In my head, Google was rather like Santa Claus.
Instead of a highly efficient company, I imagined Google to be a wise old man. Sitting in front of a fireplace somewhere with a big old book in his lap, recording all the naughty and nice things everyone did. It was kind of comforting.
So when I made the decision to go freelance I wasn’t too concerned about my online reputation.
After all, I’d spent years in the salt mines of the corporate world.
I’d risen through the ranks.
I’d kicked some big goals.
Except that it turns out that Google didn’t know about any of it.
When I did a search for myself, I discovered that not only did Google barely spit out any data when my name was searched, but what it told the world about me was kinda cringeworthy.
Flicking through, I remember thinking, ‘I myself wouldn’t even hire me, based on this!’
The first ranking in a google search on my name was …..wait for it. 30something Kathy Wilson at a Dr Who symposium – forever ago.
And then of course – there were the other Kathy Wilsons; Kathy Wilson who is apparently a dog walker and a Kathy Wilson who is a tax agent who does not seem to make her clients very happy.
Not so much what I was hoping for.
So I did some research (yes, I googled it) and discovered people and websites that, unlike me, had already cracked that SEO magic.
It turns out that Google doesn’t spend its time tracking my every move.
Instead, it presents information based on a series of emotionless algorithms and that by making some small and easy changes, I could take charge of how I was represented online.
Within a couple of months of cleaning up my online profile, I had secured my dream job and actually no longer needed to freelance – but the experience taught me that the days of leaving your online profile up to chance (or Google) are long gone.
Here’s my top 4 tips for proactively managing how you look online.
1. Google yourself – hard
Sure, typing your name into Google is a start. But there are some other things you can do to go deeper.
Type in your phone numbers. These can often be associated with websites you have been involved with and may provide more personal information about you than you’d like. Delete whatever you can and shut down old profiles on sites you don’t feel represent your current interests any longer.
2. Own your domain
Buy the domain in your name. Both in .com and .com.au if it is available.
It is super easy – just go to GoDaddy or Netregistry.com.
There were a few years there in the wild, wild west of internet when short, succinct domain names were considered to be specks in the gold pan.
The classic story is Rick Schwartz, a college drop and travelling salesman. Urban legend has it that Rick had the (rather brilliant) idea early on of buying all the (ahem) adult themed domain names he could think of. At least one of those domains sold for enough money to finance 5 homes and 7 cars and apparently he never had to post one dirty picture.
The domain gold rush days may well be over, but that doesn’t mean they’re no longer valuable.
Having your own website under your own domain is one of the quickest way to boost your profile (and bury the stuff you don’t want anyone to know about.) Having your name in the URL is SEO gold. Owning your own domain also means no one else does.
And while you are at it – buy the domains in your kid’s names.
According to Deborah Sweeney, contributor to Forbes.com, “Parents today are catching on to the trend and buying the names before they’re gone. The purchase of a site URL also serves as a valuable investment – an inexpensive buy for children to later inherit.” (Again, I will contact Forbes and let them know I quote them and hopefully get a share from them and also Deborah Sweeney)
You don’t have to use it to build a website yet, but for the princely sum of $10 a year it may be the best investment you ever make.
3. Get a professional profile picture that represents you on your very best day.
Ideally, this will be a professional shot with great lighting and a suitable backdrop.
And use it – everywhere. You are your brand and you want to be instantly recognisable (nice side effect- you’ll dominate the first page of Google images.)
Michael Fertik, author of The Reputation Economy and an international expert, believes the reputation economy is fast becoming our most valuable currency. “Thanks to rapid advances in technology, your reputation will become ubiquitous, permanent, and available worldwide ….with or without your knowledge or consent” .
4. Use the right tools (the best ones are actually free).
Google nearly anyone you like, and I can virtually guarantee you their Linked In profile will be in top 3.
If you don’t use LinkedIn professionally, you should.
Get yourself a LinkedIn profile and if you have one already – update it. Regularly.
Figure out a few keywords to represent you and you want to be known for. Use them every chance you can.
Google + links count. Google has invested many millions of dollars into this tool. As a result, Google+ posts ranks highly. Geekier minds than mine have spent a lot of time discussing why but as Cyrus Shepard of Moz.com says “the evidence seems to suggest Google+ posts do pass other SEO benefits not found easily in other social platforms.” (another potential share/link)
Set yourself up with a google+ account (using your new professional professional photo.) And start posting.
Don’t do what I did, and go into damage repair mode mid career-change. Don’t make a single career move until you’ve set your social media up as an accurate reflection of who you are- and trained the Internet to do the same.
Kathy Wilson is the founder of Elite Reputations, a boutique online reputation management company that specialises in ensuring their clients look as good online as they are offline. Digital reputation is an increasingly powerful business tool and she offers a free 3 day crash course in taking control.