This delightful tidbit about the strange inner workings of Google's black box comes courtesy of W.W. Norton's Brendan Curry, who tweeted today that he'd serendipitously discovered this backdoor to the mustachioed author's official bio page.
"Accidentally searched for 'about the author' on Google. First result? Thomas L. Friedman's official bio," Curry wrote. "Now THAT's SEO."
I got curious, then. Was Friedman's position at the top of the rankings, in fact, search engine optimization? Looking at the source code, I have to reluctantly conclude that Farrar, Straus, and Giroux have done nothing untoward to make Friedman's bio rise to the top. They didn't stuff the (exceptionally long) bio with the word author or do anything aside from naming the page on which the bio sits, "About the Author."
Which leads me to the conclusion that this is not an SEO trick, but a reflection of how many people have linked to Tom Friedman's bio because they love or hate him. All of which should serve as a good reminder to every online writer: Google doesn't understand the irony in your links.
UPDATE! Gizmodo's Mat Honan (aka my friend Mat) also wrote to me to note something fascinating. If you Bing, err... Bing search, 'About the Author,' Thomas Friedman's not even on the first page of results. I also tried DuckDuckGo and Friedman was nowhere to be found there, either. So, what's up with that? Honestly, I have no idea why this would be a Google-only phenomenon.
Alexis C. Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.