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How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites

30-second summary:

  • The PageRank still exists and here’s a deeper look at how Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model plays a key role
  • A well thought linking strategy both internally and externally for your ecommerce site can amplify search visibility
  • Google expert, Susan Dolan and Founder of leading agency NOVOS, Samuel Hurley share an ecommerce SEO guide ahead of the holiday season

PageRank is a patent Google introduced, which used links to help determine websites rankings in the SERPs. The algorithm was named after Google founder Larry Page.

The original patent has not been renewed and has since been updated by other algorithms, which work to achieve the same goal. However, by understanding the fundamental principles, we can better understand how to position our eCom sites to drive traffic and revenue.

PageRank key concepts

PageRank is passed between websites through links and can be distributed through a single website with internal links.

Some pages have a higher PageRank than others and thus can pass on more PageRank to pages they link to. When a page links to another, a dampening factor is applied. The original patent set this as 0.85 – so a page with a PageRank of one, linking to another page would pass 0.85 PageRank.

Key update: the Reasonable Surfer Model

Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model indicates that a link that is more likely to be clicked on will pass more PageRank than a link that is less likely to be clicked on. This is determined by a whole host of factors, including font size, color, and anchor text. However, the position of a link on a page is also something that we often have control over as SEOs and that we can, therefore, leverage.

Here is a simple, rather crude representation of how certain links will pass more/less PageRank based on the prominence of a link and how likely it is to be clicked on.

How link prominence determines PageRank value

Build external links through to key pages

As linking pages pass PageRank, it stands to reason that we want to generate backlinks to key pages that we want to rank. For most ecommerce sites, the pages that rank for the highest volume and most revenue-driving keywords are category pages.

Wherever possible, we should therefore look to use tactics that support link building through to the pages that drive revenue, which for most sites looks something like:

  • Category pages
  • Product pages
  • Homepage
  • Blog posts

This is obviously easier said than done. Practicing these tactics with an overall aim to drive PageRank to your key pages. This reduces the dampening factors at play.

How to get past this

One common way to bypass this difficulty in building links to category pages is internally linking to key category pages we want to push from blog posts/Digital PR pieces that then get links themselves.

Although the PageRank passed to the page we ideally want to rank will undergo a dampening factor, this can still be more beneficial than failing to get any links at all to your target page.

It is worth considering how relevant the category page is to the blog/PR piece it is being included on, as well as where the links are placed on the page, being mindful of the impact the Reasonable Surfer dampening effect can have.

1. Build links from pages with high PageRank

As any Digital PR will know, high authority pages or pages that have lots of PageRank to pass onto your own site are some of the most sought-after links to attain.

Most of the time, this is actually viewed at a domain level, however as is demonstrated in this great review of how PageRank works by Majestic, a domain that should theoretically have a high PageRank can actually be significantly decreased at a page level by its own internal linking.

One caveat for Digital PR teams in this regard is not being too reliant on domain-level metrics as a proxy for links that pass a lot of PageRank and are thus good for ranking. Exactly which pages have high PageRank is nigh-on impossible to know, and although an over-reliance on third-party tools is never optimal, they may be the closest we can get to figuring out PageRank passed by a specific page, rather than a domain.

2. Build links from relevant sites

As part of the Reasonable Surfer Model, it suggests that a link is less likely to be followed if the links are unrelated to the document:

“This reasonable surfer model reflects the fact that not all of the links associated with a document are equally likely to be followed. Examples of unlikely followed links may include “Terms of Service” links, banner advertisements, and links unrelated to the document.”  (Source)

As a result, building links from sites that are of higher relevance to your own site, is likely to pass more PageRank.

3. Remember it is not just about the number of links

Due to how PageRank is calculated, the PageRank value passed by one site can be drastically higher than the PageRank passed by the culmination of 1000s of others combined.

This is why the reliance on the overall number of links can be misleading.

