First, let’s establish a simple example which we can use to frame our discussion. Let’s assume you are the partner in a boutique strategy consulting firm. Lets further say that your specialization is advising technical founders of high-growth, venture-backed companies on how to be better at selling. Now, you could probably identify a number of search phrases that your potential clients might use when interested in this particular topic. Users may search for something like “technical sales consultant to founder”. Or, they may just start by looking for content (instead of consulting) and search on “successful technical selling”. In either case, Google has an algorithm that figures out which websites of the hundreds of millions out there should be displayed in rank order on the results page. These are the organic (i.e. non-paid) results. You want to rank high on these results. [Author’s note: If you do actually search Google on “successful technical selling”, you’ll find that my OnStartups.com blog ranks #1].
Though Google’s algorithm is extremely sophisticated, it boils down to something like this:
Search Ranking = Relevance * PageRank
Relevance is basically the measure of how your website (or more accurately one of your web pages) matches the search phrase the user has entered. Measuring relevance is a relatively sophisticated process, but it boils down to some fundamentals like the title of the page, words on the page and how frequently they occur, etc. So, if your home page has things like “technical selling”, it drives up the relevance for this particular search. The reason my blog article is ranked #1 on Google for “successful technical selling” is in no small part because of the title OF ONE OF MY ARTICLES (“Successful Selling Tips For The Technically Gifted”). Basically, Google figures out what your page is “about” by looking at it’s content (and by looking at other sites with similar content that are linking to yours). It then uses this to figure out how relevant you are for a particular search phrase.
PageRank is an independent measure of Google’s perception of the quality/authority/credibility of an individual web page. It does not depend on any particular search phrase. For the public (you and me), Google conveniently reports this as a number from 0-10 (10 being the best). So, assuming for a second that your web page and your competitors web-page has the same relevance – then whoever has the higher PageRank gets the better ranking – and shows up at the top of the results page. This is why PageRank is so important. Your relevance is based on your content (if you’re a consulting company specializing in technical selling, your relevance for stainless steel monkey wrench searches is going to be understandably low). Your PageRank is what counts.