« One blogbreaking thing after another | Main | Technofailure »

Top results


Way back in 2001, I posted a little joke entry titled IBM finds prime factors of 15. It's been getting a fair bit of spam lately, along with multiple questions along the lines of "what are the factors of 15?"

So on a whim, I Googled [factors of 15]. And was startled but amused to see that that entry of mine is the top search result. (Perhaps few other people have felt the need to post material about this important mathematical question?)

I had a similar startlement the other day when I decided to see what other people had been writing about Dr. Who character Martha Jones. On a whim, I Googled [Martha Jones], without quotation marks or other search terms. I figured there must be a bunch of pages about real people with that name, plus a multitude of pages from Dr. Who fandom. But no: it turns out that eight of the top ten search results are for the Dr. Who character, and my entry from the other day (which got very little reaction, so I figured nobody was linking to it) is sixth on the list. (I hope to come back to discussing her sometime soon, especially as a couple of the other top search results for her name are very interesting and worth pointing to. But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.)

I've seen this kind of thing before, of course. For example, a couple of my entries about Peter S. Beagle are in the top four search results for Beagle's business manager's name. (But not in the top search results for Beagle's own name, of course.) More generally, once a month or so, I'll do a search for something or other and there'll be one of my pages in the top results.

And I know more or less why, too: my journal has acquired quite a bit of PageRank over the years, first from BoingBoing thanking me for contributions, then from writers linking to my entries about writing and editing, then from the fact that my employer's official blog lists my blog in a sidebar among others by company employees.

So my journal is kind of a corner case: it gets a big boost in search-result rankings due primarily to links to it that don't have anything to do with the specific topics I write about.

I mostly think it's pretty cool to see my entries appear high on a search results page. But it does make me hesitant about writing some things.

For example, I read an old science fiction book a couple years ago, a book that's the best-known work of its otherwise relatively obscure author. And, sad to say, I really didn't like it.

I thought about posting an entry explaining why I didn't like it. But then I realized that it was fairly likely that any mention I made of this author or this book would show up in the top few search results for the author's name or the book's title. And that would be a shame, because most of the people I know who've read the book liked it fine. Also, the author is still alive (though I think not writing fiction any more), and they would certainly come across the entry at some point, and life is too short to spend time making writers feel bad.

On the other hand, the high ranking on some searches gives me an overinflated sense of the profile of my blog. I suspect I have "only" a couple hundred regular readers, and most of my entries don't get a lot of links. When I mention someone or something that's famous, my mention generally doesn't come anywhere close to the top of the search results.

So I'm probably more cautious than I really need to be.

This ties in with all sorts of related stuff I've been pondering about what kinds of things I do and don't say here, and whether I should take a more public stand about various controversial issues, and so on. But all that is going to take more brain to write up than I have available right now, so I'll close with a question that heads in a different direction:

What searches currently give one of your pages or entries as a top-ten search result?

I'm most interested in searches that surprised you when you found out about them, but if you run the definitive site on some particular topic and thus appear in the top results for that topic, you can mention that too. (And you can use any search engine you want.)

Reminder: the convention for indicating a search term is to put the exact search text (including quotation marks, if any) in square brackets, as shown in my examples above.


Ooh, stupid internet tricks! I love stuff like this; the shortcut to such information makes Google Analytics totally worthwhile.

Recent amusing searches that kick people to my site:

[dogs allergic to yellow jackets]
[should i give out my vin]
["half plus seven" origin]
[is softsoap bad for you]
[pictures of hotspots on the scalp]

A couple months ago, the Analytics report showed me visitors who came to my site via "should i give out my vin number?" and "dead corpses of babies and toddler crime scene photos". Now, running those searches pulls up my blog post about the Google Analytics results (though one of the stories is still in the top twenty results).

My seriously out-of-date webpage has a list of Google searches for which one of my pages was the first search result:

[boggle tournament]
[perl jotto]
[jotto programming]
[c-3po vegetable]
["kosher soy yogurt"]

I just checked them all again, and, unfortunately, Wikipedia's Boggle entry beats me out for [boggle tournament] now. Some other ones in the top ten:

[vegetable vacation]
[c-3po vacation]
[martian bubbles]

So you're why my pagerank is so high. That makes sense. I'm riding your coattails. I've never done a search that led me to my own blog, though.

As for other people's searches, I don't look at the referral logs. I'm not actually sure you gave me access to them, and I don't want access to stats, because I would become totally obsessed with them. I keep being amused by posts various people make about searches that lead people to their sites, though...


Megan: Cool! I especially like ["half plus seven" origin], though I was sad that it turned out to be a lucky juxtaposition (I was hoping you had an explanation for the half-plus-seven thing).

Kevin: Nifty! Your items led me to spend much too much time playing and thinking about Jotto yesterday--and it was good timing, because I had just been thinking the day before about the Jotto variant I learned as a kid (long before I heard the name "Jotto"), in which you can use only words with no repeating letters, and in which you're told after each guess which positions in the secret word contain a letter from your guess word.

V.: Yeah, it's best not to put too much weight on such stats. But yeah, I agree that people's lists of things that show up in their referrer logs are often amusing. Somehow when I wrote this entry it didn't occur to me that referrer logs would provide answers, but in retrospect it seems obvious.


1. I just rediscovered that one of my entries is currently the top Google search result for [php name parser].

2. I'm always especially pleased when someone I know has a top result for a term or phrase that's in general use with a different meaning. For example, the main page for Tim & Heather's 'zine Flytrap is currently the fifth Google search result for [flytrap], and Cheryl Morgan's sadly defunct review'zine Emerald City is still the fourth search result for [emerald city].

Two more:

I forgot to mention that my entry on infodumps is currently the fourth search result for [infodump].

And a couple of weeks ago, I Googled for [webpage] and was startled to find that Carol Emshwiller's home page was among the top ten search results. That's no longer true, and I can't imagine why it would've been true before, so I now suspect that there was some kind of transient glitch, or possibly that I hallucinated it.

Post a comment