Whether you’re applying for a new job, looking to erase the one-time angst from your high school LiveJournal, or ensuring your girlfriend never finds out about that weekend in Mexico, it’s a wise move to keep a handle on what pops up when your name is Googled.
While the art of the resume is far from dead, what exists in the virtual cloud may ultimately have more sway on your career path than what’s on paper. These days, it’s not so much about what you say about yourself as it is about what employers and potential clients can find out about you. Take these basic steps in order to ensure that what they do find is to your advantage.
Step One: Hide Your Shame
The first and obvious step to reclaiming your web presence is to nix all the bad news on you. Unless you’re a celebrity or political figure, most of the disparaging material is going to be self-inflicted. In my case, it was my younger self that was responsible for besmirching my good name. As a kid, I was kind of a humongous dork and churned out a voluminous amount of embarrassingly crappy websites and “Dear Diary, I’m a sad sack teenager” vanity blogs. More recently, there’s stuff like Facebook and MySpace to worry about.
Here’s what you gotta do:
Nuke Old Blogs. Google all your old nicknames and handles. This will quickly bring up stuff that may not be apparent when Googling your given name but may turn up with some digging. Once you find the Xanga or LiveJournal of DarkWarrior69 or something, try to log in and put your account on private or simply delete it.
Mask Your Facebook. Log in to your account and go to Settings / Privacy / Profile. Make all of the dropdown menus “Only friends.” (Especially “Photos tagged of you.”) Don’t risk allowing “Friends of Friends” access – that’s a wider network than you may realize (I’m sure Kevin Bacon’s in there somewhere).
Protect your MySpace. Log in and click My Account / Privacy. Make everything viewable by “My Friends Only.” Or better yet, just delete your MySpace account – you’ve likely outgrown it.
Purge Search Engine Caches. Many search engines save copies of websites in a cache, which means some material can linger even after deletion. In theory, search engine spiders should remove links to old content during its next update when it finds out the page has changed (or disappeared). If that’s not quick enough for you, you’ll need to use Google Webmaster Tools or Yahoo Site Explorer (though you’ll often need admin access to the site do so). You also may want to put in a removal request with the Internet Archive. For the future, use a robots.txt file. Read more on all this here.
There. That should remove the bulk of your misguided racist manifestos and and all the drunken, half-nude photos of you. With a relatively clean slate, let’s move on.
Step Two: Disambiguation
One confounding feature of the Internet is that instead of finding what you are looking for, you find what someone else is looking for. Having a white bread name like mine compounds the problem, especially if your doppelganger has a significantly bigger wig than yours (in my case, I’m contending with venture capitalists, a pool cleaner and a fairly prominent brewing company).
In order to dethrone the pretenders, you’re going to have to make it easier for your audience to find you.
Set Up a LinkedIn Account and a Google Profile. LinkedIn, as you should know by now, is the Facebook of the business world and is almost always a top hit on Google Results. Google Profiles, obviously, rank even better and will appear prominently at the bottom of a results list whenever someone searches your name – as long a you’ve made one. The process is pretty self-explanatory for both accounts. You may also want to sign up for similar services such as Naymz or Ziki, if you’ve got some cash to shuck.
Buy Yourname.com and Yourname.net. Or buy your-name.com or your-name.net. Or yourcompanyofpittsburgh.org. It costs roughly $10 per domain name for an entire year, so there’s really no excuse not to get them both. If the domain name is taken, give it a visit and see if it is inactive or parked by another registrar. In that case, look to see if you can put in a bid to buy it as soon as it becomes available (I had to wait a year for Jackbusch.com). A quick whois.net lookup will tell you when the registration expires – mark it on your calendar and begin checking back close to the date. Some good domain registrars (other than GoDaddy.com) are DreamHost,VerveHosting, iPowerWeb, Dotster and NameCheap. Also, you may want to check out services like Nombray.com and Domai.nr.
Guide Web Searchers with your Domain. If you don’t want to shell out any more money, simply forward it to your Google Profile or your LinkedIn, though you risk looking a little bit generic. Your best bet is to setup a basic web resume (try VisualCV) and, ideally, a blog (see below).
Whichever method you decide to use, make sure that all of the following show up within the first 50 words on your page:
- Your Name
- Your Location
- Your Profession
Better yet, put all that in the title. You should also add a small, business-card-appropriate picture of yourself (as long as you’re photogenic). Now, if anyone mistakes you for someone else, it won’t matter, because they are probably too daft to make a good boss or client anyway.
Step Three: Look Busy
Professional websites and blogs are a double-edged sword. The only thing worse than not being found is having a potential boss or client stumble upon a half-cocked, outdated page that you put up in 1996. If you’re a business, it looks like you are behind the times (or defunct) and if you’re just a regular guy, it looks like you are lazy and non-committal. In order to avoid the “lights are on, but nobody’s home” effect, you’re going to want to do one of two things: make your space timeless (evergreen) or update often.
For the first route, the easiest thing to do is to keep it simple. Post a one page design without any indication of when the site was last updated. Avoid embedding images or other media from another site as this increases your chances of having a broken link (and it’s kind of rude). Keep the formatting simple – don’t use any fancy fonts that won’t work on different systems. The goal is to create a webpage that will look clean and error-free on any browser – past, present or future. While the future of web browsers is admittedly difficult to predict, it’s typically safe to stick to the most basic tags and styles, as these are less likely to become obsolete or passe (remember the blink tag?).
