Pagerank and higher search engine rankings explained

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People ask us all the time, how does Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work, what is Pagerank (or Alexa / Compete), and what can I do to get my website on the first page of a Google result? This blog post will attempt to explain as much of this process as we can.

There is a complex calculation used when calculating how close to the top of a Google search your website will appear. Nobody outside of Google knows the exact equation, but there are two very important variables used for this. The first one is relevancy (how relevant your page is to the search term the user is using) and the second is your pagerank (one word, a normally invisible number Google has ranked your pages with, but can be seen with tools like Live PageRank).

From Without

The most effective way to increase your page rankings in the search engine is to increase your overall PageRank. The best way to do this is to get as many OTHER websites to link to your website as possible. The higher the pagerank of the sites linking to yours, the faster your pagerank will increase. The closer their website material is to your website material, the more effective the pagerank trade will be.

Having websites with low pagerank link to yours will not cause your pagerank to go down (unless there are many SPAMmy type of sites linking to you, in which case Google might blacklist your site as spam, but this will only happen if you are paying companies to link to your site). Keep in mind that the more external websites you link to, the more your pagerank will be slightly reduced (unless using nofollow).

From Within

The second most effective way to increase page rankings in search engine results is to perform search engine optimization. What this means is to take the content in your website, and put it into a form which is more friendly to search engines. Traditionally developed websites using lots of tables and images for layouts should be replaced with the newer system of using XHTML and CSS. Page titles and URL's are the number one thing looked at by Google for content. The older Meta Keywords and Meta Description tags are not used AT ALL by Google for page rank determination (the Meta Description IS used as the summary text for your website, however. But, if left empty, it automatically makes one from your pages content).

Fresh content is also a very good for SEO. If you want your page to get crawled by Google faster, some web applications (such as WordPress) will actually TELL Google that your site has been updated. For that reason, installing a WordPress blog somewhere on your website is a highly effective way to increase page rankings. And, of course, having content on your website with the words that people search for (called keywords) is also very effective. On the homepage of your website, you should have a couple paragraphs containing a summary of your website, with keywords in that paragraph linking to the relevant pages on your website (we call this SEO text).

General tips with SEO

  • Use descriptive titles
  • Use alt tags on your images
  • Use CSS and XHTML for your layouts
  • Only use tables for tabular data, NOT layouts
  • Use titles on your links
  • Use nofollow for links to website which you don't want to promote
  • Don't rely on Meta Keywords or Meta Description
  • Sprinkle relevant keywords in your content
  • Use the HTML heading tags (H1 to H6) where necessary
  • Use as much standard markup as possible
  • Use unordered/ordered lists for list based content
  • Use clean URL's where possible (e.g.


Of course, if you are competing to get your website to the number one spot of a search engine result for a very popular industry (or set of keywords), it will be harder as other website may be doing a better job than you. The best thing would be to compete for something perhaps a little more specific, like instead of competing for “llama rides” you may want to compete for “llama rides in michigan”.

To compare keywords with their popularity and competition levels, check out Google AdWords: Keyword Tool. The best words to compete for have a high search volume and a low advertiser competition. How it works is you start with a search for the terms you are looking for, and it will give you suggestions of related terms. If you find a relevant keyword combination with those criteria, you may want to make that the name of a page on your website. For example, if “llama rides” isn't in high competition and a lot of people search for it, make a page on your site called “” with the title of “Llama Rides”. If the competition is low enough, and you created the page in something like WordPress, chances are you could become the number one result within only a couple minutes of creating the page.

Alexa and Compete

Alexa and Compete are two centralized services which rank your website in order of 1 (the number one most popular website) to several million (the least popular website). Alexa offers a toolbar which users will install in their browser and silently count the number of times a website is visited. Alexa then applies statistics to these numbers and figures out how popular your website (probably) is. This isn't 100% accurate, but when visiting their website and comparing two different domains you can often get a good understanding of which has more traffic.

Google Pagerank does not work this way. Domain PR is only ranged 1 to 10 and does not necessarily depend on popularity of a domain (a site could have a high PR and no visitors if enough sites link to it and don't refer traffic).


Having several relevant websites link to your content, having your website Search Engine Optimized, and keeping fresh and useful content on your site are the three keys to increasing page ranking in Google searches. Search engine rankings will never go up overnight, especially if the targeted keywords are very competitive. Consider installing WordPress on your website for faster search engine crawling and a layout with SEO integrated.

Thomas Hunter II Avatar

Thomas has contributed to dozens of enterprise Node.js services and has worked for a company dedicated to securing Node.js. He has spoken at several conferences on Node.js and JavaScript and is an O'Reilly published author.