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Don’t Judge a Book by Its PageRank…

My job requires me to be involved in both the technical and content ends of SEO. Regardless of what department you’re working in, you will come across the term PageRank (PR) every single day. Despite what we may tell ourselves, it is still the most tempting indicator to use while analysing the quality of a website. And a lot of webmasters and bloggers have realised this—and what are they doing?

Faking PR

A PR 4 website may look perfectly fine, but don’t be fooled. I only came across this while searching how to “fake Google page rank” myself, but it can be done. What webmasters do is set a redirect to another high PR link until Google announces a PR update. Guess what—your new PR n/a blog just went to a PR 7 in a few months. I’m sure Google will find a way to fix this bug, and I’m also sure that blackhats will find a way to get around it again. But that’s not the point.

The point is that you shouldn’t judge a website by its PR alone. There are also ways to spot a fake PR website.

1. Matt, a colleague of mine, introduced me to Wayback Machine. This handy tool shows you how a webpage appeared to look like in the past. Authoritative websites have more frequent archives, like every month or so. If you come across a PR 5 whose earliest archive is a month ago, and it looked like absolute crap, then there’s something fishy going on.

2. Do a site search to find how many pages are being indexed. A PR 4 blog will definitely have more than 10 posts. Google search “site:” followed by the website URL, as shown below:Site Search

3. Check the age of domain. If a blogger is doing everything correct, it isn’t impossible to achieve a PR 4 within a year, but definitely improbable. A PR 4 domain registered in February 2013, however, is obviously fake.

4. Check other metrics. Open Site Explorer shows you the MozRank, MozTrust, and Domain Authority of pages. Although these can be faked as well, i.e. the amount of outbound versus inbound links, they are still a better judge of a website quality.

5. I believe that social interaction has more influence than it ever has, especially after Penguin 2.0. I can guarantee that a PR 4 and above has some sort of community built around it, or is part of something bigger. You will find that authoritative travel bloggers know each other, regularly comment and interact as if it was natural. Well, it IS natural. A PR 4 website with no social links, no comments, no community, just post after post is most likely fake.

By combining these checks, you can identify 99% of websites that are faking their PR. For link building purposes, this can definitely save your client’s rankings. It may look good in a report, but it isn’t doing any good for SEO in the long-run.

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