Beyond PageRank: Graduating to actionable metrics

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Webmaster level: Beginner

Like any curious netizen, I have a Google Alert set up to email me whenever my name is mentioned online. Usually I get a slow trickle of my forum posts, blog posts, and tweets. But by far the most popular topic of these alerts over the past couple years has been my off-handed mention that we removed PageRank distribution data from Webmaster Tools in one of our 2009 releases.

The fact that people are still writing about this almost two years later—usually in the context of “Startling news from Susan Moskwa: ...”—really drives home how much PageRank has become a go-to statistic for some webmasters. Even the most inexperienced site owners I talk with have often heard about, and want to know more about, PageRank (“PR”) and what it means for their site. However, as I said in my fateful forum post, the Webmaster Central team has been telling webmasters for years that they shouldn't focus so much on PageRank as a metric for representing the success of one’s website. Today I’d like to explain this position in more detail and give you some relevant, actionable options to fill your time once you stop tracking your PR!

Why PageRank?
In 2008 Udi Manber, VP of engineering at Google, wrote on the Official Google Blog:
“The most famous part of our ranking algorithm is PageRank, an algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. PageRank is still in use today, but it is now a part of a much larger system.”
PageRank may have distinguished Google as a search engine when it was founded in 1998; but given the rate of change Manber describes—launching “about 9 [improvements] per week on the average”—we’ve had a lot of opportunity to augment and refine our ranking systems over the last decade. PageRank is no longer—if it ever was—the be-all and end-all of ranking.

If you look at Google’s Technology Overview, you’ll notice that it calls out relevance as one of the top ingredients in our search results. So why hasn’t as much ink been spilled over relevance as has been over PageRank? I believe it’s because PageRank comes in a number, and relevance doesn’t. Both relevance and PageRank include a lot of complex factors—context, searcher intent, popularity, reliability—but it’s easy to graph your PageRank over time and present it to your CEO in five minutes; not so with relevance. I believe the succinctness of PageRank is why it’s become such a go-to metric for webmasters over the years; but just because something is easy to track doesn’t mean it accurately represents what’s going on on your website.

What do we really want?
I posit that none of us truly care about PageRank as an end goal. PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc. The focus on PageRank as a success metric only works if you assume that a higher PageRank results in better ranking, then assume that that will drive more traffic to your site, then assume that that will lead to more people doing-whatever-you-want-them-to-do on your site. On top of these assumptions, remember that we only update the PageRank displayed on the Google Toolbar a few times a year, and we may lower the PageRank displayed for some sites if we believe they’re engaging in spammy practices. So the PR you see publicly is different from the number our algorithm actually uses for ranking. Why bother with a number that’s at best three steps removed from your actual goal, when you could instead directly measure what you want to achieve? Finding metrics that are directly related to your business goals allows you to spend your time furthering those goals.

If I don’t track my PageRank, what should I be tracking?
Take a look at metrics that correspond directly to meaningful gains for your website or business, rather than just focusing on ranking signals. Also consider metrics that are updated daily or weekly, rather than numbers (like PageRank) that only change a few times a year; the latter is far too slow for you to reliably understand which of your changes resulted in the number going up or down (assuming you update your site more than a few times a year). Here are three suggestions to get you started, all of which you can track using services like Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools:
  1. Conversion rate
  2. Bounce rate
  3. Clickthrough rate (CTR)
Conversion rate
A “conversion” is when a visitor does what you want them to do on your website. A conversion might be completing a purchase, signing up for a mailing list, or downloading a white paper. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who convert (perform a conversion). This is a perfect example of a metric that, unlike PageRank, is directly tied to your business goals. When users convert they’re doing something that directly benefits your organization in a measurable way! Whereas your PageRank is both difficult to measure accurately (see above), and can go up or down without having any direct effect on your business.

Bounce rate
A “bounce” is when someone comes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other pages on your site. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits to your site where the visitor bounces. A high bounce rate may indicate that users don’t find your site compelling, because they come, take a look, and leave directly. Looking at the bounce rates of different pages across your site can help you identify content that’s underperforming and point you to areas of your site that may need work. After all, it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if most searchers are bouncing off of it as soon as they visit.