Use internal linking to spread PageRank

We need to consider a few different methods while identifying pages that will benefit the most from ranking and how you pass PageRank around an ecommerce site:

  1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves
  2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site
  3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked

1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves

Pages that have high PageRank, from which we can assume to be the pages most linked to from external sites, can be used to pass PageRank to – 

Homepage linking

The best example of how you can do this is through the homepage. The homepage for most websites tends to be one of the most, if not the most externally linked to page on a site.

This means that in terms of PageRank, the homepage has the most to pass on to other internal pages.

By carefully selecting which pages you link to from the homepage, and therefore pass the high levels of PageRank to the key pages you want to rank.

2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site

Another method to consider is how frequently you link to the most important pages you want to rank.

Considering that each page can pass PageRank on – this stands to reason that if a page is internally linked to more frequently, it is likely to pass on more as compared to a page less internally linked to (although obviously influenced by the PageRank of the linking pages).

Therefore, you should be considering where you can add internal links to ensure that important pages are linked to more frequently, including:

Global navigation

Due to being outside of the main body content of the page, we can reasonably assume there is a dampening factor applied to links in the menu. However, given its role in navigation, this is likely to be far less than in the footer. 

Therefore, since the global navigation is, as the name suggests, linked globally from every page on the site, the sheer number of links that will be passing PageRank is likely to funnel to those pages included in the navigation. These should therefore be the key pages you want to be ranking.

Breadcrumbs

As long-time fans of breadcrumbs at NOVOS, their benefit of passing PageRank to key pages should not be underestimated, due to the frequency with which different levels of pages are linked to.

The benefit of breadcrumbs on ecommerce sites (outside of usability benefits for the customers) is that they pass PageRank up to the core pages that generally rank for competitive keywords. They are typically helpful to rank the categories.

Most ecommerce websites have a pyramid structure with the homepage at the top, followed by some core categories, an increasing number of subcategories, and lots of product pages. By implementing breadcrumbs on the site, you use the pyramid structure to your advantage (both SEO and CX wise). Since every product page will link up to its relevant subcategories and category, and every subcategory will link through to its relevant category.

In this sense, you distribute internal links as an inverse pyramid, concentrating the highest number (if we disregard the homepage) on the core categories that are the pages generally targeted for high volume keywords. In this sense, your ecommerce site stands a great chance of receiving large amounts of PageRank from internal links.

Product pages also generally are easier to build links to and also naturally generate them. The higher PageRank product pages can distribute upwards, the greater is the relevance – which implies lesser chances of suffering significantly from dampening factors.

Hierarchy of ecommerce site structure and how PageRank can be transferred

Footer

Based on the Reasonable Surfer Model we can assume that the PageRank passed by footer links is significantly impacted by dampening factors. However, the fact that these links are site-wide may mean that there is some benefit to including important pages in the footer for the accumulation of PageRank.

3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked

As the Reasonable Surfer Model applied to the likelihood of a link being clicked on a page, it is therefore worth considering whereabouts on a page. This could also mean considering page templates in general links.

For example, in a content strategy, where multiple blogs are being written on a given relevant topic to support a category page, linking to the category page early in the article, with clearly related anchor text, is likely to drive more PageRank than right at the end of an article. On a case-by-case basis, this distinction may appear trivial, however, on an ecommerce site with hundreds and thousands of blogs, the PageRank passed in total may be significant.

Susan Dolan is a Search Engine Optimization Consultant first to crack the Google PageRank algorithm as confirmed by Eric Schmidt’s office in 2014. 

Samuel Hurley is the Founder of NOVOS, Global SEO Agency Of The Year 2020 and 2021.

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The post How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

https://www.searchenginewatch.com/2021/10/22/how-to-use-pagerank-for-ecommerce-websites/




PageRank sculpting: How to get more from your links

30-second summary:

  • SEO strategists focused on link building often forget that it’s much easier to optimize their existing link equity than it is to build more.
  • Large enterprise and ecommerce websites with thousands of landing pages often spread PageRank too thin, sending link equity to pages that are unlikely to ever rank.
  • SEO strategists can achieve dramatic ranking improvements by changing the internal linking profile of their websites to concentrate more PageRank on their highest-value landing pages.
  • An iterative approach to internal link edits with a crawler, A/B testing, and site rollbacks allows webmasters to make adjustments until they get their PageRank distribution right.

