Is BrowseRank The New PageRank?
I've been on a research paper reading binge recently. I've got about 10 or so under my belt now in just the last couple of weeks. I've discovered they make great reading on my train ride to work. Relatively short and to the point. Sure they're often full of crazy math formulas, but those are easy to gloss over and instead concentrate on the discussion. Many of the papers were written years ago. Despite their age, the information is... ummm you know... informative. I mean that. My most recent reading, BrowseRank: Letting Web Users Vote for Page Importance, is actually from 2008 which makes it both informative and relevant to future SEO efforts.
BrowseRank is a measure developed by Microsoft with the purpose of outperforming Google's PageRank. Such an effort shouldn't come as a surprise as there is always a better way to build a mousetrap. Even Google has acknowledged that PageRank is no longer as effective as it once was given their devaluing of it when it comes to ranking search results. More specifically, BrowseRank set out to address two shortcomings with PageRank:
- PageRank relies on the link graph, but this link graph is easily manipulated by spammers who automate the creation of pages and links in numbers that are almost unimaginable. Of course these links are worthless for determining true page quality or value.
- PageRank ignores the time spent on a page. That is, if a user spends 5 minutes reading a page, that page is likely more valuable than one that takes just 10 seconds to read. PageRank is primarily concerned with where a user ends up via clicking on links, but it completely misses out on the feedback available by time spent on a page.
Using a dataset of 950 million unique URLs and 3 billion data points consisting of URL visited, time visited, and whether the visit originated from a link, the Microsoft researchers determined that BrowseRank outperformed both PageRank and TrustRank. This improvement was seen at both the website-level and the page-level. That's pretty impressive given that just three metrics were used. Improvement, in this case, means a higher ranking for pages that users actually find engaging such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube rather than pages that are just linked to a lot such as Adobe (e.g. to download Acrobat Reader).
In addition, BrowseRank was more effective at filtering spam because it doesn't rely on easy-to-manipulate link data (critical to PageRank) or a potentially faulty seed list (critical to TrustRank).
I think this idea of user feedback is already in play at search engines. You can see strong evidence of this just by looking at what might come of the data already being collected by toolbars. And acquisitions of social media sites which provide strong, real-time signals of user interest are surely not just plays for additional advertising revenue. More tangible evidence is apparent with Google's almost immediate ranking of hot submissions on social bookmarking sites which wouldn't be happening as fast if PageRank had to be calculated.
Can you imagine the world of SEO where links had no direct ranking value? It'd be like every link on the web suddenly had a nofollow slapped on it. Links would then return to their original purpose of providing a jump point for additional information. An equally important to question to ask is whether your business is capable of surviving with such a change.