Your Internet identity – what others see when they “search the net” using your name – is a function of what the search engine can find that relates to your name and also importantly how the results of that search are then displayed. This means that results from such a search will often display items that relate to individuals with names similar or the same as yours or information that is no longer relevant, either socially or professionally. As a result, the search engine is managing your Internet identity, and it will continue to do so unless you become actively engaged in its management. Internet identity management is not complex; however, it does require some time and effort to regularly execute a few action steps that are tailored to meet your individual needs.
Never, ever click on any link that points to a negative item you find when searching your own name.
Search Engine Basics
Search engines “crawl” the web building indexes and providing users a ranked list of websites. Ranking is a function of relevance and popularity. While multiple factors determine relevance and popularity, the fundamental assumption made by the major search engine designers is that popular sites, those visited and viewed the most, contain valuable information and that less popular sites contain less valuable information. Thus, the search results, perhaps hundreds of pages, are presented in rank order, from the most popular to the least popular. Stated differently, this ranking means that pages with the most views will likely appear at the top of the displayed results. Therefore, clicking on a link to any item found is adding to its popularity, even negative items.
Search Engine User Behavior
Most users rarely look at more than the first few pages of search results. In fact, research shared by HubSpot, a provider of marketing software, indicates that 75% of the searchers do not go beyond the first page of their search results. With ten references appearing on each page, this means that to many users, the first few pages of the search results are what they use to define your Internet identity or to learn about you.
Digital identity management starts by focusing on the first few pages of results associated with your name search. The overall objective is to move negative, less flattering or non-relevant items down the list and positive, more flattering and relevant items up the list. In most cases, this is easily done with a few action steps.
While there are many approaches one can follow to influence the content that appears on the first pages of search results, the following are useful techniques to start.
- Select a search engine and perform a search using your name. Perform this search on a regular basis. Remember to avoid clicking on negative results.
- Review the first two pages of results – normally the first 20 items listed. Ignore the paid sponsor references. Look for patterns and obvious omissions. For example, is a LinkedIn profile or an employer website profile included on the first page?
- The next steps depend on what you find during your review. Start by focusing on the results you can directly influence. Examples include,
- LinkedIn – Increase the popularity and ranking of your LinkedIn page by promoting your public profile. Your LinkedIn public profile is the “streamlined version of your profile that shows up in search engine results, and it is visible to people who aren’t signed in to LinkedIn. LinkedIn suggests the following options for promoting public profiles: create a personal URL, add a LinkedIn “View My Profile” button to your online resume, blog, or website or create an email signature that contains your public profile URL. Additionally, you can invite people you know to connect with you – usually they will visit your page before connecting, or you can join relevant groups and share information by contributing to discussions or by sharing articles that are relevant to the groups’ members.
- Personal Webpage or Blog – You can increase the popularity and ranking of your personal webpage or blog by creating an email signature that contains your URL. Also, you can increase visibility by using generally accepted search engine optimization (SEO) techniques when creating new webpages or blog articles. Learn more about SEO by visiting “The Beginners Guide to SEO,” Google’s “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” or any number of other guides that are available on the Internet.
- Employer Webpage Profile – Employers often include key employee profile pages on their websites. Including a link to your page in an email signature or in documents shared with clients or customers is a useful way to increase visitors to the page.
- Diigo – This application provides users a way of bookmarking, sharing and annotating webpages. Users can create public and private lists of their bookmarks. Public lists appear in a search engine result, which means a popular list can appear in the search results associated with your name. Creating a few public lists that may be of interest to co-workers, classmates, or others provides an opportunity for sharing, which, in turn, increases the popularity of the list.
- SlideShare – Creating and using a SlideShare account is another way to increase visibility. With SlideShare, you can share presentations that customers, colleagues, friends and others may find of interest to them. Accordingly, your visibility is increased each time someone visits a shared presentation.
- Twitter – Tweets and tweets with replies from your Twitter account will often appear in search engine results. Therefore, the periodic use of Twitter can be a useful way of increasing your visibility.
- Facebook – Search results often list individual Facebook accounts or Facebook discussion threads. Having an active Facebook account is another way of increasing visibility.
- Commenting – Many electronic publications, such as online newspapers and MBA program blogs, provide readers the opportunity to comment. Making comments using your name is another way to appear in search results.
The information above is a starting point. Additionally, keep in mind that content is important. It does little good to add an item to the first page of results if it portrays you as superficial and unprofessional. Also, remember that you are not trying to induce hundreds of visitors to any of the websites associated with your name; on the contrary, you may only need a few more visitors to improve the search results associated with your name.
I am sure there are many other ways to improve the search results associated with your name. Please share with the MyeEMBA readers other suggestions you may have by making a comment below. Use your name and increase your visibility. Remember, you can either manage your digital identity or the search engines will do so.
- Reputation.com – This organization is a provider of online reputation products and services. Their website provides a lot of useful information on managing your digital identity.
- “Beware: Potential Employers Are Watching You” – A Wall Street Journal article describing how some potential employers are using social media to research job candidates.
- “Tracking Digital Footprints” – An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes how companies are using digital footprints to profile job candidates.
About the Author: Dr. Rodney G. Alsup is the creator of the MyeEMBA blog. His goal is to help MBAs live and work smarter.