Clickthrough rate (CTR)
In the context of organic search results, your clickthrough rate is how often people click on your site out of all the times your site gets shown in search results. A low CTR means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site looks better. One way to improve your CTR is to look at your site’s titles and snippets in our search results: are they compelling? Do they accurately represent the content of each URL? Do they give searchers a reason to click on them? Here’s some advice for improving your snippets; the HTML suggestions section of Webmaster Tools can also point you to pages that may need help. Again, remember that it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if searchers don’t want to click on it.

Entire blogs and books have been dedicated to explaining and exploring web metrics, so you’ll excuse me if my explanations just scrape the surface; analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s site is a great place to start if you want to dig deeper into these topics. But hopefully I’ve at least convinced you that there are more direct, effective and controllable ways to measure your site’s success than PageRank.

One final note: Some site owners are interested in their site’s PR because people won’t buy links from their site unless they have a high PageRank. Buying or selling links for the purpose of passing PageRank violates our Webmaster Guidelines and is very likely to have negative consequences for your website, so a) I strongly recommend against it, and b) don’t be surprised if we aren’t interested in helping you raise your PageRank or improve your website when this is your stated goal.

We’d love to hear what metrics you’ve found useful and actionable for your website! Feel free to share your success stories with us in the comments here or in our Webmaster Help Forum.

+1 reporting in Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 12:54 PM

Webmaster level: All

It’s been a busy week for us here at the Googleplex. First we released +1 buttons to Google search sites globally, then we announced the beginning of the Google+ project.

The +1 button and the Google+ project are both about making it easier to connect with the people you trust online. For the +1 button, that means bringing advice from trusted friends and contacts right into Google search, letting the users who love your web content recommend it at the moment of decision.

But when you’re managing a website, it's usually not real until you can measure it. So we’re happy to say we’ve got one more announcement to make -- today we’re releasing reports that show you the value +1 buttons bring to your site.

First, +1 metrics in Google Webmaster Tools can show you how the +1 button affects the traffic coming to your pages:



  • The Search Impact report gives you an idea of how +1‘s affect your organic search traffic. You can find out if your clickthrough rate changes when personalized recommendations help your content stand out. Do this by comparing clicks and impressions on search results with and without +1 annotations. We’ll only show statistics on clickthrough rate changes when you have enough impressions for a meaningful comparison.
  • The Activity report shows you how many times your pages have been +1’d, from buttons both on your site and on other pages (such as Google search).
  • Finally, the Audience report shows you aggregate geographic and demographic information about the Google users who’ve +1’d your pages. To protect privacy, we’ll only show audience information when a significant number of users have +1’d pages from your site.
Use the +1 Metrics menu on the side of the page to view your reports. If you haven’t yet verified your site on Google Webmaster Tools, you can follow these instructions to get access.

Finally, you can also see how users share your content using other buttons besides +1 by using Social Plugin Analytics in Google Analytics. Once you configure the JavaScript for Analytics, the Social Engagement reports help you compare the various types of sharing actions that occur on your pages.



  • The Social Engagement report lets you see how site behavior changes for visits that include clicks on +1 buttons or other social actions. This allows you to determine, for example, whether people who +1 your pages during a visit are likely to spend more time on your site than people who don’t.
  • The Social Actions report lets you track the number of social actions (+1 clicks, Tweets, etc) taken on your site, all in one place.
  • The Social Pages report allows you to compare the pages on your site to see which are driving the highest the number of social actions.
If you’re using the default version of the latest Google Analytics tracking code, when you add +1 buttons to your site, we automatically enable Social Plugin Analytics for +1 in your account. You can enable analytics for other social plugins in just a few simple steps.

Social reporting is just getting started. As people continue to find new ways to interact across the web, we look forward to new reports that help business owners understand the value that social actions are providing to their business. So +1 to data!

