Personal Brand Management in the Search Engines in the Google + Age

I recently did a web search for my name and was surprised to see my Google+ account came up as the top result:

I found this odd because:

  • I’ve only been on Google + for a few weeks and have used it only a few times, primarily to drive links to a personal blog
  • Other instances of my name out there would seem to carry far greater relevancy. Specifically, there are mentions of my name on more established publisher sites and sites that have been in existence far longer than Google +.  Examples include this article on ReadWriteWeb and this one or this one onBusiness Insider or my years-old and far more utilized Linked-In or Twitter accounts.

A good way to express this is the comment Joe Hewitt, the original developer of Facebook’s iPhone app, made during Facebook’s keynote address introducing their new Timeline feature:

Google + has been around the equivalent of a blink of an eye in internet years.  How are they suddenly appearing at the top of the search results for a personal brand search?

Digging Deeper

To investigate a bit further I did some more searches for well know people in the tech community who I know are on Google + but also would have plenty of highly relevant potential search results from their widely covered writing online.

  • MG Siegler of Techcrunch
  • Robert Scoble of Scobleizer/Rackspace
  • Tom Anderson, former CEO of MySpace

In each instance, while their Google + account did not appear as the no. 1 search result for their name, they were in pretty prime positions on page one of the search results, taking real estate away from other potential search results (for all intents and purposes page one is the only page where clicks occur).

Results Differ Based on Public Posts

Next I dug into some other personalities for whom, given the findings above, we’d expect to see Google + accounts towards the top of the results:

  • David Pogue of the New York Times
  • Michael Arrington, formerly of Techcrunch (now , famously an unpaid blogger)

Surprisingly, in both instances, I found their Google + accounts on page two of the search results.  When comparing the difference between the two groups I found that those found on page two had not shared any Google +posts publicly while those on page one had.

The conclusion? (from this admittedly small and unscientific study) Google appears to be positioning Google + accounts for personal brand searches on page one for those accounts with public posts while relegating those without public posts to the great beyond.

A Curiosity

At this point I want to stop short of openly accusing Google of anything.  Search algorithms are complex things and there are thousands of factors that go into search results relevancy decisions.  But, it does seem curious that a site that only exited beta days ago is consistently appearing in prime positions on page one for personal brand searches for some of the tech community’s most mentioned names online. For Google, the timing on these kinds of well, biases, couldn’t be worse.  As Eric Schmidt sits testifying before Congress insisting:

“Senator, I can assure you we have not cooked anything,”

a giant blue arrow pointing users to the Google + link appeared on the Google home page.  When it comes to bias, sometimes perception really does start to blur with reality.

Inherent Biases of Complex Search Systems

In thinking about what this means for online marketers, we recognize that there are built-in biases that are inherent to any search system of greater than moderate complexity.  Google makes hundreds, if not thousands of ‘favor factor x over y’ decisions when determining relevancy.  Bing does too, very often making decisions that differ from Google and reflect their own inherent biases. In fact more than 72% of search results differ from Google to Yahoo to Bing (see Conductor’s search disparity study analyzing the difference in search results for the top three engines).  We’ll leave it to the government to determine if Google has unfairly favored their own properties in the search results or if it is the inherent biases of complex search systems is kicking in.

The Takeway

So what’s the takeaway for us as personal brand owners? Facebook has traditionally been a closed system, relatively immune to the prying eyes of the search engines.  When you post an update it typically distributes to your closed network of pre-defined friends (although they have more recently moved into ‘public’ updates as well). The result is that we’ve gotten used to posting to our social networks in a ‘closed system’ manner.  Google + on the other hand, has made public updates indexable by the search engines the new norm, and it can be very easy to fall into the ‘closed system’ mindset and post things not intended for the Google spider.

So when posting on Google+ and the ‘Public’ button is involved, post as though whatever you say will be visible for all the world to see at the top of the search results for your personal brand.  Because it just might be.