You can never find out the true PageRank

How can you discover a page’s PageRank? You can use the Google toolbar. (I explain in a moment why you can never find out the true PageRank.) You should install the Google toolbar, which is available for download at Each time you open a page in Internet Explorer 5.0 or later, you see the page’s PageRank in a bar. If the bar is all white, the PageRank is 0. If it’s all green, the PageRank is 10.

You can estimate PageRank simply by looking at the position of the green bar, or you can mouse over the bar, and a pop-up appears with the PageRank number. If the PageRank component isn’t on your toolbar, click the Options button to open the Toolbar Options dialog box, select the PageRank checkbox, and click OK.

If you don’t have the Google toolbar, you can still check PageRank. Search for the term pagerank tool to find various sites that allow you to enter a URL and get the PageRank. Mozilla’s FireFox browser also has extensions that display the page rank in the status bar of every page.

Here are a few things to understand about this toolbar:

Sometimes the bar is gray. Sometimes when you look at the bar, it’s grayed out. Some people believe that this means Google is somehow penalizing the site by withholding PageRank. I’ve never seen this happen, though. I believe the bar is simply buggy, and that PageRank is just not being passed to the bar for some reason.

Every time I’ve seen the bar grayed out, I’ve been able to open the Web page in another browser window (you may have to try two or three) and view the PageRank.

Sometimes the toolbar guesses. Sometimes the toolbar guesses a PageRank. You may occasionally find it being reported for a page that isn’t even in the Google index. It seems that Google may be coming up with a PageRank for a page on the fly, based on the PageRank of other pages in the site that have already been indexed.

Also, note that Google has various data centers around the world, and because they’re not all in sync, with data varying among them, it’s possible for one person looking at a page’s PageRank to see one number, while someone else sees another number.

A white bar is not a penalty. Another common PageRank myth is that Google penalizes pages by giving them PageRanks of 0.

That is, if you see a page with a PageRank of 0, something is wrong with the page, and if you link to the page, your Web page may be penalized, too. This is simply not true. Most of the world’s Web pages show a PageRank of 0. That’s not to say that Google won’t take away PageRank if it wants to penalize a page or site for some reason. I’m just saying you can’t know if it’s a penalty or if it’s simply a page with few valuable links pointing in.

Zero is not zero, and ten is not ten. Although commonly referred to as PageRank, and even labeled as such, the number you see in the Google toolbar is not the page’s actual PageRank. It’s simply a number indicating the approximate position of the page on the PageRank range. Therefore, pages never have a PageRank of 0, even though most pages show 0 on the toolbar, and a page with a rank of, say, 2 might actually have a PageRank of 25 or 100.

The true PageRank scale is probably a logarithmic scale. Thus, the distance between PageRank 5 and 6 is much greater than the difference between 2 and 3. The consensus of opinion among people who like to discuss these things is that the PageRank shown on the toolbar is probably on a logarithmic scale with a base of around 5 or 6, or perhaps even lower.

Suppose, for a moment, that the base is actually 5. That means that a page with a PageRank of 0 shown on the toolbar may have an actual PageRank somewhere between a fraction of 1 and just under 5. If the PageRank shown is 1, the page may have a rank between 5 and just under 25; if 2 is shown, the number may be between 25 and just under 125, and so on. A page with a rank of 9 or 10 shown on the toolbar most likely has a true PageRank in the millions.

The maximum possible PageRank, and thus this scale, continually changes as Google recalculates PageRank. As pages are added to the index, the PageRank has to go up. How can you be sure that the numbers on the toolbar are not the true PageRank? The PageRank algorithm simply doesn’t work on a scale of 1 to 10 on a Web that contains billions of Web pages. And, perhaps more practically, it’s not logical to assume that sites such as Yahoo! and Google have PageRanks just slightly above small, privately owned sites.

I have pages with ranks of 6 or 7, for instance, whereas the BBC Web site, the world’s 25th most popular Web site according to Alexa, has a PageRank of 9. It’s not reasonable to assume that its true PageRank is just 50 percent greater than pages on one of my little sites. Here are two important points to remember about the PageRank shown on the Google toolbar:

  • Two pages with the same PageRank shown on the toolbar may actually have very different true PageRanks. One may have a PageRank of a fifth or sixth, or maybe a quarter, of the other.
  • It gets progressively harder to push a page to the next PageRank level on the toolbar. Getting a page to 1 or 2 is pretty easy, but to push it to 3 or 4 is much harder (though certainly possible), and to push it to the higher levels is very difficult indeed. To get to 8 or above is rare.



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