UPDATE: 7/11/11 1:44pm PST, corrected references to the social plugin analytics feature.

+1 around the world

Monday, June 27, 2011 at 12:31 PM

Webmaster Level: all

A few months ago we released the +1 button on English search results on google.com. More recently, we’ve made the +1 button available to sites across the web, making it easy for the people who love your content to recommend it on Google search.

Today, +1’s will start appearing on Google search pages globally. We'll be starting off with sites like google.co.uk, google.de, google.jp and google.fr, then expanding quickly to most other Google search sites soon after.

We’ve partnered with a few more sites where you’ll see +1 buttons over the coming days.


If you’re a publisher based outside of the US, and you’ve been waiting to put +1 buttons on your site, now’s a good time to get started. Visit the +1 button tool on Google Webmaster Central where the +1 button is already available in 44 languages.

Adding the +1 button could help your site to stand out by putting personal recommendations right at the moment of decision, on Google search. So if you have users who are fans of your content, encourage them to add their voice with +1!

Supporting rel="canonical" HTTP Headers

Friday, June 17, 2011 at 1:05 AM

Webmaster level: Advanced
Based on your feedback, we’re happy to announce that Google web search now supports link rel="canonical" relationships specified in HTTP headers as per the syntax described in section 5 of IETF RFC 5988. Webmasters can use rel="canonical" HTTP headers to signal the canonical URL for both HTML documents and other types of content such as PDF files.
To see the rel="canonical" HTTP header in action, let’s look at the scenario of a website offering a white paper both as an HTML page and as a downloadable PDF alternative, under these two URLs:
  • http://www.example.com/white-paper.html
  • http://www.example.com/white-paper.pdf
In this case, the webmaster can signal to Google that the canonical URL for the PDF download is the HTML document by using a rel="canonical" HTTP header when the PDF file is requested; for example:
GET /white-paper.pdf HTTP/1.1
Host: www.example.com
(...rest of HTTP request headers...)
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/pdf
Link: <http://www.example.com/white-paper.html>; rel="canonical"
Content-Length: 785710
(... rest of HTTP response headers...)
Another common situation in which rel="canonical" HTTP headers may help is when a website serves the same file from multiple URLs (for example when using a content distribution network) and the webmaster wishes to signal to Google the preferred URL.
We currently support these link header elements for web search only. As we see how webmasters are using these elements, we're hoping to add support for them in our other properties. For more information, please see our Help Center articles about canonicalization and the rel="canonical" element. If you have any questions, please ask in our Webmaster Help Forum.

Webinar: Implementing the +1 Button

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Webmaster Level: All

A few weeks ago, we launched the +1 button for your site, allowing visitors to recommend your content on Google search directly from your site. As people see recommendations from their friends and contacts beneath your search results, you could see more, better qualified traffic from Google.

But how do you make sure this experience is user friendly? Where should you position the +1 button? How do you make sure the correct URL is getting +1’d?

On Tuesday, June 21 at 3pm ET, please join Timothy Jordan, Google Developer Advocate, to learn about how to best implement the +1 button on your site. He’ll be talking through the technical implementation details as well as best practices to ensure the button has maximum impact. During the webinar, we’ll review the topics below:
  • Getting started
  • Best practices
  • Advanced options
  • Measurement
  • And, we’ll save time for Q&A
If you would like to attend, please register here. To download the code for your site, visit our +1 button tool on Google Webmaster Central.

Announcing Instant Pages

Webmaster level: All

Earlier today we announced Instant Pages, a new feature to help users get to their desired search results even faster--in some cases even instantly! The Instant Pages feature is enabled by prerendering technology that we are building into Chrome and then is intelligently triggered by web search when we're very confident about which result is the best answer for the user's search.

This prerendering technology is currently in the Chrome Dev Channel and will be going to Beta later this week.

