Google Controls Your Identity
3 min read

Google Controls Your Identity

“Googling a person” has been part of the vernacular for some time now, but Google’s control over identity has become so powerful that it’s now influencing baby naming choices — at least that’s the hook in this WSJ piece on Google and identity:

So when Ms. Wilson, now 32, was pregnant with her first child, she ran every baby name she and her husband, Justin, considered through Google to make sure her baby wouldn’t be born unsearchable. Her top choice: Kohler, an old family name that had the key, rare distinction of being uncommon on the Web when paired with Wilson. “Justin and I wanted our son’s name to be as special as he is,” she explains.

There’s the story of how Ted Leonsis took over the search engine results page for “Ted Leonsis” by starting a blog and linkbaitng through celebrity name dropping. I don’t recall what the Google results for Scott Karp looked like before I started blogging, but now it’s me for pages and pages — not why I started blogging, but a striking consequence. I even have the top results for Scot Karp with one “t,” displacing Scot Karp, a Miami real estate agent (of course I put a “nofollow” tag on this link).

I don’t necessarily like all of the items on my SERP, but a high volume of links doesn’t mean you have control over the links — it’s probably sound advice not to “mess” with anyone who has access to high authority domains. Your SERP can be a reflection of how effective you have been at relationship management online. I certainly learned my lesson about playing nice with the SEO community (most of whom, to their credit, played nice with me, even when I was on my soapbox) — this could be applied to dealing with any group, although it’s particularly true when dealing with a group that knows how to work the web. I suppose you could argue that, just as there’s no such thing as bad PR, there’s no such thing as bad inbound links — just ask Jason Calacanis.

The problem for most people is that they don’t have a platform for influencing their identity in Google or other search engines. Anyone can start a blog, sure, but that may not help if your name is John Smith, or even a less common name if you don’t get any inbound links. This has, not surprisingly, lead to a demand for identity SEO (from the WSJ piece):

Some people in similar straits have used services that can help generate more prominent placement for them in search results. Krishna De, a personal branding and marketing consultant in Dublin, signed up with Ziggs Inc. in 2005 after she left a corporate career and set out on her own. At the time, results for the Hindu deity Krishna crowded out links to her site. Ziggs tries to get profile pages individuals create with it to appear high in search results, and for a $4.95 monthly fee buys ads that appear along search results on sites such as Google’s to link to a client’s profile. “If you’re not found in search results, people start to wonder why,” says Ziggs CEO Tim DeMello.

A number of players, from the new to old, are trying to provide a user-controlled platform for identity management in search:

Professional networking site LinkedIn Corp. says its members’ profile pages often turn up high in Google search results when the users opt to make the pages accessible to the public. Marquis Who’s Who, whose print directories were a go-to place for finding important people in pre-search-engine days, says it has been testing a service where individuals can search its online database of more than 1.3 million people, paying on a per-search basis.

Matt Cutts had some interesting suggestions that imply the couple who researched baby names in Google maybe isn’t so crazy:

“Any time you can distinguish yourself with a distinctive name or a distinctive characteristic that sticks out in people’s minds, that’s going to be the best solution,” says Matt Cutts, a Google software engineer.

It’s striking how complete Google’s dominance is in the realm of search-driven identity. I get traffic from Yahoo Search and Live Search, but never navigational or identity traffic, i.e. people searching for “Scott Karp” or “Publishing 2.0″ in order to find my blog or find out more about me.

It will be interesting to see whether pieces like the one in the WSJ will intensify the interest in Google identity management and in services and platforms for such management. There are few professions or careers that couldn’t benefit from effective Google identity management.

You can imagine all the “John Smiths” battling it out for the top positions like sellers of ringtones.