Google your name and you’ll probably get hundreds of results in just a few seconds; but if that search doesn’t come up pristine there’s no way to explain yourself. In fact, the biggest mistake you can make is thinking that because you’re a good and decent person, the internet will think so, too. The two aren’t correlated. The way the web is designed means that a stray remark can radically change your digital profile.
Search engines care about certain content much more than others, so you have to play by their rules to get the search results you want to see. Here are the three most important ones: Having your full name in a URL is powerful; adding new content about yourself at a regular pace over time increases the significance of certain web pages; and having a splash page with 500 to 800 words to describe who you are and what you do is crucial.
1. Start taking control of your online reputation by Googling yourself. When people search for you, the first few results should all be terrific things that are true about you or your company. If those results aren’t showing up, it’s time to take ownership of your digital identity.
2. Create a web page with your own name or your business name in the web address. The reason this is so powerful is that Google’s search engine thinks pages with the name of a topic in the URL are highly relevant and therefore possibly authoritative. Think of this splash page as your online resumé. After you’ve done that, make tasteful LinkedIn and Twitter accounts with your full name in the user profiles. The aim is to claim your Google real estate. Audit yourself from time to time to ensure these pages still occupy the top results.
One of the biggest surprises our researchers found: Kids, across all cultures, talk about their parents over the internet. The stuff we used to say to friends over the phone — Mom and Dad got into a fight; Dad didn’t get the raise; Mom got a promotion; Dad’s drunk again — is now being said casually on social networks. To keep your name in the clear, make sure to talk to your kids about the lack of privacy on the internet — especially on social networks. You can’t just trust privacy settings.
3. Know when to do damage control and when to let sleeping dogs lie. If someone attacks you online, it’s best to ignore it unless it’s highly visible and demonstrably false. Otherwise you run the risk of what we call the “Streisand effect.” Years ago, Barbra had her lawyer send a letter to a paparazzo who had photographed her house. It only succeeded in drawing more attention to the photo and it was then seen around the world.
All of these steps will help you avoid or fix a bad Google, but be forewarned: It’s getting harder to repair your online reputation on your own. If you feel you have a real problem, it’s probably time to call in the experts.
Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, whose expertise is online privacy and reputation management.