You can see Instant Pages in action in this video:


At Google we're obsessed with speed. We've seen time and time again how an increase in apparent speed leads to a direct increase in user happiness and engagement. Instant Pages helps visitors arrive at your site faster. When we trigger Instant Pages for your site, users can start interacting with your site almost immediately, without having to wait for text and images to load. We'll only trigger Instant Pages when we have very high confidence that your site is the exact result users are looking for. Search traffic will be measured in Webmaster Tools just like before this feature, with only results the user visited counted. We'll take the time this summer before the feature launches in stable versions of Chrome to collect your feedback.

The vast majority of sites will automatically work correctly when prerendered in Chrome. Check out the prerendering post on the Chromium blog if you want to learn more about how prerendering works in Chrome or how you can detect that your site is being prerendered.

Authorship markup and web search

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Webmaster level: Intermediate

Today we're beginning to support authorship markup—a way to connect authors with their content on the web. We're experimenting with using this data to help people find content from great authors in our search results.

We now support markup that enables websites to publicly link within their site from content to author pages. For example, if an author at The New York Times has written dozens of articles, using this markup, the webmaster can connect these articles with a New York Times author page. An author page describes and identifies the author, and can include things like the author’s bio, photo, articles and other links.

If you run a website with authored content, you’ll want to learn about authorship markup in our Help Center. The markup uses existing standards such as HTML5 (rel=”author”) and XFN (rel=”me”) to enable search engines and other web services to identify works by the same author across the web. If you're already doing structured data markup using microdata from schema.org, we'll interpret that authorship information as well.

We wanted to make sure the markup was as easy to implement as possible. To that end, we’ve already worked with several sites to markup their pages, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNET, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker and others. In addition, we’ve taken the extra step to add this markup to everything hosted by YouTube and Blogger. In the future, both platforms will automatically include this markup when you publish content.

We know that great content comes from great authors, and we’re looking closely at ways this markup could help us highlight authors and rank search results.

Pilot Webmaster Tools’ Search Queries data in Google Analytics

Webmaster Level: All

Webmasters have long been asking for better integration between Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Today we’re happy to announce a limited pilot for Search Engine Optimization reports in Google Analytics, based on Search Queries data from Webmaster Tools.

In addition to including Search Queries data found in Webmaster Tools, these Search Engine Optimization reports also take advantage of Google Analytics’ advanced filtering and visualization capabilities for deeper data analysis. For example, you can filter for queries that had more than 100 clicks and see a chart for how much each of those queries contributed to your overall clicks from top queries.


To enable these Search Engine Optimization reports, you should sign up for the pilot and you must be both a Webmaster Tools verified site owner and a Google Analytics administrator. Each additional user who would like to view them also needs to individually sign up for the pilot.

Introducing schema.org: Search engines come together for a richer web

Thursday, June 02, 2011 at 12:10 AM

Webmaster Level: All

Today we’re announcing schema.org, a new initiative from Google, Bing and Yahoo! to create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages. Schema.org aims to be a one stop resource for webmasters looking to add markup to their pages to help search engines better understand their websites.

At Google, we’ve supported structured markup for a couple years now. We introduced rich snippets in 2009 to better represent search results describing people or containing reviews. We’ve since expanded to new kinds of rich snippets, including products, events, recipes, and more.


Example of a rich snippet: a search result enhanced by structured markup. In this case, the rich snippet contains a picture, reviews, and cook time for the recipe.

Adoption by the webmaster community has grown rapidly, and today we’re able to show rich snippets in search results more than ten times as often as when we started two years ago.

We want to continue making the open web richer and more useful. We know that it takes time and effort to add this markup to your pages, and adding markup is much harder if every search engine asks for data in a different way. That’s why we’ve come together with other search engines to support a common set of schemas, just as we came together to support a common standard for Sitemaps in 2006. With schema.org, site owners can improve how their sites appear in search results not only on Google, but on Bing, Yahoo! and potentially other search engines as well in the future.

