If you've ever wondered how Google determines the order of its search results (which sites display first, second, third, etc.), the answer may lie within something called PageRank.

PageRank is the name of one of the many algorithms, or sets of rules for calculating, used by Google to rank their search results. It may be the oldest and therefore the most well known, but it's not the only way Google ranks site.

What does PageRank do?

In the simplest of terms, PageRank helps Google determine how important a website or page is based on the number and/or quality of links it has leading to it from other websites.

Somewhat ironically, Google itself does not provide its own definitive explanation of PageRank, and this often leads to misinterpretations as to its function and importance by site owners and SEO companies.

However, a vital element for understanding how PageRank works is that it's not entirely based on the sheer number of links to a site, but rather on the importance of those links. It is generally assumed that importance outweighs quantity when it comes to PageRank's calculations.

As an example, it would be much more beneficial if your website had one link to it from an established and very popular website than if it were to have several links to it from many unknown sites. In fact, sometimes a link to your site could be from such a low quality source (which Google classifies as spam) that it would actually harm your site's ranking.

So to increase my ranking I should get as many links as possible?

Probably not. While that may seem counterintuitive, Google more and more has been emphasizing the importance of returning natural results based on high quality content. The idea being that if you want your site to rank higher in search results, you should concentrate on providing great content - or basically creating a good reason that your site should rank higher than others (this is what we do here at DevFinder).

There's also been mounting evidence that you'd be better off not focussing on getting links to your site (known as link building).

John Mueller, who is a webmaster trends analyst at Google, had this to say during a Webmaster Central discussion in February 2015:

We do use links as part of our algorithms but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website than it actually helps.

But while it may not be in your best interest to employ link building efforts (instead letting that happen naturally as a result of good content), it's good to know how links affect your rankings. The takeaway then is that when it comes to PageRank, the importance and quality of the site's linking to your site matter the most.

To find out which sites Google considers the most important (and therefore have a higher PageRank), simply perform a search on Google using regular search terms that relate to your site, service or products. The results will show you everything you need to know. Also, if you take the time, you should be able to learn a thing or two about why the top sites are ranking higher than your own.

Fun Fact: PageRank was named after the company's co-founder Larry Page.