A few weeks ago, I voiced my elation at acquiring the web domain GaryMatthews.com. (This very website, which appeared on 28 January, 2013, one day after the domain became mine.)
Since then, I’ve put some effort into designing the site, and figuring out how best to promote it. There’s a huge amount of work. Fortunately, no deadlines.
But this experience is confirming something I already suspected. Owning a domain name, and even putting up a website with that name, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll dominate the search engines. At least not Google — not yet.
If you have an unusual name (like, say, my friends Zabine Van Ness or JoAnn Borovicka), then probably anyone searching for those spellings will find “ZabineVanNess.com” or “JoAnnBorovicka.com”, assuming such websites exist. (At the moment they don’t, though that could change.)
But if your name, like mine, is common, then just owning the website associated with that name doesn’t mean much! Not at any rate on Google, which controls most of the search engine playing field. (That, too, could change; see below.)
My fantasy was that once I launched GaryMatthews.com, that site would appear as the top result whenever anyone typed in “Gary Matthews” to a web-browser search field. I knew better — but a guy can dream.
The Other Gary Matthewses
The reason is that in the USA, there are 479 people named Gary Matthews. There are another 207 named Gary Mathews (with just one “t”). Counting both spellings, nearly 700 of us! A surprising number of the folks with my name are better known in their fields than I am in mine. So when you search for “Gary Matthews”, Google figures there’s a good statistical chance you’re searching for one of them. So those are the results Google serves up, ahead of mine.
It makes sense. There are, after all, at least three famous sports stars named Gary Matthews. Two are Gary Nathaniel Matthews Sr. and Jr., respectively, both former major league baseball players. They’re father and son. Gary Sr. (aka “Sarge”) currently is a color commentator for the Phillies. (So he’s also a broadcast celebrity.) There’s an Irish football star named Gary Matthews. (Here in the US, we’d call him a soccer star, “football” being what the entire rest of the world calls soccer.)
Gary Matthews also is a famous politician — he was the 59th Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives. Politics aside, this very same Gary Matthews was the world’s first Go Fish champion! How can I compete with the likes of that?
One heavy hitter in the field of being Gary Matthews is Gary Mathews the Middle Tennessee car dealer. (Notice the single “t”.) Not only does he own a whole raft of dealerships, but websites to match, and I’m sure lots of people do indeed use Google to look him up. So he, too, gets lots of Google traffic.
There also are at least two well-known musicians named Gary Matthews, several doctors, several professors and scientists — you get the idea. As a Baha’i author, I’m well-known in the Baha’i community. But from Google’s perspective, that’s a small pond. Lots smaller than the baseball community, the car-buying-community, the gospel-singing community, and so forth.
While I understand all this, it did irk me that the Gary Matthews on Mugshots.com also was ranked, by Google, ahead of my website! But this got me to thinking that part of the problem may have to do with the technicalities of “search engine optimization” (SEO). It used to be that anyone could vault to the top of the search results by “keyword stuffing” and other sleazy tricks.
Google long ago caught onto this, and is fighting back. The company already has changed, and is continually changing, its search protocols to penalize website tricks, and instead to reward real content with real value. Its algorithms change daily, and no one outside Google fully understands them. But the result — if Google succeeds — should be a better World Wide Web for all of us.
This website, GaryMatthews.com, is brand new, and admittedly doesn’t yet have much content. Give me time, and I intend to have it overflowing with original, unique, high-value content of the kind that Google will love. Patience, patience. Let’s see what happens then.
Another factor may be that Google’s web-crawler software is confused by the change. Google has always known me as “Gary L. Matthews”. That was my Google-Plus profile name, and most of my books are published with the middle initial prominent. I’ve just dropped the initial on my Google profile, with who knows what after-effects. Computers are so literal!
Bing It On!
Google isn’t the only search engine in town. I do better on the other major search players.
As of December, Google, at 66.7 percent, had almost exactly two-thirds of the market share for web searches. That’s a lot, but far from all.
Microsoft’s Bing was at 16.3 percent, while Yahoo was at 12.2 percent. (These figures were as of January 2013.) Other players, like DuckDuckGo.com, remained minuscule. Bing, we might note, recently became the default search provider for Facebook, which at last count had assimilated two-thirds of the US population. Maybe resistance isn’t futile, but the game is far from over.
And here’s the thing: On both Bing and Yahoo, GaryMatthews.com is close to the top of the results whenever anyone types in “Gary Matthews”. Not yet the top result, but I just checked a moment ago and was at number four.
Furthermore, on Bing, my website was the first result to sport an author photograph. So it might as well have been the top result: Studies have shown that search results with pictures draw the eye better than those without, even when they’re lower on the page. (Not that we need studies to prove this; it’s just common sense.)[UPDATE: This statement was true when I wrote it: Mine was the first link to show a photo. Next day, Sarge’s photo was also showing on his Wikipedia entry, ahead of my link. But I’m still buzzed about my site’s placement.]
The news isn’t entirely bleak on Google, either. A few days ago, GaryMatthews.com was on the fourth page of Google results for “Gary Matthews”. For a brief time, it was even on the third page. At the moment, it has dropped lower, but I’m hoping to rise again.[UPDATE: As of April 1 (the day after writing the preceding paragraph), my site was once again at the top of Google’s page 4. One more uptick would put it on page 3, which isn’t great, but which — out of 18 million results — isn’t shabby either, and provides hope for improvement. Tellingly, Google still lists me as “Gary L. Matthews”, showing that it hasn’t crawled my site for a while (since I dropped the “L.”).]
Among other things I’ll be doing is working on my Google “authorship” settings. These have to do with the way Google tracks who writes what, to authenticate ownership of content and combat copyright fraud. This whole process is fairly new, and I’ll report what I learn as I learn it.
But the main thing I plan to do is write good stuff and publish content of value. And I’ll count on all y’all to share and spread the word. That — and not any technical sleight-of-hand — is what rises to the top. At least that’s the theory.
And I think it’s a pretty good theory!
Do you have any insight into search engine rankings? Please share them in the comments section, and let’s talk.