The state of search 2014 – Topical Pagerank and why you should care

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Everyone in the search industry knows what Pagerank is and how it works, for those of you not 100% here’s a quick recap; Pagerank is the best known algorithm used by Google to help determine where websites should rank in their search engine index. PageRank is a means of measuring the reputation of a website/page.

Pagerank works by counting the number of inbound links to a page. The underlying assumption is that more reputable websites are likely to receive more links from other websites. If you think of each link as a vote from another web master, Google uses this data to determine if a site has something worth looking at and promotes it accordingly or at least that’s how it used to work in the good old days.

Google’s Pagerank algorithm grades webpages numerically.
Page Rank is scored 0-9.
If a website root is Pagerank 5, other pages within the website will not necessarily have a page rank of 5. Pagerank is page specific.
Pagerank passes through links like water through pipes.
Usually a higher Pagerank metric implies a link from that site will be of greater value.
Traditionally the focus of SEO’s has been sourcing links from high quality relevant websites.

Trustrank

Once webmasters figured out that links were the key to higher rankings, they began buying and selling them undermining Google’s search results in the process and thus Trustrank was born.

Whilst Google never publically admitted to using Trustrank in as a ranking factor, there are a number of patents that describe the mechanism as by placing special emphasis on “trust hubs.” These are defined as high manually set high quality websites e.g. BBC.co.uk, CNN.com and more. Obtaining links on these sites is usually very difficult/near impossible. Trustrank works by examining the distance of a website from a Trusthub, the idea being that trust diminishes the further away your site is from a trust hub.

This mechanism thus acts as a co-efficient and introduces a checksum which implies websites require trust to validate page rank however something else appears to be governing how search engines calculate authority.

Enter Topical Page Rank

Special thanks to Patrick Coombe, who runs this amazing SEO blog for providing a soundboard to bounce some ideas off.

Google continues to strive to deliver more relevant search results; in April 2014 Matt Cutt’s alluded to an improved version of Pagerank (Topical Pagerank). This was widely overlooked by many including myself until recently. Google is up to its old trick’s, attempting to determine if a site is a good match for a search query. What wasn’t clear is how the search giant had hoped to achieve this. When you scratch away the surface and start considering how Google is trying to accomplish this feat it becomes clear page specific classification system would result in chaos and require too much CPU run time to execute. The alternative and what appears more likely is that Google is broadly attempting to classify websites by topical theme into general categories. Information on topical Pagerank is still rather thin. This article gives the first indications of what going on beneath the surface.
This is backed up by a number of technical documents and patents.

Conclusion

Unlike regular Pagerank, “Topical Pagerank” is a measure “Authority.” Whilst regular Pagerank can be used to rank a website; in more competitive niches “Topical Pagerank” can make the difference between a first page position and ranking a site at the top of the first page, in fact when you study a niche you start to see topical patterns emerge and its becomes possible to identify the topical classification that features prominently in Google’s top SERPS for a clients desired keywords.

Understanding these patterns creates new opportunities to rank websites in some of the most competitive niches removing the element of chance and distilling the art of link building into a laser precision science

About Mark Bryce-Sharron

I founded Sussex SEO in 2006. Besides planning and managing client’s search strategies, I am a self-professed data geek and digital marketing addict. From information architecture to natural language processing and the semantic web, "search" presents an endless exponential learning curve that few careers can match and few like myself embrace at such a granular level.

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