Google changed your search results last week. Well, not exactly last week…more like every week for the last ten years! In case you didn’t know, every time Google makes what they call “adjustments” in how they treat your information online, it impacts you. I know that sounds crazy, so let me explain.

Google is a search engine. Google, Bing, and Yahoo – search engines all have the same foundational underpinnings; these are called algorithms.

Without being too technical, let me explain it this way. Search engines look at hundreds of variables for each and every piece of information searched on the Internet. Algorithms decide which variables are more relevant to a search, and which pieces of information are less important, based on certain principles of logic.

So, what does that have to do with you?

Well, have you ever wondered why the information found on the first page of your search results has ended up there? It’s one of the first questions most people ask when they call us.

Basically, the answer is that search engines (e.g., Google, Bing or Yahoo) have decided which pieces of information are the most important for every single keyword (for example, your name). We refer to this calculated importance as “authority.”

The next question is, what content has authority for your name and why?

And that is the next level of complexity–information variables! You might think of this as a cake recipe. In a recipe, some variables are more important then others. Flour is foundational, while lemon or vanilla is a flavor–nice but not necessary. On the Internet, the right combination of ingredients (algorithm variables) can deliver something very good (your search results). The challenge comes when you realize that you don’t control the recipe. It’s like you’re stuck with a box cake and must eat what comes out of the oven, even if it’s not how you think a cake should taste.

Other questions we frequently hear are, “Why is a court document from eight years ago at the top of my search results?” “Why are old news articles on page one and my LinkedIn account on page two?” “Why is a post that is attacking me, and totally inaccurate, allowed to be shown?”

The answer is simple. The search engine algorithms have valued that information as highly “authoritative.” As a result, it shows up high in your search results. Remember:

An algorithm is merely a mathematical equation. It will not act as a moral authority, does not evaluate sentiment, and cannot determine motive, truth, accuracy or deceit.

Google (holding a 76% market share) is continually adjusting the variables it determines to be most valuable. In interviews, Google executives have admitted these adjustments happen as many as 600 times a year. Most of them simply adjust the amount of “vanilla” that is added to the recipe – nothing major. But every once in a while, a major revision is made and the basic recipe changes completely. It calls for whole-wheat flour instead of the familiar white flour we all grew up with, and so the cake is much different from the original.

That sort of transformation happened on Google just last week, the first week in July 2013.

There were innumerable shifts in search results during this latest update, and it impacted many individuals and businesses, some positively and some quite negatively. I’ll leave the details for a later time. What is important to know today is that your search results may have changed. We recommend that you take a look at yours.

If the search results for you or your company have not improved over the last two years, I’m going to tell you that they probably won’t. Many people have seen review sites, slander sites, and other questionable sources of material continue to be elevated on page one. Embarrassed by what is seen about them or enraged by what is fit for publication online, many are worn out trying to explain to family, friends and business associates why the negative information is there.

Whether they be court documents that are true but damaging and taken out of context, or images that should never have been shared online, the negative information could close doors for you before you can even explain it. These search results will continue to negatively impact how you live your life–that’s the fact. The presence of damaging content could cost you in terms of establishing or maintaining your career – compromising your ability to secure scholarships, jobs, promotions and other professional opportunities.

If you’re not happy with what you find online, we can help. We invite you to call us and talk through what can and cannot be done to fix your search results. There are many ways that you can influence the recipe and help determine how your cake turns out. Don’t wring your hands and simply worry. We can help you gather up the right ingredients, if you give us the opportunity.