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Dangling links

Dangling linksAn important aspect of outbound links is the lack of them on web pages, and the relationship between ddangling links and page rank. When a web page has no outbound links, its PageRank cannot be distributed to other pages. Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin characterise links to those pages as dangling links.

The effect of dangling links shall be illustrated by a small example website. We take a look at a site consisting of three pages A, B and C. In our example, the pages A and B link to each other. Additionally, page A links to page C. Page C itself has no outbound links to other pages. At the damping factor of 0.75, we get the following equations for the single pages' PageRank values:

PR(A) = 0.25 + 0.75 PR(B)
PR(B) = 0.25 + 0.375 PR(A)
PR(C) = 0.25 + 0.375 PR(A)

Solving the equations gives us the following PageRank values:

PR(A) = 14/23
PR(B) = 11/23
PR(C) = 11/23

Dangling links and page rankSo, the accumulated PageRank of all three pages is 36/23 which is just over half the value that we could have expected if page A had links to one of the other pages. According to Page and Brin, the number of dangling links in Google's index is fairly high. A reason therefore is that many linked pages are not indexed by Google, for example because indexing is disallowed by a robots.txt file.

Additionally, Google meanwhile indexes several file types and not HTML only. PDF or Word files do not really have outbound links and, hence, dangling links could have major impacts on Page ranking algorithm. I wouldn't worry about your PR, its not a ranking factor and so thinking about it so much is not needed. For example, have a look at some pdf sharing sites and you will see those work just fine and link to many pdf's. I wouldn't advice blocking google from the pdf's because that will cut down the amount of pages and content your site has, so no I wouldn't nofollow them nor place them in the robots file personally.

In order to prevent PageRank from the negative effects of dangling links, pages wihout outbound links have to be removed from the database until the PageRank values are computed. According to Page and Brin, the number of outbound links on pages with dangling links is thereby normalised. As shown in our illustration, removing one page can cause new dangling links and, hence, removing pages has to be an iterative process. After the PageRank calculation is finished, PageRank can be assigned to the formerly removed pages based on the PageRank algorithm. Therefore, as many iterations are needed as for removing the pages. Regarding our illustration, page C could be processed before page B. At that point, page B has no PageRank yet and, so, page C will not receive any either. Then, page B receives PageRank from page A and during the second iteration, also page C gets its PageRank.

Regarding our example website for dangling links, removing page C from the database results in page A and B each having a PageRank of 1. After the calculations, page C is assigned a PageRank of 0.25 + 0.375 PR(A) = 0.625. So, the accumulated PageRank does not equal the number of pages, but at least all pages which have outbound links are not harmed from the dangling links and page rank problem.

By removing dangling links from the database, they do not have any negative effects on the PageRank of the rest of the web. Since PDF files are dangling links, links to PDF files do not diminish the PageRank of the linking page or site. So, PDF files can be a good means of search engine optimisation for Google.

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