On writing · Technology

More about Breakonium, and Search Engines

Back in February I wrote this piece about Breakonium, a non-existent element described by Nicholas Lezard in the New Statesman as “the most fragile substance on Earth”. I noted that a search for the word on The World’s Most Popular Search Engine yielded “about 19 results”. At the time the World’s Most Popular Search Engine was Google. It still is, and it probably will be for many years ahead.

A few weeks after drafting that piece I looked up Breakonium again, wondering if my own use of it had increased Google’s results to maybe 20. It hadn’t, and I discovered that some WordPress privacy setting meant that nothing on my Blog would appear in any search engine. This meant that 14 months’ worth of writing, nearly 200,000 words, were all hidden from Google, Bing and any of their smaller competitors. I changed the setting (can’t remember how – if I need to do it again I’ll Google it) and I note that if you now search for the word on Google my original Word of the Week piece appears at the top of the list.

I was playing around with this over the weekend, when searching for “Breakonium” yielded “About 42 results” on Google. This evening it’s down to “About 9 results”. Bing.com also puts my Word of the Week piece at the top of its listing but has somehow found “35,200,000 Results”. I have no idea what’s going on here. There may well be people whose job title is “Search Engine Optmization Guru” who could explain it to me but I have never met any of them.

Last Thursday I wrote this piece about “Strictly 70s Crumpet”, noting that, “If you use the world’s most popular search engine to find the phrase, in quotes … there are no matches.” But that was all of five days ago. This evening “Strictly 70s Crumpet” brings up 4 Results (all of them pointing to this Blog) but “Strictly Seventies Crumpet” is nowhere to be found. Clearly Google has found the title “Strictly 70s Crumpet” as a link to the original Blog Post. As I type these words it is in that list of five most recently posted items somewhere on the page you are now reading, but by the time you’re reading this page it might have been displaced. Google has not yet found the words “Strictly Seventies Crumpet” within the post itself. Yesterday evening I looked up the title of the post, in quotes, and it yielded just 1 Result, making it a brief kind of Googlewhack. As Dave Gorman explains on his website, here: “A googlewhack is what happens when two words are entered in to Google and it comes back with one and only one hit.”

If you don’t mind I’ll extend the definition of a Googlewhack to deal with three words rather than two, in which case it now takes just 24 hours for a Googlewhack containing the three words “Strictly 70s Crumpet” to disappear and be replaced by multiple listings. When I read about Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventures about twelve years ago I tried various search terms to see if they would produce just a single result. I found that two of my friends had names that were rare enough to appear just once each. But twelve years is clearly a long time in Google World. One of them now appears 394 times and the other 613 times. By the time you read this “Strictly 70s Crumpet” might appear 10, 15 or 20 times. Or it might be back down to just 3 Results. Try it and see.



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