Interview: Nixing Name Invisibility on Google


Image: Lili Viera de Carvalho/Flickr

If you’re John Smith, you might be out of luck.
On Google, that is, where a million other John Smiths are drowning you out, just when you want someone to find you.

In today’s media-rich economy, “even not having an online presence tells people something about you,” says Vizibility founder and CEO James Alexander, who himself has two first names. He founded Vizibility to address the problem of online invisibility, even for John Smiths. We caught up with him to learn more about Vizibility, what it does, and how it helps people gain search-engine traction.

Why would people want to use a Vizibility SearchMe button?

The inspiration for Vizibility hit when I couldn’t find myself in Google. I’m a guy with two first names, which makes my results impossible to find. I spent a great deal of time learning how the engine worked and experimented with the advanced search features (which less than 5% of people use because it’s so hard). Ultimately, I was able to create the perfect query for me that returned the right set of search results every time. The query was long and used a lot of Boolean jargon, but it worked.

In going through this process, I was struck by four things: First, using advanced search is just too time-consuming for most people; second, the ability to easily post or share searches didn’t exist; third, even if someone could share their personal search results, they would need to be able to change it from time-to-time (when they changed jobs or got married, for instance), and; fourth, a user also wants to know when their search results change and when they’re being “Googled.”

All the ingredients were there for a new approach to people search.

What are the biggest problems people have with the way Google displays their name or their business?

I believe one of the biggest issues is that of mistaken identity. It is a real and growing problem. In many respects, it is the opposite of privacy — many people want to be found but they can’t. Their results are buried in the results of other people who have similar names, with more relevancy. To help illustrate this point, there are more than 2,000 people on LinkedIn today who share the same name as someone on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.

Millions of people want to be found online for professional or personal reasons. But if they are someone like me, James Alexander, with a common name, a hiring manager would never have made it past page one or two of Google search results to validate my background. Even people with unique names, which are often difficult to spell, are affected by this problem. We’re invisible.

And being invisible online can have a significant economic impact for individuals. In one recent study, 45% of hiring managers said they hired someone because of what they found online. Imagine how many people were not hired because of what could not be found or verified easily.

When 90% of recruiters make hiring decisions based on Google search results and few go beyond the first page, mistaken identity is inevitable. Our own research shows that only 12% of search results are actually about the person being searched. The consequences of making critical buying or hiring decisions with poor information are undeniable.

The second issue is that search engines hide behind a veil of algorithms, but unlike credit card monitoring services, search engines don’t verify their search results. Nor do they have to. They don’t have the mechanisms or incentives to do so. But just like credit monitoring services, however, the information that search engines provide may have significant and profound economic impact.

Vizibility is putting people in control of what others see about them online. But there are two sides to this coin. Any solution impacting search results has to be transparent because the people searching have to trust what they see. This requires full disclosure of the search criteria, including and excluding words and terms and seeing the result in the search engine itself.

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It sounds like you have really big plans for Vizibility–to get a SearchMe button on 20 million professional profiles in the next 5 years. Can you elaborate on what you mean by “professional profiles”?

We define professional profiles as a brief description of one’s accomplishments, qualifications, strengths, qualities, etc., that are posted online by business professionals, job seekers, executives, singles, and service providers such as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, etc. There are thousands of these sites, and a few examples include LinkedIn, TheLadders, BlueSteps, 6FigureJobs, About.me, Flavors.me and Match.com.

How are you going to reach your goal?

Wouldn’t it be great if got a text message whenever someone Googled you? Or you received an email whenever your personal search results changed? These are the kinds of “sticky” features that we enable partners to offer delivering a personal branding solution that is effective and unique.

We also provide our partners with a number of services with the potential to increase renewal rates and generate higher levels of engagement with their users. For example, the text messages and emails can be co-branded providing our partners a low-cost tool to remain usefully engaged with their users while reinforcing the value of their membership.

Basically, our go-to-market strategy is to partner with profile-driven websites and embed VizibilityTM into their offerings. Many of these sites face high customer acquisition costs and also have high churn rates – the average customer relationship is less than six months. With Vizibility, our partners and potential partners recognize that we deliver value to their customers by making it easy for them to be found online while providing a set of tools to help manage their online brands.

We recently launched a new service for our partners where we pre-create Vizibility accounts for all their customers and then send a co-branded email containing their personal Vizibility SearchMeTM link, making it easy for them place on their profile, resume, social networking sites and business cards. YouTern was our first partner to provide this service to their customers, and we anticipate many others taking advantage of this service.

To date we have approximately twenty partner sites that reach over 1 million users. These include 6FigureJobs, BlueSteps, realmatch, Brand-Yourself, Reach, and MyLegal.com among others. Our plan is to more than double the number of partners over the next six months.

Any other remarks?

Today’s competitive market for professional services and jobs is changing career management behavior forever. The concept of taking control and managing one’s online identity is becoming mainstream, and expected. One’s digital content has to be managed and curated in order to reflect their online brand – even not having an online presence tells people something about you.

To address one trend, the notion of building digital bridges between your online and offline experiences, we have created a mobile solution. We are providing Vizibility users with the ability to turn their SearchMe link into a QR code that can be placed on resumes, business cards, online profiles, presentations – anywhere someone wants to provide a quick snapshot of who they are and what they are about.

It’s an exciting trend around which a set of solutions is quickly evolving to help people take control and manage what is found about them online, and Vizibility is among them.

Official bio: James Alexander is Vizibility’s founder and CEO. He’s the guy with two first names. If you ‘Googled’ his name in 2009, you would never have found him. Now, he ranks within the first few results of a Google search. Find James in Google at http://vizibility.com/james.

  • If this works well it will be dream come true. When I google my name (david gregory) I am presented with results that suggests I am invloved in some misadventure in a sewer as well as being confused for a newscaster – neither of which are accurate.