More searched than Obama… how do you react?

I’ve just been contacted by a newspaper running a story based on Hitwise’s (the web monitoring specialists) press release, which says in Q4 2008, I was the most searched personality in the UK, unbelievably beating Barack Obama by 11%! The story is here – Hitwise blogs.

It’s a bit of a challenge to know how to comment on it. There are a mass of different issues involved (including the fact they’ve used the Valentine’s logo…). I thought it would be useful to write down my feelings and mullings; both for me to read over in years to come when I’m long forgotten, and to try and straighten out my thoughts on it.

How do you do proud without doing arrogant?

First of all, I know that unlike the real celebrities on the list people are searching for my info not my ‘good looks and sparkling wit’, so I shan’t get arrogant about it. Many people use my name as a short cut to get to the articles, e.g. put “balance transfers martin lewis” in Google and you jump straight to that article – it’s quicker than typing MoneySavingExpert.

Furthermore, like most Brits I’ve absolutely no idea how you handle a compliment. Is there a right way? Crow about it and you look like a smug git, pass it off you look ungrateful and caring. Of course, inside I smiled when I heard the news. I smiled again when asked about being an “overnight success”: it’s taken ten years of 70+ hour working weeks, spreadsheets, and hardcore, debilitating stress to become one!

Yet a note like this makes you realise you’ve reached outside your box. I don’t know quite how to get that across (it’s not the same as writing here, to people who know the site). I have to say it does also in truth make me feel a little bit like not wanting to leave the house or work – it’s strange to think when you go outside so many people know who you are.

The upsurge has a sad undercurrent.

I’ve always said MoneySaving is more of a movement than anything else. And while I’m cock-a-hoop to see more MoneySavers on the site, we all know this upsurge is primarily due to the fact the economy has fallen off a cliff & many people are searching because they NEED to, rather than WANT to. While I’m glad that this site and its community has built up a level of trust that makes it the go-to place, I wish it wasn’t caused by such a negative and depressing overall economic picture.

It’s a bit like the constant “you’re the one man benefiting from the credit crunch” line I hear all the time, which makes me want to tear my hair out. Actually I’m hating the recession. We get emails from people who are struggling and in terrible situations, and my media appearances always seem to be responding to crisis fire fighting. In short, much of the fun’s disappeared (I can hardly believe I once did Money comedy characters).

Plus, it’s so much more difficult to find the right solutions, and certainty about them; we have to constantly ask “will the company still survive?” or “will the bank go bust?” – questions which leave potential cracks in the foundations of any info.

As for me work-wise, last year I could fill my week five times over. This year it’s seven times, yet that doesn’t actually make that much difference. I’ve deliberately cut back so I only really do my regulars, far fewer ad hoc appearances.

As for the site, traffic is huge, we’ve nearly 8m users a month (960m hits) and 3.1m getting the weekly e-mail; while we’ve always had similar growth levels, what’s incredible is they’re continuing even at this size. Yet while the site’s traffic is up, the site’s revenue, while highly ethical, comes downstream of people whose revenue comes from advertising; and as everyone know’s that’s been hugely hit (See how this site is financed guide for a full explanation of how it works). The site is still very strong, yet where in the past recruiting new team members and investing in our big tools is something I’ve been able to do without question, this year things are different.

Yet being higher than Obama is amazing

Having said all that, who wouldn’t be awestruck upon seeing their own name’s been searched more than the President of the United States’? Especially one with so much hope, talent, good feeling and expectation behind him? It’s mind numbing! Now excuse me while I go print out the results and put them on my wall – the grandchildren may laugh at it one day.

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