I gather there are people out there—lots of people—whose livelihood more or less depends on their Google search rank. Herewith some thoughts on why this is scary.

First of all, check out this graph, computed on September 24th, 2006, of the numbers of visits to ongoing via various search engines.

Search referrals, Sep. 2006

Have a look at that “Google Images” line. Its wild swings up and down have been bothering me for a while now, and while I don’t have a complete explanation, I do have some data.

Popular Pictures · For quite some time, Grass, an ongoing fragment from August 2004, was the most-read page on the site, because the first picture there was one of the top results in a Google Images search for “grass”. There were a few other fragments with similarly-elevated popularity, but Grass was the champ. Then, sometime starting in the spring of this year, they Made Some Adjustments, and quite a few of my pictures fell off the front page. This accounts for a whole lot of the decline in image-search referrals between April and August.

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed that Tea and 1921 Church, both from this last March, have become amazingly popular. (For example, the Tea page has been viewed 20+ times so far already on this slow Sunday morning.) But neither shows up near the top of Google Images. I scratched my head and looked at the logfiles. It turns out that if you do the image search starting at images.google.co.uk (or .in) rather than just google.com, my tea-cup shot is third from the top, and the prairie-church shot is #23, not even on the first page of results.

Aesthetics · Normally I wouldn’t have much of an opinion about this; neither my income nor my happiness is much related to how much Google likes my pictures. But I am taken aback by the arbitrariness of it all. I think that that tea-cup is one of the prettiest pictures here, so it’s reasonable that it has fans. But I also think that the Saskatchewan-grass shot was good; better, in fact, than quite a few things currently on the image-search front page.

But when I use Image Search myself to look for a picture of whatever, I usually get pretty good results, so I guess I shouldn’t complain much.

Business · But this does give me an appreciation for the stressful lives of those who live & die by their search rank. I suppose that if I’d had a powerful idea for a “grass”-related business (and we all know what Vancouver is famous for), I could have been rich, I tell you, rich; but then the spring of 2006 would have ended it all.

The stressful part is that I can’t control, or influence, or really even understand the basis by which a picture is deemed good or not-good, and then that decision shifts over time and place.

I think I’ll stay with software and evangelism for the moment.

author · Dad
colophon · rights

September 24, 2006
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Search (66 more)
· Business (126 fragments)
· · Internet (112 more)

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