For a long, long time, until last Tuesday, I was #1 on Google for the search query, “the smartest person in the world”. I suppose all good things must come to an end but I’m OK with the fact that Google, much to their credit, has figure out that I, Mic Tienken, am most certainly NOT “the smartest person in the world”, and here’s why…
Almost 6 years ago I put up a web page solely to convince my son that I was the smartest person in the world. It was done on a goof and not meant as any form of conceit; if your interested you can read the whole story on the page, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the past, current, and future state of SEO and about Google’s most recent algorithm update which they deployed on or about Tuesday 4/24/12.
Since there was virtually no competition for the keyword “the smartest person in the world” at the time, it was really easy to get a number 1 ranking in the Google SERPs for the term. It was not much of an SEO feat and really wasn’t meant to be. But 6 years ago organic search optimization was much easier for just about anything. There were fewer guys like me out there optimizing websites and even many great big corporations were basically clueless when it came to SEO. If you had a few skills and a basic understanding of SEO, you were way ahead of the curve.
Oops, It Went Viral
Soon after my page went to number one, it started to get a lot of traffic, and I mean A LOT. Seems like for whatever reason, thousands of people every day all over the world search for “the smartest person in the world” and most of them found their way to my site. On top of that, whenever there was a news story about some 11 year old graduating from college with a degree in astrophysics, or about Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, the news services like Yahoo! and MSN would kindly put a “related searches” link that would perform a search for “the smartest person in the world” or something similar. I would invariably come up as the number one result for that search and end up getting tens of thousands of visits in one day. Because of that, I actually got banned from MSN’s search results. Oddly, I’m back to #1 now that they have switched over to Bing. Go figure.
This “cewebrity” status soon led to many businesses seeking my services for help with marketing and SEO, and over the past 6 years I’ve built up a very successful web development and SEO business. Thank you very much, intertubes.
Why Google Sucks (or at least sucked)
I have long told my clients that the fact that I was able to be the smartest person in the world was more an indictment of Google than proof of my SEO prowess. After all, not only am I not the smartest person in the world, I clearly stated that fact on the web site. If you search for something on a search engine, shouldn’t the search engine return you that thing, and not a page that explicitly tells you it isn’t that thing? With all the information out on the internet about really smart people like Stephen Hawking, or the 11 year old college graduate, or people with super high IQs, why is Google telling you that the smartest person in the world is some random bonehead living in a cul de sac in Apple Valley, MN?
So Now What?
It is being surmised that this latest update by Google was meant to further screen out pages using so called “black hat tactics” but I can assure you, everything I have ever done in my career as an SEO guy has been 100% white hat. I have read and re-read Google’s guidelines on this subject to make sure to stay on their good side. I have also always tried to follow their advice to try and think like a search engine, to try and help users to find what they are looking for by including relevant content, properly organized and presented, in web site copy.
I think this latest update has more to do with Google’s continuing shift to rely more on “authority” than “relevance”. The first step Google ever made on that road was when they de-valued the keyword metatag. After all, clever SEO guys (and gals) can easily manipulate on-site content to make a web page super relevant to any subject, that’s the easy part and that’s what got me to the top of the pile of smart people; which leads me to…
It’s Not What You Say About Yourself, It’s About What The World Says About You
With the advent of social media and the flood of “user generated content” out on the internet, search engines now have access to what the world is saying about all kinds of subjects, and brands, and items, and websites, and people. I’ve known the day was coming when my “smartest person in the world” web page would fall away as search engines got better at what they are supposed to do. It’s easy to manipulate content on a web page, it’s even relatively easy to build up quality inbound links from a good number of quality sites. What’s not so easy is controlling what the world says about you (or isn’t saying, in my case).
Apparently the consensus of the world is that there are many other people who are way smarter than Mic Tienken. Although I still come up #32, which out of 4 billion people on the planet, isn’t too bad I guess.
Two words… Buzz and Brand. More and more the social space is controlling search results. And more and more people will not even use traditional search engines. They will see recommendations from their friends. Their search results, when they do search, will be skewed to show them web pages their friends have “liked” or “G+ed” or maybe even just visited. Case in point, if you are my friend on Facebook, or if you are in my Google circles and you perform a search for the smartest person in the world, I am still most likely your #1 result. And that’s not because I said I was so smart, it’s because someone else did!