When I was in college, my friend (now co-founder) Pete couldn’t get an internship, despite being one of the most qualified kids in the class. His GPA was nearly perfect, he had started two clubs on campus, and he had even won a few scholarships. He sent his resume to dozens of companies, and while the rest of us were getting phone calls, going on interviews, and lining up gigs, Pete wasn’t hearing from anyone.
He had no idea why—until a former classmate who worked at a company he had been rejected from let him know: “Once they got your resume, they Googled you.” Turns out, he was being mistaken for a drug dealer with the same name.
Like most people, Pete had no idea how to improve his own results. His only option was to pay a reputation company thousands of dollars to do it for him. It wasn’t realistic for Pete—and it’s not realistic for the average person—which is why we decided to create BrandYourself, a free DIY product that helps you improve your own results.
OK, so let’s talk about you: Even if you don’t share the same name as a drug dealer, you’re going to be Googled. In fact, our recent national study found that 85% of hiring managers solidify their decision to hire someone based on positive Google results and 70% solidify their decision not to hire based on negative ones. And this doesn’t just apply to job applicants—you can expect to be Googled by your colleagues, potential clients, and even first dates, too.
So, let’s just say it’s pretty important to have control over your online presence—not only to keep out the negative stuff, but also to make sure your results are painting the picture you want people to see. Here are six steps you can take today to get started.
1. Google Yourself
The first step is knowing exactly where you stand. If you’re like most people, you fall into one of three categories: the negative category, the irrelevant category, or the “hey, that’s not me!” category. While there are different strategies for each situation, your end goal is to fall into the “This person looks awesome!” category. And the tips below are a great start no matter what.
2. Claim Your Domain Name
Next, before you do anything else, visit a domain registrar like Hover.com and purchase all domains containing your name (e.g., yourname.com, yourname.me). It’s the most important thing you can do, and it only costs 12 bucks a year. Domain names show up high in searches for your name, so this is the fastest, easiest way to get a result on the first page of Google. Even if you’re not planning to create a personal website right away, you’ll at least prevent other people with your name from stealing your results.
And if someone has taken your name? Don’t worry. First, check to see if all variations are taken, including yourname.me, yourname.org, and yourname.tv. If they are, choose a domain that still includes your full name. For example, Patrick-Ambron.com, PatrickAmbronblog.com, and PatrickAmbronOnline.com are all better than AmbronP.com. Even if your name is John Smith, there’s bound to be at least one remaining domain name for you.
3. Build a Personal Website
You should have at least one hub on the web that showcases everything about you—your work history, education, accolades, personal interests, and so on. Hint: The more comprehensive you make it, the higher it will show up in Google. With free tools like WordPress and Tumblr that let you set up and maintain your site pretty easily, there is absolutely no excuse not to have one.
If you’re really serious about owning the first page of results for your name (like if you’re trying to, say, bury a drug dealer), create multiple hubs. The more content you have in Google, the more likely you are to show up.
4. Get on the Four Main Social Networks
That’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. (In fact, the more social media profiles you create—think Pinterest, Reddit, Instagram—the better.) These are credible sites that Google trusts, so they tend to rank very high for your name. You don’t need to super active on these sites—just create a profile and fill out all of the fields, and that’s another positive result you control.
Again, you’re also claiming your name so that other people with the same name don’t beat you to it and get that result instead. If they do beat you to it, just try to create a username that still includes your name (like Patrick-Ambron or PatrickAmbronPR). Then make sure you optimize it. On that note:
5. Do Basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Now that you have a website, domain, and social media profiles, make sure they’re “search engine optimized.” While SEO can be complicated, there are a few basic things you can do that will make a big difference:
- Use Your Actual Name Wherever Possible: Quite simply, if your name isn’t found on a page, Google won’t consider that page a relevant result when people search your name. That means, use “Patrick Ambron,” not “Pattyboy22.”
- Fill Your Profiles Out Completely: You might notice that people often leave their Facebook profiles’ “About” section blank. While it may not be important to you personally, the more information about you on a page, the more likely Google is to rank it higher. So complete your LinkedIn profile 100%, add in your Twitter bio, and fill out every section you can on Facebook. It will make a difference.
- Link Them All Together: Make sure that all of your profiles and webpages link to each other. When I find your LinkedIn profile, I should be able to get from there to your website. When I get to your website, I should be able to find everything else, and so on. Google counts every link to a page as a vote for that page’s credibility, so the more relevant pages about you that link together, the higher they’ll all rank.
6. Monitor Your Results
Even if you look great now, it only takes one poorly judged photo tag or a blog post from a disgruntled partner to ruin your search results. Either Google yourself on a regular basis or use a tool like BrandYourself that will alert you when things change and tell you what you can do about it.
Take it from Pete (and me): You definitely don’t want to leave your Google results to chance. Taking a few hours to clean up your online presence can make a big difference—in how you look on Google, in how future employers see you, and in your professional future.
Read more on Spring Cleaning Your Career!