Now let’s discuss some of the details of schema.org relevant to you as a webmaster:

1) Schema.org contains a lot of new markup types.
We’ve added more than 100 new types as well as ported over all of the existing rich snippets types. If you’ve looked at adding rich snippets markup before but none of the existing types were relevant for your site, it’s worth taking another look. Here are a few popular types:
Or, view a full list of all schema.org types. The new markup types may be used for future rich snippets formats as well as other types of improvements to help people find your content more easily when searching.

2) Schema.org uses microdata.
Historically, we’ve supported three different standards for structured data markup: microdata, microformats, and RDFa. We’ve decided to focus on just one format for schema.org to create a simpler story for webmasters and to improve consistency across search engines relying on the data. There are arguments to be made for preferring any of the existing standards, but we’ve found that microdata strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats, so this is the format that we’ve gone with.

To get an overview of microdata as well as the conventions followed by schema.org, take a look at the schema.org Getting Started guide.

3) We’ll continue to support our existing rich snippets markup formats.
If you’ve already done markup on your pages using microformats or RDFa, we’ll continue to support it. One caveat to watch out for: while it’s OK to use the new schema.org markup or continue to use existing microformats or RDFa markup, you should avoid mixing the formats together on the same web page, as this can confuse our parsers.

4) Test your markup using the rich snippets testing tool.
It’s very useful to test your web pages with markup to make sure we’re able to parse the data correctly. As with previous rich snippets markup formats, you should use the rich snippets testing tool for this purpose. Note that while the testing tool will show the marked up information that was parsed from the page, rich snippets previews are not yet shown for schema.org markup. We’ll be adding this functionality soon.

The schema.org website and the rich snippets testing tool are in English. However, Google shows rich snippets in search results globally, so there’s no need to wait to start marking up your pages.

To learn more about rich snippets and how they relate to schema.org, check out the Rich snippets schema.org FAQ.

Add +1 to help your site stand out

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Webmaster level: Intermediate

When we introduced the +1 button in March, Google search took a small step in an important direction. Search results can be more helpful, and more personal, when recommendations from the people you trust are there to guide your way.

The +1 button can help publishers, too. As potential visitors see recommendations from their friends and contacts beneath your Google search results, you could see more, and better qualified, traffic coming from Google.

Since we announced +1, we’ve gotten lots of requests from Google search users and webmasters alike for +1 buttons in more places than just search results. That’s why today we’re making the +1 button available to sites across the web. Sometimes you want to recommend a web page after you’ve visited it. After all, how do you know you want to suggest that great article on Spanish tapas if you haven’t read it yet?

We’ve partnered with a few sites where you’ll see +1 buttons over the coming days:

Partner LogosAddThisMashableHuffington PostRotten TomatoesNordstromO'ReillyReutersWashington PostBest BuyTechCrunchBloomberg

You'll also start to see +1 buttons on other Google properties such as Android Market, Blogger, Product Search and YouTube.

Adding +1 buttons to your pages is a great way to help your content stand out in Google search. By giving your visitors more chances to +1 your pages, your search results and search ads could show up with +1 annotations more often, helping users see when your pages are most likely to be useful.


To get started, visit the +1 button tool on Google Webmaster Central. You’ll be able to configure a small snippet of JavaScript and add it to the pages where you want +1 buttons to appear. You can pick from a few different button sizes and styles, so choose the +1 button that best matches your site’s layout.


In the common case, a press of the button +1’s the URL of the page it’s on. We recommend some easy ways to ensure this maps as often as possible to the pages appearing in Google search results.

If your site primarily caters to users outside of the US and Canada, you can install the +1 button code now; the +1 button is already supported in 44 languages. However, keep in mind that +1 annotations currently only appear for English search results on Google.com. We’re working on releasing +1 to searchers worldwide in the future.

If you have users who love your content (and we bet you do), encourage them to spread the word! Add the +1 button to help your site stand out with a personal recommendation right at the moment of decision, on Google search.

To stay current on updates to the +1 button large and small, please subscribe to the Google Publisher Buttons Announce Group. For advanced tips and tricks, check our Google Code site. Finally, if you have any questions about using the +1 button on your websites, feel free to drop by the Webmaster Help Forum.

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