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Fun with Google Search: Company Names & Common Nouns Edition

By | August 6, 2012

Dear readers, my favorite topic is back again: Fun with Google search.  For those unfamiliar with my series, this is where I explore an organic (and often funny) Google search result and analyze the implications. Today we’re going to examine search results for one company name—my employer (Fathom)—that also happens to be a common noun.

Searching in lowercase
Start by doing a search for fathom in lowercase. The first thing you’ll notice is the little Google calculator icon reminding us that this word is a unit of measurement for specifying marine depths. This top listing helpfully tells us that 1 fathom = 1.8288 meters. Good to know. It also offers a handy link to Google’s nifty search-box calculator tool should you want to make some additional calculations right there from your search result.

 

Conclusion: Google’s algorithm correctly serves up a value-added calculator result for a common noun of measurement when a query is in lowercase (you can see this with words like foot, pound and dollar, too).

Searching with capital letters
What’s that, you say, people often search for your company name by capitalizing it? Let’s rewind. Do a search for a capitalized Fathom. You will notice that the calculator disappears, an indication that Google’s algorithm (correctly) recognizes that the intended search is most likely not for the measurement but for a proper noun. Granted, this sophistication is diminished by the fact that the first 2 results are still for definitions of the common noun, one from Wikipedia and one from Dictionary.com, respectively.

The discriminating searcher will notice that the word Fathom is capitalized at the beginning of each title tag in those first 2 search result listings, potentially confusing an algorithm that is programmed to identify exact text matches but not capable of recognizing the high probability that somebody who actively types in a capital word is searching for an actual person, place or trademarked thing, not a common noun.

Conclusion:  Your identical business name may still take a backseat to a common-noun result even in capitalized Google searches. If you’re wedded to your current name, it may be too late to change, but if you’re starting or acquiring a company, you may want to keep these implications for branded search in mind.

Dictionary power
Beyond the first two results for fathom (lowercase or capitalized), both of which come from word reference sources, you will find two more dictionary results on the first page for a total of 4 glossary publications out of the 10 standard search results for fathom (the 11th currently being a special news result about Fathom Events’ screening of Hitchcock’s The Birds). This represents 40% coverage of one particular common noun on Google’s first page of results.

Conclusion: Again, new or acquired companies may be able to make a name for their commonly searched brand(s) on these pages, but recognize that the field may be crowded and your positioning may take time … and in the end possibly never take the #1 spot because it’s up against the dictionary and English language.

Bonus conclusion: The tried-and-true marketing strategy of naming something similar to a standard recognized word but changing the letters, homonym-style (Cuil), or combing two common words into one new compound word (Facebook) might have implications beyond style. Search algorithms can recognize alternate (read: marketing) spellings of pre-existing words or newly invented words based on their use and prominence in text.

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About Paul Richlovsky

Paul brings a writing and teaching background to his marketing career, where he's been happily active since 2006. After spending many years serving clients as a Web copywriter, he currently leads Fathom's internal content strategy in collaboration with the sales & marketing staff and many others. He also serves as editorial director of Fathom's website and blog and has written/edited multiple guides on digital marketing, including on the topics of healthcare, higher education and marketing automation. He previously was lead blogger and managing editor for YouShouldGoToSchool, a resource for individuals interested in career-focused education. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon." He is particularly interested in usability, readability, ballroom dancing (crazy about bachata), racquet sports, and romping with his niece/nephews.

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