I received an e-mail from Alan Mann, asking:
My son Simon tells me that I am on the first page of Google and on the second page. I don’t know how this happens but I am dying to know. If you can enlighten me I will be delighted.
It’s a fair question, and although I have written on this topic before, I thought it was worth posting my reply here. So this is what I told Alan:
The simple answer is that Alan has many pages, and Google arranges these (and all the other pages belonging to all the other Alan Manns – er, Alans Mann) according to how likely it is that each page is the one you were looking for.
Google (that is, the software that drives Google) uses a variety of criteria to rank the pages: how likely is a page to be relevant (how often does the search term appear, how near the start of the page, is it in the headline or the page title) and do other sites regard it as helpful (do they link to it, and when they link to this page does the search term appear in the text of the link?). This much we know, and do our best to put the right words in the right places, to help people who are looking for you (or who are looking for information, and don’t know that you’re the person to ask) to find you.
Google are a bit secretive about what tests they use, because there are people who try to beat the system, and get their page to the top of the list whether it’s the most useful one or not. But you get the general idea.
So if Simon searches for you, he might well find that Google has ranked two pages differently, depending on how relevant they are to his search term (ie, what he has typed into the box). So if I go to google.co.uk and type [alan mann] (just those two words, no quotation marks) your front page comes up fourth on the list, and the front page of the aeroplanes section comes up second on page 2. Could be better, but alas, the Alan Manns are a very talented bunch.
On the other hand, if I don’t know I’m looking for you, but want paintings of planes and trains, I type [paintings planes trains] into the box, and you are top of the list: which is very gratifying. Likewise [cristimar], where you come out just ahead of a dwarfish cherry tree. And [famous lizzie west] and [british chimney art].
You can while away many a happy hour playing with Google; sometimes you find what you’re looking for, and sometimes something you never dreamed of. If you decide to try a little ego-googling, let me know how you get on: in particular, if there are any terms you think people might use when looking for you or your work which don’t perform as well as they should, let me know, because there may be something we should be saying on the site and aren’t!
That last point goes for all our sites: we try to make sure that they can be found by people using the obvious key words, but – especially for specialist sites – what is obvious to people in the field is not always obvious to us!