Over the past decade, some SEOs have loudly proclaimed that the art of PageRank sculpting is dead. As is often true when armchair technologists voice their opinions with clickbait headlines, they got it dead wrong. In fact, the larger the site and the more PageRank it has, the more effective PageRank sculpting can be.

PageRank-driven link algorithms are Google’s original authority metrics. They are still the fundamental basis for how authority is evaluated on a per-page and per-domain basis. PageRank even underlies the PA/DA metrics from Moz and UR/DR from Ahrefs. Google uses its PageRank algorithms to separate the signal from the noise in its massive 30 trillion page index and provide high-quality search results. 

Call me a traditionalist, but one of the reasons I love experimenting with PageRank is because it is an onsite strategy that I have 100% control over. Earning new links is great, but it’s time-consuming work. Maximizing the value of my existing links is much easier than building new ones. For websites with large existing backlink profiles, it’s often more immediately impactful. 

Not trying to use PageRank to your advantage is a major missed opportunity, particularly for enterprise-level or e-commerce sites with hundreds to thousands of landing pages. This post will break down three powerful PageRank strategies that I use with my clients to improve their rankings. But first — some history.

How PageRank sculpting died and why it should come back

Once upon a time, Google offered full transparency about their PageRank calculations for any page on the internet directly from their database. SEOs knew which pages had more PageRank and did everything they could to capitalize on it. 

PageRank toolbar

One of the ways SEOs used to do PageRank sculpting was by using nofollow tags to direct more link juice to specific pages. Google responded by making it so that all links on a page transfer the same amount of equity, regardless of nofollows. Also, Google decided to deprecate and later fully shutter their PageRank API endpoints. 

Although we no longer have a window into PageRank metrics, it is still being distributed across our sites, so thinking about where we are sending it is really important. I regularly see large websites with multiple landing pages that target too many competitive keywords. Ninety-five percent of their pages get no traffic, but their PageRank is being stretched across all of them. 

Some ecommerce sites have a product page for every SKU in their catalog, resulting in too much PageRank being sent to inventory that’s low-value, out-of-stock, or unlikely to rank on Google. Those ecommerce sites that dynamically create new pages from a template for every city or state often only rank for keywords with low search volume. Those kinds of pages usually don’t have enough unique content for Google to see them as valuable, so sending link equity there is a complete waste of precious PageRank.

New ecommerce sites with thousands of product SKUs right off-the-bat never work because they’ve spread their site authority across too many pages and don’t have enough PageRank for the pages that matter. When you look at successful large sites like Amazon (which has over 300 million landing pages), they put their most important product segments into the navigation menu, so they can direct their domain’s PageRank where they want it for SEO purposes. 

So how do you shift your page PageRank in a way that actually has an impact? You do it through internal links. Internal links spread around your link equity from one page of your site to another. Here are some of the internal linking strategies that I’ve used to shift PageRank and produce dramatic results for large websites.

#1: Reclaim lost PageRank by redirecting broken internal pages

A page that is 404-ing cannot rank in search results and doesn’t pass PageRank to other pages. One of the first ways you can get more out of your links is by redirecting those broken internal links to your highest-value landing pages. 

As we build our websites over time, site structure changes, and URL permalinks can change too. This is especially true for older websites with a lot of history, as well as larger websites with lots of web pages. The links that point to your site are static, so it’s very common for older backlinks to point to broken pages. It’s also common that old internal links in blog posts or other content regions of our site point to pages that no longer exist. Google’s crawlers see all of this, and it reflects the poorly on-site quality.

To reclaim that PageRank, you just need to create redirects from the 404ing page to the appropriate landing page. Here are a few strategies for finding your broken backlinks and 404ing pages:

  1. Google Search Console: Check your 404 logs to see a list of broken links and pages
  2. Audit your incoming backlinks: Use a backlink analysis tool to test the pages where the incoming links are going to make sure they are resolving. If you know how to code, you can build a simple Python script to do this for you.
  3. Analyze server logfiles: If you’re tech-savvy, check your apache or Nginx log files to find 404ing pages, especially those crawled by Googlebot.

