is the main metric Google uses to decide how relevant a page is, and where to display it in its list of search results.

Anyone with a marketing interest in websites should download and use the Google Toolbar web browser add-on for Internet Explorer or Firefox the whole time.

You can also use any number of other sites to check on PageRank (eg pr.blogflux.com or www.top25web.com/pagerank.php).

PageRank relates not only to the particular site or page being considered, but also the relevance of the page to the search term that the searcher used. So, if you enter the web address of a site into the address bar in Internet Explorer and check the PageRank of the page, this is just one PageRank the page might have; it might have a lower or higher PageRank depending on the search term used.

So how is a page’s PageRank calculated? In simple terms it is calculated by the sharing of PageRanks from all the inbound links to that page. Google also uses internal links in the calculation, so links within your site also count towards your PageRank.

Each link to a page carries with it and passes on a PageRank value to the target page. The PageRank value passed on depend on the PageRank value of the page they come from and the total outbound links from the page. Google does not disclose details of its algorithm, but it is generally agreed that a page will only pass about 85 per cent of its value to the page it links to and that a page’s PageRank (PR) might be calculated as follows:

PR = 0.15 + 0.85 x share

where share is the linking page’s PageRank divided by the number of outbound links on the page.

So let’s try some maths:

Page A is linked to by Page B and Page C.
Page C has a PageRank of 5 and links to 10 pages.
Page B has a PageRank of 3 and links to 20 page.

So, the PageRank of Page A is calculated as follows:

PR = 0.15 + (0.85 x 5/10) + (0.85 x 3/20) = 0.70

But if Page A is linked from 100 pages, 50 like Page C and 50 like Page B, then if you keep the same formula for 100 sites, the PageRank of Page A easily gets over 10, which is the supposed maximum. What everyone in our industry believes is that toolbar PageRanks are in fact the logarithmic equivalent of the real PageRanks, something like the following:

Toolbar PageRank Real PageRank
0 0 – 10
1 100 – 1,000
2 1,000 – 10,000
3 and so on…

What does this mean for the average law firm? There are some basic rules everyone should adhere to:

1. You should accumulate as many inbound links as you can from the most relevant sites you can find.

2. The more links you have from pages with high PageRanks, the better your overall PageRank will be.

3. Every page should be optimised for one specific phrase, but your home page should be optimised for the most highly trafficked phrase that suits your business, eg “solicitor blackpool” for a high street firm based in that town, “employment law” for a niche employment firm who have clients all over the country. This then works with your Page Rank to get the largest number of viewers to your site which is, after all, the point of the whole exercise.

The bottom line is that just having a web page does not guarantee any kind of PageRank; it takes some consistent hard work, over time, to build a decent PageRank and to get those visitors to your site.

David Gilroy is the Sales & Marketing Director for Conscious Solutions a specialist developer of websites and intranets for law firms, with over 120 clients across the country.

Email dgilroy@conscious.co.uk.

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