A better method is to update your page regularly – even if that’s not necessarily frequently. To do this, you’re going to want to use a good content management system (CMS), the easiest of which being a simple blog. If you are serious about managing your web presence, you may as well host your own content as well. This allows you greater flexibility in what you post and what you don’t post (randomly generated ads, namely). Some of the domain registrars above offer web hosting as well. Personally, I use A Small Orange which comes with cPanel and Fantastico pre-installed, which make life 400 percent easier when it comes to installing WordPress (and other CMS platforms), setting up e-mail accounts and building a store front.
If you aren’t particularly tech-savvy (although you really don’t need to be), you can setup a blog using one of a number of free blogging platforms. In my opinion, WordPress.com offers a favorable balance of accessibility and professional look and feel. Google’s Blogger platform is also a favorite, though I feel that it has more of a “personal” vibe. Either way, both are highly customizable. At any rate, they are both dead simple to setup and won’t require you to shell out any coin for webspace. If you do decide to go the route of self-hosting, WordPress.org offers a nearly equally as simple installation and infinitely more features. Currently, I’m running a Drupal website. There are many more options, of course – I suggest you find two you may be interested in and look for side-by-side comparisons (Google: WordPress vs. blogger and you’ll get more opinions than you ever wanted.)
What’s more important than how you setup your blog is what you put on it. It’s best to keep your posts on topic: if you are a photographer, post pictures (get a Tumblr blog); if you’re a writer, re-post some clips (with links to the original source); if you’re in marketing, link to some of your past clients, and so forth.
Keep these pointers in mind, as well:
- Post regularly. Even if you have a million ideas or links in one day, schedule some of your posts to appear later in the week or month. Or, better yet, set your blog up so the date isn’t shown on your posts.
- Don’t be boring. Even though this is supposed to be a professional space, show a little personality (as long as you’ve got one). Otherwise you’re going to sound like a home insurance brochure.
- Link and be linked. It doesn’t have to be all about you. Give some link love to other blogs and sites in your field and they may return in kind.
- Blog successes. And failures. But don’t call them failures – present them as challenges and detail how you overcame them. And if you haven’t overcome them yet, get on it.
- Answer questions. Cruise the forums in the areas of your expertise and help others out. Then, spin it into a full-fledged blog entry later and refer to it when the question comes up again.
- Join some blogging networks. They provide the dual perks of visibility and community. Find the group that matches your region and expertise and begin making some connections.
In her book, “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College,” Alexandra Levitt points out that you shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to blogging and you should instead add your voice to already established blogs. In a recent interview with Primer, Levitt suggested starting a rapport with other bloggers by leaving “cohesive, crisp thoughts in the comments section.” As they get to know you, the opportunity to write a guest post may arise, which will open the door to back links to your own site, greater visibility and a decent reputation boost.
The key is to be visible, but also appear productive. Getting attention is one thing, but having something to say once you have the floor is what will make you stand out.
My answer would be to first of all practice as much as you can on your own. If your company offers writing classes, even if they are internal, take them. Everyone can improve in terms of the writing that they do. I’ve been writing for a long time and I still use an editor for all of my work so make sure you get into the habit of putting a first draft away and then coming back to it and either having someone else look at it or look at it a second time yourself. That will help your writing become more crisp, more concise and easier to read.
And then when you’re ready to venture out into the blogosphere I would start by commenting on other people’s blogs. Start by forming cohesive crisp thoughts in the comments sections of peoples’ blogs and as they get to know you, then you might start thinking about doing a guest post on that person’s blog. A lot of people are willing to let new writers do guest posts and that’s a great way to introduce your thoughts and maybe even gradually become a contributing writer in those publications.
Step Four: Keep Your Nose Clean
For many who grew up in front of a computer, the Internet has become somewhat of a virtual playground. Understandably, it can be kind of a downer when it comes time to hide away all your toys, so to speak, as we’ve done in the preceding three steps. But just because your boss may be watching doesn’t mean you have to become a total square to your friends. It’s just a matter of making yourself semi-anonymous.
You can still have a Facebook account with links to YouTube montages of your top 10 greatest keg stands. You can even Twitter your latest trip to the dermatologist, if that’s something you want people to know about you. Just make sure that only certain people would suspect that it’s you. For all my “web relations,” I’ve invented myself a fake personal assistant. It’s kind of a spin on having a chat room handle, except that casual passersby won’t bother to suspect that my PA’s identity is genuine (and thus won’t dig). Meanwhile, all my friends know its me.
So, essentially, what I’ve done, and what you should do (though you don’t have to use the same method) is to keep your accounts separate: one for work, one for play. Use one handle – let’s say, RealNameProfessionMcGee, for posting on forums and talking shop. Make sure this persona never references the other. So, when employers Google your real name they’ll find your professional website, your LinkedIn profile, your Google Profile and a score of forum posts where you save the day with your expertise. Also, since you’ve already purchased YourName.com, use that for all of your business emails. Meanwhile, you can still use YourName@gmail.com to forward all your chain letters and pictures of squirrels holding cigarettes to your buddies.
So there you have it. These are the four things you should be doing about your web presence at the very least. There are always new strategies and avenues out there for boosting your Google Juice and Web reputation. For further reading, check out some of the following links:
- Manage Your Online Reputation from Lifehacker
- How to Use the Web to Build A Powerful Reputation In Any Industry from Dosh Dosh
- Deleting your digital past — for good from Computerworld
- Google-Proof PR? from Forbes
- The Blog is the New Resume from Bokardo