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How important is Google PageRank to site success?

PageRank (PR) was Google’s original secret weapon, a scale that would rank websites based on incoming links and where those links came from. Although its relevance has arguably faded a bit over the years as Google has added more and more criteria to site rankings, it still goes hand in hand with SEO and every webmaster out there wants to have a high PR.

But do you need a high PR to have a successful site? Search rankings are one thing, but what about actual site popularity and traffic?

To answer that question, we decided to find out the PR of the top 100 sites in the US. Here is what we found out.

PageRank statistics for the top 100 sites

These are some of the observations we made.

  • The average PR among the top 100 sites is 7.5.
  • Only two of the top 100 sites have PR 10: Google.com (position 1) and CNN.com (position 18).
  • The top 10 sites are all PR 8 or higher.
  • The first PR 7 site (Craigslist) shows up at position 11.
  • More than half of the sites are PR 8 or 9.
  • One third of the sites are PR 6 or 7.
  • Roughly 10% had PR 4 or 5 (all of them turned out to be adult websites).

Charting how PR is distributed across the top 100 sites, this is what you get. As you can see, the largest single grouping is the one made up of PR 8 sites, which has as many sites as PR 6 and 7 put together.


Above: You may notice that the number of sites only add up to 95. That’s because five of the results in Alexa’s top 100 for the US were not actual websites, but things like ad servers and file servers, so we removed those.

It’s worth noting that what we are looking at here is the PR of the front page of each website. Pagerank ranks individual web pages, not whole sites per se – so when we say “PR for a site”, this is what we mean. It also reflects the common way PR is talked about, when you often hear things like “I have a PR 6 website.”

For those of you who like to dig in deeper, there is a link to an Excel file with the raw data at the bottom of this article.

The flip side of the coin

We have already shown that many of the top websites have a PR of 6 or 7, so it’s clearly possible to have a highly popular website without having a top PR. But what about those websites that do have a top PR?

Google PageRank uses a logarithmic scale. This means that there will be many more PR 6 than PR 7 sites, and many more PR 5 than PR 6 sites, etc. It also means that there will be very few websites with PR 9, and even fewer with PR 10.

And there are indeed very few sites with PR 10. You can almost count them on your fingers. These are sites (pages) that have been top ranked by Google’s PR algorithm, PR 10 is as high as it goes. How does this translate to traffic/popularity?

Here are a few examples of PR 10 websites and their worldwide Alexa ranking (we already listed Google.com and CNN.com which are extremely popular PR 10 sites):

  • www.w3.org: 533
  • www.usa.gov: 10,096
  • www.europeana.eu: 104,652
  • www.sciencedirect.com: 989

So just like site popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into a top PR, a top PR doesn’t necessarily translate into site popularity. This makes sense, since ultimately PR is a factor for placement in search results and isn’t directly coupled to traffic.

Conclusion

PageRank still matters, it is still one of the many factors used by Google to rank your website, but this study shows that even many of the top sites have a competent but relatively modest PR of 6 or 7 (and some even lower).

Conversely, a high PR is in no way a guarantee of success in terms of traffic.

This means that unless you want to belong in the top 10 in the world, you should be perfectly happy with a PR of 6 or 7. There is no need to go chasing after some über PR score since you can have a hugely popular website without one. And let’s face it, if you do make that super-successful website, your PR is likely to go up because of that, not the other way around.

Tools used: US top 100 sites from Alexa. PageRank was retrieved using the SearchStatus Firefox plugin, with a few exceptions where the PR was retrieved at PRchecker.info.

Raw data: Google PageRank for the US top 100 websites (Excel)

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