It’s a good idea to do this regularly, especially for dynamic sites with a lot of content. I like to run my crawler across our sites every month to make sure all of the internal links are pointing to valid landing pages without any 301 redirects or 404ing broken pages. This is a signal to Google that there’s a webmaster looking after the site and the site is high-quality.

It’s important to think about whether the content of your redirected pages is topically relevant to the old page. Universally redirecting 404s back to your homepage is lazy and not a great idea. Once you identify the broken links pointing to your site, find landing pages that would make sense to redirect them to. 

Also, keep in mind that the PageRank algorithm has a “damping factor”. Each time PageRank transfers from page to page, it incurs a 15% loss, including across redirects. For internal links, there’s no reason to be losing 15% of your internal PageRank. For external links, a 301 redirect lets you capture 85% of the link equity, which is much better than getting 0% with a 404. 

#2: Concentrate the PageRank of your domain onto the pages that really matter

Google uses the internal linking structure of your website to calculate the amount of PageRank on each page. Most sites have the bulk of their PageRank on their home page, which then passes link juice through to the rest of the site. Pages that are closer to the homepage, like those linked to in a navigation menu and footer, or pages that are internally linked to frequently, will always have more PageRank. 

PageRank-animation-2

Image source: Linkgraph.io

To identify which pages on your site you should remove or push deeper, check Google Analytics to see which of your landing pages aren’t getting organic traffic. It helps to build a list of the pages you want to take PageRank away from, as well as the highest opportunity landing pages on your site that you want to push more PageRank towards. Here are a few strategies for how to concentrate PageRank where you want it to go.

  1. Use your header and footer: They serve as a kind of buoy for PageRank across your domain, so linking the most important pages on your site in them concentrates your PageRank onto those important pages.
  2. Remove the worst performing pages: To make your internal linking more effective, don’t have pages in the header and footer that don’t get traffic or rank well. Remove links to them from the home page, nest them deeper into your site, merge pages, or remove them altogether.
  3. Create category pages: Category pages are a great way to build silos of PageRank that you can concentrate on select pages. Prioritize the items on these pages, and link to pages that matter the most near the top of the page.
  4. Use a site:search on Google: The order in which your pages appear will help you understand which pages that search engines see as the most important by PageRank.
  5. Use Blog Content: Blog content allows you to link to your high-value landing pages in a way that is contextually relevant. This helps reinforce topical relevance, depth, and authority for your most important pages.

#3: A/B test your PageRank sculpting

For those who want to attempt some heavy PageRank shifting, it’s important to take an iterative approach to your internal link edits. It helps to use a version control system (like Git) or site snapshots that you can deploy and crawl in a staging environment. As I make my edits, I recrawl my site in the staging environment each time to see how much more PageRank I’m getting on the pages that matter.

Once I’m ready, I’ll deploy the new version live and then monitor my keyword rankings for the affected pages over the course of a week or two. If you’ve picked the right pages to prune and promote, you should see a nice lift in keyword rankings where it matters. If not, you can easily rollback. 

PageRank sculpting works best when used on a site with high-quality landing pages with good UI/UX and strong core web vitals. As with all SEO strategies, they work best when combined. If your primary pages are not high quality or have poor UI/UX, no amount of PageRank shifting is going to get them onto page one. 

Overall, larger websites run a greater risk of spreading link equity too thin simply due to their size. But for those that have quality pages, PageRank sculpting is an ideal strategy for helping Google recognize the pages that matter most.

What are your thoughts on PageRank sculpting? Have you ever tried your hand at it? Feel free to share your thoughts and queries in the comments section.

Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, an award-winning digital marketing and SEO agency that provides SEO, paid media, and content marketing services. He is also the founder and CEO of SearchAtlas, a software suite of free SEO tools. You can find Manick on Twitter @madmanick.

PageRank sculpting: How to get more from your links