Before there was Cullen, author of the goofy “Shelf Life,” there was Cullen, author of the slightly-more-serious-but-not-by-choice “Blog Which Shall Remain Nameless in This Space” (hereafter to be referred to as BWSRNITS).* When I was in library school (yes, you have to go to school to become a librarian. Graduate school, even. It’s shocking to many, including me initially, so I find the incredulity only slightly insulting.), I took a class on youth literature. One of the major projects in that class was to maintain a blog featuring weekly book reviews on a selection or two from the assigned reading list. Although I had to include some things I wouldn’t have had the endeavor been purely for funsies, like a detailed summary section, and the specter of being graded on it likely sometimes influenced my writing, I found BWSRNITS to be an enjoyable, worthwhile exercise.
Yesterday, feeling three parts nostalgic and one part narcissistic, I wanted to revisit my old work. I couldn’t remember the correct URL, so naturally I took to Google. I typed in “BWSRNITS blog” and came up with a handful of nothin’ – it wasn’t anywhere to be found on the first ten pages of results. Knowing my name is on the homepage of the blog somewhere, I tried “BWSRNITS Cullen” and “BWSRNITS blog Cullen” and again came up empty on the first ten pages of results. Later, after remembering that it was done on Blogger, I tried “BWSRNITS Blogger” and still got bupkis. What was the deal? Had this blog vanished from the Internet and become fit for the side of a digital milk carton? Am I just a terrible Googler?**
In order to gain some insight into why my blog didn’t seem to be on Google’s radar, even with clear search terms, I looked up some info on how Google finds and orders web pages for its users’ searches. According to none other than Google, the processes it uses for determining search results are crawling (Google’s bots crawl around the web finding pages) indexing (Google makes an index of key words and their locations on a page) and serving (Google determines whether the site has “good and useful content that is relevant to the user’s search”). Well, BWSRNITS shouldn’t have any barriers to being findable, and assuming it was found and indexed, my search terms were words that are in prominent positions on the home page and so should have been indexed. Whether the content is “good and useful” is subjective and debatable, but it should no doubt be considered “relevant to the user’s search,” since the search was for, you know, the title of the blog. In its explanation of the serving process, Google describes its use of the PageRank system, which determines how “important” a page is by counting how many links to that page exist on other websites. Google states that PageRank is just one of over 200 factors it uses to determine relevancy, according to How Stuff Works, PageRank is the key to climbing the search results rankings. If this is true, there’s little wonder why BWSRNITS is so hard to find. I never told anyone about it, made no effort to have it discovered, and haven’t made a post in almost three years; it’s safe to assume nobody is linking to it.
Still, I was bothered by my Google failure. This morning, I had the head slap-worthy realization that since BWSRNITS was created with Blogger, I could easily access simply by logging into my Google account. Once logged in, I found that the blog had a subtitle I had forgotten about. Determined to make Google do my bidding, I typed in the full title and subtitle, and hot diggity, it showed up as the first result. Apparently, Google now considers BWSRNITS so irrelevant that it takes a search for the complete, exact title to bring it up. Since virtually nobody does such precise Googling, BWSRNITS will never be found by anyone except by pure chance, and I’m OK with that; it is inactive, after all. But what about my active blog, the one you’re reading right now? How easy is it to find? If you type in “Shelf Life blog,” it shows up near the bottom of the fourth page of results. “Shelf Life blog Cullen” returns it as the first result, and also fills the first page and a half of results with links to specific posts. “Benbrook Shelf Life” also returns it as the first result and also nets several post-specific links on the first page. Finally, if you enter “Shelf Life WordPress,” you’ll find it near the middle of the fifth page of results.
Overall, I’m fairly encouraged by these findings, but they do raise some questions. If PageRank is so important, how is this blog making such a better showing than BWSRNITS? I know nobody is linking to it (I get a notification if they do, which I only know because I’ve linked to it myself), so I’m not getting rankings cachet that way. The obvious answer would seem to be that if you enter in an exact title accompanied by other prominent homepage keywords, you should score a hit regardless of how many other sites are or aren’t linking to that page, but that was disproved when the BWSRNITS searches didn’t yield any hits within the first ten results pages. I guess that means those other 200+ Google relevancy factors DO mean something, and that one of them is surely frequency of updates.
So, if you’ll allow me to twist the meaning of this experience into a message that’s dear to me and libraries in general, this goes to show that Google can’t find everything for you, even if you know exactly what you want or, in my case, created the thing you want. In many cases, if you Google it, it will come, but sometimes you’ll have to employ alternative methods to find what you need in the proverbial corn field.
*If you for some reason really want to read this mystery blog, just ask me and I’ll direct you to it.