i-1ace03a3145ac9ef4c6bb755709268f9-Google Image YouTube soldier.jpg
Back in January, not long after I launched the MediaShift blog, I wrote a blog post about soldiers in Iraq uploading their videos to YouTube. When I made that post, I included a screen shot from one of the videos, which I casually titled “YouTube soldier.” Now, nearly 11 months later, that picture is bringing in the most referred traffic to my blog.

The proof is in my traffic logs, as well as some Google Image searches. I noticed this phenomenon right around the time of Google’s announced intention to buy YouTube. If you did a search on Google Image search for youtube, my screen grab of “YouTube soldier” was the first result (as seen above), and it linked to my blog post. Over the past five or six weeks, most of my referred traffic is from images.google.com, as well as images.google.es, images.google.de, images.google.fr and images.google.ca — the international versions of Google Image search. For instance, last week, I’d say that almost half of my referred traffic — meaning visitors linking through to me from other sites vs. those who typed in my web address by hand — came from Google Image searches.

Lately, I’ve noticed that I come up a little lower on searches for “youtube” on Google Image search, but the YouTube soldier pic still comes up in the No. 4 slot on most search results. Why is that? Should my soldier screen grab be the most important and relevant result for people searching for an image associated with YouTube? Other images on that first page of results seem more relevant: media pictures of the YouTube co-founders mugging; screen shots of YouTube web pages; stories about YouTube yanking Comedy Central videos.

I was one of the first people to write about YouTube and soldier videos there, so I deserve some authority on the subject. But to be THE authority on YouTube that comes up at the top of Google searches? That seems like a stretch… My guess is that because I named the picture “YouTube soldier,” it probably helped push up the picture on image searches.

I also have become the go-to source for web searches for youtube CEO after doing a brief five-question email interview with YouTube CEO Chad Hurley in April. I’m in the No. 1 slot for that Google search, rather than, say, a bio page for Chad Hurley or the page describing the founders at YouTube itself. During the big press bonanza when the GoogTube buyout was announced, I received a boatload of traffic to the old interview because of people searching for “youtube CEO” on Google.

Authority on Soldier Videos

Midway through the year, I started getting media inquiries for interviews on the subject of soldier videos online, as the mainstream media (MSM) started paying attention to the phenomenon. MTV did its special on soldier videos, and NPR did a story on soldier videos on MySpace. So I decided I might as well do a special online guide to soldier videos — where to find them, the changing stance of the military brass, the increased attention of the MSM.

Now that post is getting Google love from searches for soldier videos (No. 2 result) and Iraq videos (No. 3 as long as you don’t use quotation marks). According to my server logs at PBS, “iraq videos” was the top search term that brought people to my blog in November, largely from Google.

Of course I’m happy to get all the traffic I can from Google, as are most people who run news sites or blogs. But I have to wonder if the people who are finding my site this way are happy they’ve found me. My guide to soldier videos does help them find videos from Iraq, though I’m not sure if these are the types of videos they’re looking for.

The top search results for “iraq videos” directly above my link are from LiveLink and The Nausea, both of which highlight graphic and gory videos from Iraq. Should those sites be the authority on Iraq videos? Are they really the go-to sites?

I post all this information here in the interest of hearing your own logic for why my blog posts have moved up so high on Google searches. (No, this isn’t a tawdry play for even more Google love…) I doubt Google would tell me why this has happened, and I fear that when they read this, they will manually change the search results. (That happened in the past after I wrote about Quixtar searches in Google bringing up a prominent Quixtar critic’s site at No. 1 instead of the company site.)

So use the comments to tell me your theories on why my soldier pic and blog posts have received so much Google love, and also share your own stories of blog posts or photos receiving Google love for unknown reasons. Perhaps we can find a pattern to the search-engine madness, and become search engine optimization (SEO) experts.