WWGF: what will Google find?

Joor Loohuis, January 10, 2010, 4670 views.

One aspect of picking a name for a company or project that has become important the last years, is how it will rank in search results. It turns out this may have unexpected consequences.

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A little anectode: recently I was pointed to a web design company that was selected to design a new website for one of the organisations that we host. What we typically do in such cases, is fire up a browser and use a search engine to find out a little more information on the company in question. In this case, that proved to be a wild goose chase. You see, this company is called 'NotFound Internet Services', and as you will understand, searching online for such a phrase will result in thousands upon thousands of hits referring to pages explaining how HTTP error pages work, custom error pages for various websites, and lots of other results. However, in the first couple of hundred results that I bothered to scan, there was no mention of this company. Eventually, through some 'easter egging' I managed to find the company website, but for a webdesign company I expected it to be easier to find. Of course they're just trying to be clever, and they will probably get away with it part of the time.

It also got me thinking about how important search engines have become in selecting company names. Search engine optimization is typically not addressed before the website is developed, which is generally after the name of the company or project has been decided on. The example above is just fallout of an attempt at cleverness, but there are numerous examples of domain names that can be considered 'unfortunate'. Just take a guess what domain name the company 'Pen Island' registered. Or more in the line of our business, as I recall Experts Exchange (www.experts-exchange.com, a forum for developers) originally didn't have a hyphen in the domain name. And a little googling results in little gems like Via Grafix, a company that apparently sold CAD solutions, before it changed its name. When potential customers start searching for such a company, you can imagine what links will show up in the results.

So, in the vein of acronyms of the form 'WWXD' (What Would person X Do, X being your role model or otherwize significant person), I propose a criterion for the selection of company and project names: WWGF, short for 'What Will Google Find'. Of course, feel free to insert your personal favorite search engine. We use Google because in The Netherlands Google is the biggest search engine by a significant margin. WWGF is merely a term for what you find when you search for a proposed name. It may simply be something like the fact that the name is already in use, but it could also be that there are results for subjects that you really don't want to be associated with. You can pay good money and hire a consultant that will advize you on the selection of a name, but if one of your primary targets is to be found on the Internet, use a little common sense. WWGF?

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