My friend Ethan Lewis recently wrote a post for his blog about his ranking as an Ethan Lewis within Google’s search results, and it’s interesting reading for a few reasons. First of all, I think Ethan should be congratulated for openly writing about something that many of us probably do, but as many of us don’t want to talk about. (“Ego-surfing,” he calls it, sourcing the term to Wikipedia.)
On the other hand, Ethan’s post has the benefit of suggesting that people should do this sort of thing—and I can say, from the perspective of a recruiter for my firm, that an amazing number of people seem not to Google themselves, or to have any awareness at all of how the internet represents them.
But Ethan gets to a more interesting question when he writes about understanding Google’s page ranking algorithms, and his desire to wind up on top just by being himself. No “SEO” or “search engine optimization” techniques—which is good, because much of this is pay-for-link spam, a curse of the web. He wants to be the number one Ethan Lewis on Google just by virtue of being, well, the number one Ethan Lewis. That seems to me to be a reasonable ambition.
Still, I think boosting Ethan Lewis to number one might, by necessity, require a few small and entirely natural (i.e., not SEO-type) changes. We know that search engines look at incoming and outgoing links, and about the ranking for pages on both sides. The system is mutually reinforcing, which is why link spam works (until the algorithms are tweaked to eliminate it… until it pops up again…). So one idea might be for Ethan to pull his Icarus P. Anybody blog into his http://www.ethanlewis.org/ domain name, perhaps with a subfolder or sub-domain. (I highly recommend WordPress for this. Blogger stopped supporting FTP publishing, and I made the switch very easily.) While I appreciate the origins of the blog’s name, it does kind of work against natural identification with Ethan himself. And, anyway, the name wouldn’t have to change—just the web address.
There’s also the Google Profiles tool, which lets people set up specific profiles within Google itself. Now that doesn’t guarantee visibility, and Ethan has a profile of sorts through Blogger—but the Blogger profile probably doesn’t get a whole lot of visibility, whereas Google’s maneuvers into the people/profile business might help. Getting a LinkedIn profile is another useful approach.
Of course, Ethan also wrote: “Another thing that affects my ego-surfing is that I want to be the top result on Google when searching for “Ethan Lewis”, but I don’t want to do any work to get there.” So the above suggestions might sound like work. I suppose there’s some truth to that.
And then you just have to ask: will my writing this post for my friend Ethan Lewis, with links to his website and his blog, help boost his ranking? Maybe. But he didn’t pay me to do it.
Update: I posted this entry, and then I sat down to read the paper. Yes, the actual newspaper. The New York Times‘ business section has a story today–another in its great “Haggler” series, by David Segal–about Google search results and a number of “lead generation” companies that have figured out how to scam the results, specifically in the locksmith business. “Picking the Lock of Google’s Search” is worth reading, especially in light of the above. And meanwhile, in what is presumably an oversight on the part of the Times’ web editors, there’s no link to Ballard Lock & Key, the subject of their story, so I’m including one here. Small consolation, no doubt.