People used to invite me round to dinner so I could fix their computers: now they invite me so I can tell them how to get to the top of Google.
I think the "Google Question" must have followed me home from work one night and now knows where I live. I'm being stalked by a question that has invaded my private life.
When I meet new people, I now have to lie about what I do for a living. I have to be careful not to get too intoxicated and let it slip that I'm into "Search Marketing".
When people find out, some are really cool, and just treat me like any normal person. Others jump straight in, pound signs rotating in their eyes, and pop the question: "Why doesn't my site come up on the first page of Google when I type X?".
I usually tell them that Google is a war zone and careless talk costs lives.
If that doesn't shut them up, I suggest they might like to employ me to review their site and put together a search marketing strategy. They then usually offer to buy me another drink instead!
The answers to other questions that have troubled humanity, such as is the earth flat and what is the meaning of the life, are now common knowledge: no and 42 respectively. But no one has yet found a simple answer to the Google question. And if I had, would I be prepared to part with it for the price of a pint?
Successful on-line businesses spend more on search marketing than most SMEs spend on conventional media and around half of their spend will go on improving so-called free or organic rankings.
The organic rankings are hard to achieve and take sustained effort - months and even years of activity.
Firstly, you've got get Google to come and have a look at your site. This can take forever if you simply submit your site via Google's on-line form.
Then the site has to be built with search engine ranking in mind as you don't want Google to turn up and find nothing of interest.
Remember all those meetings you had with your web designers deciding whether to have blue or the red buttons? Well you should have been talking about what words were going to be on the home page.
Then you need to work on your page ranking (PR). The better your PR the higher in the results you will come. It is not entirely clear how a Google PR is increased, but having lots of links from other sites with good PRs is definitely advantageous and almost essential for getting the Google indexing robots to make a first visit.
But now I've gone and said too much.
If I'm ever going to shake off the "Google Question", I need to keep quiet about this stuff and hope people stop seeking a simple answer to a complicated question.
* Chris is managing director of Internet consultancy WebXpress. This and other unedited articles can be found at www.webxpress.com . E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org