Googling Ben Turner

I just finished reading “The Search” by John Battelle, a book which describes how Google came to be, by taking advantage of the gaping hole in search technology and theory. It’s interesting because lately Google’s been releasing only incremental upgrades to things — a little Google Taskbar here, a little Google Chat there, but nothing huge in terms of Gmail, Base, their search engine. AdSense is getting raked through the coals for allegations of click fraud, and the China censorship PR had to be pretty hard on the fast-growing company.

On top of that, an article came out saying ask.com is actually providing more relevant results now, and I’ve seen a few people complain about Google’s results lately.

I think perhaps Google’s energies right now are going towards Base (which has the potential to take over everything) and towards metropolitan wifi. Maybe they’re just distracted right now.

I decided to do a vanity search for my name to see what I’d get. For the last eleven years or so, benturner.com links have dominated searches for “Ben Turner”. I was the only game in town when it came to Ben Turner. But I guess the web has recently assimilated wider and wider swaths of the unconnected world.

I was actually sort of surprised that my site still came up first in the search. In terms of building the Ben Turner brand, I have done very little. I do not fill my documents with metadata or lots of relevant Ben Turner linking or text. The splash page on my site would say very little about my brand or presence if it weren’t at benturner.com. That worries me a little in a way — I mean, I’ve had a huge jump start on everyone else and if ever a web-obsessed web designer who started back in 1995 or so should have a big web presence, it should be me.

I’ve done nothing to help my cause. I’ve taken almost all of my site private through the multitudinous Soapboxes which are only available through the link on the right on this private blog. All those links have been destroyed, crushing my presence in Google and the other search engines. 404s (the error my server sends to people requesting a page that no longer exists) have increased dramatically as a result and all those random searchers who found me in the past will no longer be coming. Random searchers have been a boon to my presence online. I met many of my close friends that way.

There are many, many Ben Turners online now. Some even e-mail me. They’re not bitter about my dominating the benturner.com name; they just want to say hi.

Most importantly, if someone wanted to look up MY biography, they’d be hard pressed to find it unless going to my front page and finding it through my links. A search for “ben turner bio” or “ben turner biography” will NOT show the link to my autobiography. You would have to search for “ben turner autobio” to find it, and not surprisingly I come up as the first link.

I am aware that Google has as part of its ranking algorithm preferential treatment towards sites that have been around a long time. This is probably the key to my site remaining #1. But how long will it last? Another dedicated Ben Turner could probably dethrone me in one google crawler refresh.

I did a search for benturner.com using ask.com. Interestingly, I come up first, and as a child link, ask.com links to my autobio. So somehow it knew to link to my biography in relation to my site. I wonder if it does this using rules. A search for “microsoft” has a child link to their spyware software. “google” has a child link to its search features help page. So perhaps ask.com IS on to something.

While Google insists on using algorithms and computationally derived results, other search engines are trying to make the results more useful for humans, to determine their intent faster. Battelle talks about this at great length in his book. I recommend it strongly if you want to figure out what we’re missing out on.

But again, perhaps I should worry about my brand. I see myself as a brand, yes. I need to cultivate it, to encourage it. Not that I’m trying to drive people to my site (I mean, I’d probably make like 5 cents off Google Ads) but I’m still #1 when it comes to Ben Turner.

And Google. They need to pick it up. I mean, they’re flush with cash with a successful stock. They’re growing in employees. What are they so busy doing?