Eternal Mysteries of Google Pagerank

Most of the time working on website optimization is simply a matter of applying our knowledge of SEO in a better way than our competition — sort of like a grand chess match where Google defines the rules, your web pages and back links are the pieces, and to the winner goes the traffic, money, and adulation of the masses.

Okay, well that last part might just be in my head.

Our weapon in this battle for rankings is knowledge, and we know a lot about how Google and other search engines work; we know shocking amounts about what goes into Google Pagerank and organic search results. Some of this information Google actually tells us. Other information we can deduce from the tools Google gives us that let us analyze search traffic. Some of this knowledge is gleaned from painstaking review of Google’s patent application, and still more comes from exhaustive testing and experimentation.

Between all this, we have a pretty firm understanding of Google’s patented algorithms.

But every now and then a situation crops up that forces us to confront that none of us actually know all the rules. There are elements that remain hidden behind the curtain, yet to be discovered.

I have a blog about a video game that gets pretty good traffic, and I was talking with Julie about a Google pagerank mystery regarding the blog that had been nagging at me for a while. My blog is has a Google pagerank of 3. I’m perfectly happy with the traffic it gets and don’t worry about the pagerank — it has far less impact on search engine rankings than many people think.

But a while ago I started doing a podcast with a couple of other guys, again related to this video game. I set up a separate site for the podcast that does nothing but list each of the episodes — information that’s also available from each of our individual blogs. Simple enough… except that blog with just the podcast information now has a Google pagerank of 4.


Let’s compare a few stats of these two WordPress blogs for a moment here:

Traffic Backlinks Pages Indexed Last Cached Google Pagerank
Main Site 850,000 visits/mo 11,620 1,640 Hourly 3
Podcast Site 7,600 visits/mo 1,887 206 22 days 4

This is just a sampling of some of the more obvious stats — but across the board the facts remain consistent — in every way that you would think Google would rate a site, including quality of those backlinks, the main site should blow the podcast site out of the water. But it doesn’t.

I figured I had to be missing something terribly obvious, so I dropped the conundrum on Julie. After some time poking around and investigating possible pagerank reporting errors, she declared herself flummoxed as well. It’s downright peculiar, really.

Of course in the end Google pagerank is just a number and does not necessarily indicate how you’ll rank in search results. The main site, as I mentioned, ranks number one in hundreds of related searches. If I want top ranking for a search result, I can have it in the time it takes to write a post. The podcast site ranks horribly in anything except its name.

But it’s a good example of how you can take an office full of SEO professionals, all of whom keep up with industry trends, research SEO constantly, and still Google can toss a curve ball that takes us all by surprise. In the end we can only shrug our shoulders and keep reading, keep learning, and keep working.

This is also why no SEO company can honestly guarantee you any kind of ranking in Google search results. We simply don’t know everything that goes into Google’s algorithms, and we don’t know every detail of what your competition is doing.

A SEO expert, or firm, can be confident that they can increase your rankings, but no one can ever honestly make a guarantee. It’s an important distinction.