The Curious Case of Chris Allan Photo

The Curious Case of Chris Allan Photo

Chris Allan is a South Africa-based freelance photographer who signed up with PhotoShelter in April 2010. He set up his website, added a few hundred images and waited for the SEO to start working for him.


Curiously, when you search for “Chris Allan Photo” in Google, you don’t get his website — you get a bunch of people named “Chris Allen.” What the heck is happening?

This is an example of Google doing a few things, which can cause confusion.

1. Spell check
People misspell and mistype words and phrases into Google all the time. If Google’s goal was to be as strict as possible, you’d execute searches with limited or no results when this happened. But Google’s goal is to “match the expectation of the viewer” in providing search results so that they can continue to sell ads.

But why does Google think “Chris Allan” is misspelled? Because there simply are significantly more instances of “Chris Allen” appearing in their index. “Frequency” is a common factor in search algorithm and Google has its own take on how to use it.

Even when you quote “chris allan photo” for an exact phrase match, Google’s spellcheck still pushes Chris Allen above Chris Allan. The first “real result” is for “Chris Allan” but Google’s Universal Search provides two spell checked matches above the real results — similar to how it will display the Google Maps 10-pack above the “real results” for localized searches.


2. QDD – Quality Deserves Diversity
You might have noticed that you’ll never get 10 search results from the same domain when you search on Google (unless of course, you’re specifically searching a single domain). This strategy is part of Google’s QDD algorithm, which ensures a broad range of results. Again, this fits into the goal of matching the expectation of the viewer. Were you looking for Wesley Snipes the actor? Or Wesley Snipes the character from 30 Rock? If all results came from one source, you would likely be eliminating relevant results for a segment of Google’s audience.

This is, in part, why “chris allan photo” yields so many results for “chris allen photo” — there simply isn’t enough diversity amongst the “allan’s” to satisfy the QDD part of the search (this is all conjecture, of course. No one really knows what’s in the algorithm).

3. Localization
Chris Allan is a South African photographer. If you go to and search for “Chris Allan” he comes up at the top. But if you go to, you get all the Allen’s. So when you’re trying to target a specific audience, you have to be aware that Google takes localization pretty seriously.

Chris has a few backlinks, but they are all originating from .za addresses. If he wants to succeed in, he needs .com addresses.

So what’s the solution?
Chris Allan simply doesn’t have many backlinks. I suspect this is the real reason that he’s not more dominant for his own name. A simply strategy of building links from his blog to his PhotoShelter website, would likely yield positive results for him. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to register his website with Google Webmaster.

Making SEO work for you can often feel like it’s too complicated, and surely, you wouldn’t expect a layperson to be aware of all these various issues. But the bottom line is that if Chris had 30 backlinks to his website, he probably wouldn’t be seeing poor performance in Google search results. So as is usually the case with SEO, building links concurrently as you develop strong content is essential.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Jason A. Bleecher at 3:58 pm

    I think there are a couple typos in #1 of this article. First, in the second paragraph under #1 the first sentence currently reads “So why does Google think “Chis Allan” is misspelled?” It is misspelled, the correct spelling is “Chris Allan.” On the next paragraph the last phrase of the paragraph reads “…Google’s spellcheck still pushes “Chris Allen” above “Chris Allen.” Google spellcheck would never prefer the same word to itself. This should read “…pushes “Chris Allen” over “Chris Allan.” Within the context of an article about the importance of how things are spelled, misspellings can be particularly confusing.

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