[Strange SEO] Ranking For Random People’s Names: How People Finder Sites Are Making Millions
Continuing my series on weird SEO, today I'm profiling sites that rank for 'people' queries.
First, a question...
When's the last time you Googled somebody?
Maybe you were researching a prospective Tinder date or vetting a potential job hire.
It's a common strategy- especially as social media has nearly eliminated the expectation of personal privacy.
Now, it's expected that you have some sort of online presence- whether that's a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn page, or an Instagram account.
In this case study, I profile sites cashing in on first name/last name search queries.
And from my research it is a big, big business.
How It Works [Case Study]
I recently got a text message from a number I didn't recognize.
I quickly Googled the number and found a website that associated the number with a vaguely familiar name:
I quickly realized who it was- a friend I had fallen out of touch with.
It got me thinking about all of the 'name' query searches that must occur on Google.
After some preliminary research, I discovered one of the biggest players in the space: MyLife.com.
According to Wikipedia, MyLife.com is an information brokerage, founded by Jeffrey Tinsley in 2002. It used to operate under the names Reunion.com & Wink.com.
The way it apparently works is that the site automatically aggregates information about people from public records and compiles that data into reports.
And, according to Wikipedia:
“a Public Page cannot be deleted and only premium (paid) members can hide content on their Public Page and remove the info from the original source.”
So if you want to access or edit your own information, you'll need to fork over some cash.
A compelling business model.
Next, to get some sense of its organic search presence, I ran MyLife.com through Ahrefs.
As you can see, Ahrefs says that the site ranks for 3.6 million keywords as of 2/18:
Digging into Ahrefs data for MyLife, you can see they are raking in tons of traffic from these low-competition, first name/last name search terms:
The majority of these search terms have a zero Keyword Difficulty Score.
That's the game here.
MyLife, and sites like them, automatically compile reports on millions of people and rank for these ultra-low competition keywords.
A site:mylife.com search reveals that Google has over 375,000 indexed pages for the site- a healthy number.
According to SimilarWeb, in December 2017 they received over 14 million visits:
As of 2/18, nearly 89% of their traffic comes from organic search. Their next biggest acquisition channel is Direct. That makes sense- they sell a premium product, so people who pay go directly to the site to do their research:
The MyLife Funnel
To illustrate how sites like these make money, I thought I'd go through the life cycle of a prospective lead.
First, I found a common name that they rank for.
Plugging MyLife.com into Ahrefs, I discovered that one of their top keywords is a 1,700 monthly search for "Stephanie Draheim":
Googling her name, I found a lot of pages (including some Google image mugshots) competing for this term:
Among the top pages are Facebook, Whitepages, MyLife, Spokeo & InstantCheckMate. Once you've clicked through to the MyLife result, you're in the funnel.
Now, let's see how they monetize this traffic.
How Do These Sites Make Money?
So how is MyLife.com and sites like it making money?
In internet marketing there are 3 broad ways you can make money online. You can display ads on content, use affiliate marketing to promote someone else's product/service, or sell your own product/service.
MyLife (and all of the sites I found in this niche) is in the last category. The product/service they're offering is the ability to access or edit personal information once you've paid.
For example, once you've clicked through to view a specific profile, you're tantalized with a ton of information about Stephanie Draheim.
It's all about landing page conversion optimization from this point forward.
In this case, MyLife provides some freebies, including her current location, location history, birthday, & family associates.
But it also strategically withholds some potentially salacious information, including data about apparent "lawsuits, liens or bankruptcies" & "criminal or civil court records".
There's also sections for work history, school history, properties, corporate affiliations, licenses & permits, photos & social posts, sex offender status, classmates & neighborhood information.
It's unclear whether MyLife actually has this information, or whether it's merely being withheld until after you've subscribed to their service.
The page funnels you towards requesting premium access to the profile and finding out whether your potential job hire is a sex offender or has defaulted on a home loan.
Clicking the green button in the screen-grab above, you're redirected to this account creation page:
Cleverly, they use this sales page to gather information on you by requiring your First Name/Last Name/Age/Zip & Email.
Clicking Save & View My Details, I used a throwaway email account to access the sales page:
As you can see, they're selling membership plans. Once you've paid you're entitled to premium information access and even the ability to edit your own information- which in my case turned out to be the fake name I had submitted!
If this business model makes you feel somewhat queasy, MyLife has had some legal trouble in the past, according to Wikipedia, and has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Now that have a free account, when I go to the MyLife.com home page, I'm directed to my personal page:
Apparently, I already have a somewhat solid '4' reputation score with 1 Review 10 minutes after creating my dummy profile.
If I want to "see, edit & montior" my background report- I've got to pay up!
It's a clever funnel- if somewhat disingenuous. My 55-year-old Bob Seger avatar obviously doesn't have a real review.
What's The Big Idea?
Am I suggesting you start a people lookup site?
No, definitely not.
However, it goes to show that the SEO market is vast.
The SEO Opportunity
It requires finding high-volume/low-competition keywords and producing targeted content.
To create a site like this, however, it's to risk the wrath of Google spinning out thousands and thousands of thin, people-targeted pages.
It's really enterprise-level SEO. We're talking hundreds of thousands of scraped pages- that's a minefield, especially if you're targeting organic traffic. Because Google takes a dim view of sites with that much 'thin' content.
The Legal Aspect
There's also the hazy legal territory of publishing scraped information on real people. That's definitely a niche I'd be wary of entering.
As Wikipedia outlines, MyLife has gotten into some legal trouble in the past- so it's not an unfounded concern.
The Moral Aspect
There's also some moral issues here. I don't like how a public profile was generated once I created an account with the site.
I also thought it was distasteful how a Reputation Score was immediately generated for my dummy profile and a fake "Review" was appended to my public profile.
I wouldn't be comfortable publishing fake Reputation Scores to encourage users to purchase access to their public profiles.
It might not be that all their Reputation Scores are fake- but my dummy profile's certainly is.
As we've seen, these people search websites capitalize on organic traffic to sell access to information. Unlike the phone number niche that I analyzed, I didn't find any sites employing display ads or affiliate marketing.
Regardless, there's definitely a huge market opportunity here to scrape vast amounts of public information data to compile these reports.
It's an easy way to get traffic and offers a ready-made eCommerce opportunity selling packaged reports to nosy neighbors, private investigators, or perhaps more nefarious actors.
As I've said- definitely not a niche I would advise getting into. But, it's an interesting example of how you can leverage low-competition search traffic and funnel it to a premium product.
If you like this case study, consider giving it a share or leaving a comment.