“You jump into the mirror / and you’re invisible” (Kate Bush)
In March 2012, I have pulled myself into a one-year experiment on search engine visibility: for the introductory slide of a presentation about Web Analytics I googled my name to see whether any of my work as a Strategist/Analytics expert would be visible.
Not much there, really. I haven’t been marketing myself actively.
So I have taken a screen shot of the first result page, and wondered: “What if I wouldn’t actively produce any content for my blog or produce any tweets?” “How would my visibility on Google change if I withdrew from creating content such as blog posts (visible for Search Engines) for a year?”
Pretty much a year has passed. Here are the results from my little “visibility” experiment.
In March 2012, the aggregated values for results linked to my person was 26, the aggregated value for results linked to contents I’ve created was 15:
Nearly one year later, the respective aggregated “person” value was 34, the aggregated “content” value dropped to 2:
What had happened in between?
During the year, I have created an account on Slideshare, and one on Vimeo. Both sites are ranking pretty high in Google (my Slideshare account doesn’t have any contents, my Vimeo account two barely viewed videos I did for/with a friend of mine).
My Facebook settings were and are so that search results related to my person are not publicly visible.
All other content-related previous entries (the bold ones in table 1) have disappeared within the past year, as well as my “person” entry for Drupal.
How to interpret these results?
Needless to say that this experiment is of course not providing statistically significant results. Nonetheless it triggers some ideas (and speculations) about search engines.
1. Results from Social networks generally rank very high in search engines for people searches. I would have had no idea whether there is any such thing as a “people search” classification, but adding the term “blog” to the search query simply brought up a similar “people” reference from LinkedIn. I have listed my blog’s URL there, but couldn’t find any reference to the actual blog. Adding “westend” instead to the search query brought up the site you are reading content from at the moment, so I would assume: there is no classification for searches in categories of “people” or “contents” – just stochastics.
2. Consequently, everything that has your first name / last name in the title or the URL will be regarded as highly relevant for the corresponding name search. Social networks use vanity URLs (of the format FirstnameLastname), and are thus considered highly relevant for searches like that.
3. As a matter of fact: Being found for content you want to be associated with (like: blog posts you have written) has become a lot harder. The “people results” are ranking so much higher they are obstructing those “content results”. The latter are thus only accessible indirectly.
4. It is tough to tell whether “own” channels are really dependent on fresh contents. I would suppose so but need to resume content production to verify.
5. Google Plus is showing a growing influence. Search results from Google Plus members are showing a small portrait photo along with them – in Google search, of course. And, certainly: not for me, as I yet didn’t tap into Google Plus.
6. XING has become popular beyond their traditional German-speaking market (huge increase in their rankings on google.com). Or, then: there are more people with the name “Michael Dlugosch” registered these days. On a side note: kudos to my namesake Michael Dlugosch, a German film critique who runs and constantly publishes on rottentomatoes.com. He ranks high for his presence on XING. But it’s not me. I have deleted my account when I moved to Finland.
7. Facebook’s highest profile number for users with the name “Michael Dlugosch” is 73 (format: /michael.dlugosch.[number]). Both Facebook’s own search and Google are only showing a fraction of this. Either people are keeping their profile access limited (as I try to), or they have deleted their accounts.
8. The “Flickr Photostream” result page has disappeared completely. This goes at least for me. Not for Miemo, who actually has a crowd of people following him and commenting on (which he deserves – see Miemo on flickr).
Within the “Google Image Search” results, there are still plenty of photographs taken by me. There, however, images accessed through applications using the Flickr API (such as picssr.com or lurvely.com) are ranking higher than the Flickr images themselves. Predominantly the thumbnails seem to have been indexed from flickr, while the API services are caching ‘ze real zing’.
9. When repeating this search on google.fi, on google.co.uk, and on google.de im March 2013, the results differ somewhat, but to no significant extent from my perspective. Just for the sake of completeness:
On google.fi the aggregate values were 38 for the person and 5 for the contents, on google.co.uk I have found 38 and 6, and on google.de the result was 12 and 0.
10. While not doing things visible for Google, I continued my regular activity on Facebook (but kept away from Twitter, largely). As a result, my Klout score went up from 33 to 41 within that year. The Twitter score contribution was as low at 6% (as expected), Facebook 61%, LinkedIn: 34%. The latter came as a surprise, as I didn’t post a single thing there when writing these lines. I didn’t count in that endorsements seem to be posted automatically, and might be miscounted as “activity”.
While Google’s mission statement still is “to make the world’s knowledge accessible”, this little experiment seemed to show me that – duh – searches for people’s names are more likely to bring up results featuring people profiles than contents these people have produced (here is where the micro formats tried to tap in a couple of years back, but they didn’t quite succeed).
That doesn’t come as a surprise, as two things are largely corresponding: (1) profile pages allow for automatic generation of content displayed in result pages (esp. with vanity URLs). (2) The more popular the social network in question, the more likely it will produce a well ranking search result.
This creates a self-amplifying mechanism: a social network becomes more popular by providing search results ranking high, and those high-ranking results are thus becoming more likely to be clicked, eventually producing a higher ranking.
Unless you are a celebrity, chances are high that you can find yourself online for simply any profile page you create in any social network (the bigger, the better). This seems to be perfectly suited for “vanity googling” – and as long as it is all about the person (Hey! Look! It’s me!), people will eventually appreciate this.
Figuring out what a person does (for a living, or: as a mission), is undeniably harder. Certainly: profile pages do allow people to show up the way they want to, but despite the term “social search” being widely used these days, we are still looking at a staged presentation that has nothing to do with “social”.
If you look at your amount of friends (Facebook) or connections (LinkedIn) to determine your standing in Social Media, you just can see how many people have yet acknowledged that you exist.
If you take the matches for your name on Google as a measurement for your online presence (or, as in my original approach: for my degree of invisibility), you predominantly see the breadcrumb traces you’ve left behind for yourself. If you were lucky enough to do that with services having a high number of participants, you are misattributing the network success as your own.
There is hope, though: at the bottom of Google’s result page, there is a section labeled “Searches related to [search term]“. With a bit of luck, you’ll find these entries reflecting a bit of what you do, as it is said to relate to what other people have searched for.
And, as with all other things social: it’s not about what you think you can do or control. It’s whether others give a damn about what you do or don’t do. And with that regard, I am more than lucky.
Happy 11th wedding anniversary, my Dear! Thanks to you, I don’t go unnoticed!