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For Ted Leonsis, a Quest to Find Himself Faster Online

Monday, November 13, 2006

For a man who's often in the public eye, Ted Leonsis didn't like what he saw when he Googled himself last year.

Leonsis -- vice chairman of AOL, majority owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team and the Mystics of women's basketball, and minority owner of the NBA's Wizards -- was disappointed to see that whenever he typed his name in Google's search box, the results were a hodgepodge of news stories.

That didn't work for him. He wanted to figure out a way to manipulate Google's complicated search engine to put the information he wanted people to see at the top of his results.

"On search, you want to be on that first page," Leonsis said. "You don't exist from Page 3 on."

So, what did he do?

First, he started blogging. In January he launched "Ted's Take," his personal blog, posting daily snippets of his life that offered glimpses into the world of one of the area's richest businessmen. For example, in an entry from Nov. 6, Leonsis shares his busy schedule: He gave a speech at the University of Maryland's business school. He met singer Lionel Richie, who gave a private impromptu performance. And he watched the Caps lose to Atlanta from his box at the Verizon Center, where he played host to the rock band Barenaked Ladies.

A key was using celebrity names that Web surfers would link to. According to Leonsis, there are three major factors in Google's algorithm: The more popular a Web page is, the higher it ranks. The more a Web page is linked to other Web sites, such as other blogs, the higher it ranks. More recent entries also boost rankings.

Leonsis started to post several times a day. Then he added links to lots of other bloggers, including those talking about local sports and that of another team owner and blogger, Mark Cuban. Those blogs, in turn, link to his blog. He also linked his site to the Capitals'.

He added lots of tags to his blog posts, dropping names of famous people he dealt with. Nothing happened for a few weeks. But as months went by, the rankings began to change. "Ted's Take" moved up the page of search results, and now Leonsis says he has an audience of 800 or 900 on a bad day, 12,000 to 15,000 on a good one.

"There is something very powerful about self-expression, adding your own voice to the loud choir happening out there," Leonsis said. Also, he said, he needed to build up his Web 2.0 street cred. "I honestly wanted to have the moral authority with employees and people in industry that I wasn't just talking about Web 2.0, I was living it."

The point wasn't as much vanity (well, maybe a tad) as it was an exercise in understanding how the mysterious Google algorithm works.

As of Friday, a Google search for "Ted Leonsis" brought his profile from the AOL company Web site, followed by a page from "Ted's Take" and then his biography on the Washington Capitals Web site.

"A few weeks ago, I e-mailed some people I told I would do this in a year, and I wrote, 'My job is done!' " Leonsis said.

His next project? Adding more video and photographs to his blog and then manipulating the results when someone searches for his photo on Google Images. Up to now, he said, a search for pictures of himself has turned up a lot of "weird ones" taken by The Washington Post. "I've got some nice photos," he said. "I've got to get those into the algorithm."

-- Sara Kehaulani Goo

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