It was summer 2013, and I was driving my kids to one of my wife’s performances when my mobile phone rang. It was a Florida area code.
“Yes, I was calling to see if you could help me with some search engine optimization.” The woman’s voice sounded awfully familiar. We hadn’t met, but I could almost place her.“Sure, I can help you with that? What’s the problem?”
“Someone wrote a negative article about me, and it keeps appearing at the top of Google whenever I search for it. I’m worried other people are going to see it and it’s going to harm my reputation.”
Lucy! It was Lucy from Big Bang Theory! Who would be mean to Lucy? I love Lucy!
Well, it was Kate Micucci, the woman who played Lucy, Raj’s love interest from Season 6, but I was so excited!
Except it wasn’t.
“Who is this?” I asked, hoping she’d say “Kate Micucci.”
“My name is Joanna Rohrback. I’m the Prancercise lady.”
It seems Joanna had been a big Internet rage in 2013, because her original Prancercise video on YouTube had garnered millions of views. She went on to appear on the Today Show, in John Mayer’s “Paper Doll” video, and was named MSNBC’s Surprise Star of the Year for 2013. Richard Simmons was also a fan, and shed a few tears describing her journey to make Prancercise a viable form of exercise.
Joanna told me about her problem. A young journalist had signed up for one of her classes, never said she was a journalist, and then wrote a blog article for a major newspaper making fun of Joanna and the class, and called it a ripoff.
Joanna was worried people would see the piece and refuse to take her class.
So we talked for a while, and I reassured her that the article wouldn’t be that damaging for a few reasons:
- Nobody is liked by everybody, and while this may not be a favorable article, if people really liked her, then they would take her class anyway. And it sounded like millions of people already liked her, so I was sure they would be on her side.
- She could always get more positive attention and press for her work, and eventually bury that negative article under an avalanche of good stuff. I could certainly help her with it, but it was going to take a lot of effort and would be pretty costly, and would probably require a PR professional as well. She was famous, but she was not making “I have my own PR person” money.
- Most importantly, she was actually creating her own problem! The thing people don’t realize is that the Google search engine wants you to have an excellent experience so you’ll continue to use it. That means it will show you the results it thinks you want to see, including articles you’ve already read several times, because Google thinks you want to see it again. That article may actually be 347th in actual rank, but because you’re clicking on it, it appears first to you.
She didn’t quite believe me, so I walked her through doing a private/incognito search on her web browser. The article disappeared from the first few pages.
“How did you do that?!” she asked.
“That’s what I was saying,” I said. “Google is showing you that article because you keep looking for it. In the incognito version, Google can’t tell it’s you doing the search, so the article doesn’t show up anymore. You’re seeing a more accurate representation of the true results, and this is what a stranger will see if they search for you.”
I told her I could help her further if she needed it, but that it probably wasn’t a wise use of her money, especially in light of the “disappearance” of this negative article.
She thanked me, and said she was going to be in the Irvington Halloween parade that year, if we would like to get together sometime that week. Sadly, I was never able to make that happen, so I never got to meet the woman who invented Prancercise. But I helped “hide” a negative article from Google, and made her a little happier.
Photo credit: Kafziel (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)