Monday, September 10, 2012

Fame is fleeting; Search is forever

A year ago this month I made a decision to cut back on this blog. I promised that I'd publish things here from time to time, but I was not going to post with anything like the frequency of earlier years. That was, apparently, a very bad decision. 

Allow me to explain.

Late in May of this year I found myself engaged in a frustrating conversation with my preschool-aged daughter. One of her friends had told her that people who are are on TV and have their own Websites are famous -- and that famous is the most wonderful thing a person can be.

My daughter, remembering that I’d worked on TV and have my own Website, was thrilled. So when I came home that afternoon she announced in a voice filled with both pride and glee that I was famous, just like Harry Potter and President Obama.

I tried to explain to her that I was no such thing. But I seemed only to confuse her. She was adamant that because I had been on TV and have a Website, I was famous. "Just Google yourself," she said. "You'll see."

So I did.

I opened a browser, went to Google, typed in my name. And there I was. There I was in this blog. There I was on Twitter. There I was on LinkedIn and there I was mentioned in an article in Folio magazine.

Now being visible in Google is hardly the same as being famous, as you know. But that's not an easy concept for a child to understand. Particularly when she insists on searching the names of some other folks she knows ... none of whom showed up on the search engine results page.

So I tried another tactic. "It's not fair to search just for someone's name," I said. "That's not what being famous is about. You have to search about what they do, you have to search about what they're famous for, then you can see if they're really famous."

"So," my daughter said, "search for stuff from your business. Search 'B2B journalism.'"

So I did. I entered "B2B journalism" into the search box, braced myself for a conversation about how Internet famous isn't the same as really famous, hit return....and ... much to my dismay ... I wasn't there.

Now perhaps you're not surprised. Why should you be? It's extremely unlikely that anyone other than me would know what the Google SERP page looked like a few years ago for the term "B2B journalism." But for a very, very, very long time anyone searching for that term would get returns from my blog, my site, interviews with me, or articles about an appearance I made somewhere.

But it turned out that on this day everyone except me showed up on the SERP.

My surprise must have been visible on my face, because my daughter figured out the problem quickly. "Don't worry," she said. "You're famous to everyone who knows your name. Daddy is famous to people who already know him."

Hide Personal Results

Now of course, I know that no one reading this post cares whether or not I'm ranked well by Google for search terms. You don't care that the Google algorithm doesn't think "Paul Conley" and "B2B journalism" are synonymous.

This isn't a problem for you. Search results that don't point to me aren't broken.

But this is a problem for me.

My consulting business is dependent upon search. Clients have learned about me by searching for terms that -- at least in the past -- pointed to this blog or my site. If a publisher or content marketer wanted help with editorial, they would search for terms that would eventually lead them to me.

Now after that conversation with my daughter I did some quick research that showed I still ranked well for a slew of terms that have led to business in the past. This, of course, was welcome news.

Nonetheless, I found it bothersome from both an ego and business point of view that I was no longer ranked well for the biggest and broadest terms in our industry.

In my sort-of-a-farewell post of a year ago I wrote how by 2006 I'd learned that "I was weirdly famous in some cool media niches." Now I'd found that I was no longer famous at all ...not even in the media niches where I had worked for years and years. I was not as famous as Harry Potter. No journalist could be. But once I'd been sort of the B2B version of Xenophilius "Xeno" Lovegood -- a minor character, for sure, but a character with a name. Now I was suddenly un-famous. If they made a movie about B2B journalism I'd be listed in the credits as "journalist with glasses" or some such thing.

What have you done for me lately

In the days after that conversation with my daughter, I took some steps to improve my rankings for a few key terms. It turned out that a recent update of the software on my site had given Google the message to not index my site. That, as you would imagine, was not what I wanted.

So I fixed that ... and within a few days my site popped back into search results for a wide variety of terms.

But I'd stumbled upon a deeper problem. Google's algorithm seems to be giving an ever-increasing weight to recency. As the content world has moved deeper into real-time publishing, Google seems to be assigning more search value based on age. Links are, of course, still the most important part of the algorithm. But Google now seems more interested in content that received one link recently, than in content that received two links two years ago. Two links from Twitter right now are worth more than 20 links from before Twitter existed.

Perhaps it's always been like this. Perhaps I didn't notice it because I had once posted so frequently. 

But here's the thing: I wasn't posting frequently any longer and it was hurting me in search. And that has the potential to hurt my business tremendously.

So I decided to return to blogging. Nothing else yields the search results my business needs. Twitter doesn't do it. LinkedIn doesn't do it. Bylined articles don't do it.

Blogito, ergo sum

Fortunately, I may have some ideas worth blogging about. 

I spent a good portion of the summer chatting with folks about what I see as the emerging challenges facing companies that create content. 

I don't have all the answers to these challenges. I don't pretend to even understand exactly what the challenges are. Rather, I see these challenges approaching and I want to think about them. And as I said on this blog some six years ago, for me "the act of blogging has become part of the act of thinking." 

So as this blog relaunches you'll see fewer posts about the themes I cared about eight years ago (multimedia production, journalism training, etc.) and more about the things that captivate me in 2012 (collaboration systems, management of distributed workforces, internal communications, the integration of marketing automation and content production systems, editorial quality metrics, etc.)

Whatever part of the content world you come from -- traditional publishing, content marketing, brand journalism or public relations -- there may be something here for you worth thinking about too. 

2 comments:

Matt Mullen said...

Glad to see you are posting again!
Regards,
Matt

Paul Conley said...

Thanks Matt. I'm glad to see you're still willing to comment here. You were one of the first way, way back in the day. :)