The Internet is a double-edged sword. It can help you build your reputation or it can shoot it down. But, if you’re in the public eye in any way, applying to colleges, looking for jobs, up for a promotion, or growing a business, it’s imperative that you are proactive about managing your online reputation. According to recent study a reputation management company, Brand Yourself, 45% of people have found something in a Google search that made them decide NOT to do business with someone.
What is Google Saying About You?
Let’s start off with you taking a minute to check out your Internet reputation. In order to see what a stranger will see, log out of your Gmail or a Google account before doing the search. Search your name and look over the search result page from the point of view of the type of person that you care about the impression you’re making. What would the employer, boss, college admission officer, or your mother think about you from the search results on the page.
If you find there’s very little or even no content about you online, according to Brand Yourself, you’re in good company, as one in four people are in the same boat.
But what do you do when you find there’s negative information?
There are two main strategies you can take to deal with negative search results.
- Ask that it be removed by the source.
- Add positive content to the suppress the negative search results.
Libelous versus Embarrassing
Just because you don’t like information that someone has posted about you online, if it is true you have no basis to have it removed. But, when someone makes a false claim about you in writing in public, it falls under the legal definition of libel which gives you grounds to have it removed. And, the publisher of that false information may be subject to legal ramifications.
You may have seen the mug shots of people who have been arrested appear online. These mug shots are embarrassing but – they’re not illegal. If you find yourself in this predicament, you can pay the company posting them to have them removed. This may feel like a type of blackmail, but that’s not illegal either.
Having Libelous Content Removed
Once something wrong or libelous has been published online, on a website or on a social media platform, it is out there and the best you can do is go to the owner of the site where it was published and ask that it be removed. If the webmaster does not respond, the hosting company has the authority to remove libelous information from a site that they host.
To find the owner of a site, try and send a message through their website’s contact page or find their e-mail address on the site. If this does not pan out, search for information by going to: https://www.whois.com/whois/ and typing in the domain name of the site in question. This will give you information regarding the owner or admin for the site. If the owner’s name has been blocked by privacy settings or you tried unsuccessfully to get them to respond, get the name of their web host from Host Checker https://www.hostingchecker.com/ and contact the hosting company.
If the site’s owner or webmaster makes the changes you requested to a page or post that appears in search results, you can make a request to that search engine to remove the wrong or outdated information by submitting a webpage removal request. Unfortunately, even if you’re successful in removing the bad content, since it has been out there on the Internet, it has already been indexed and cached and can still show up for years – even if it no longer exists.
Fight Negative with Positive
The most effective strategy is to fight the negative results with positive ones. This may seem like a daunting proposition; if you feel you have been violated online, you most likely want to stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away.
The last thing you may want to do is to go add other things about yourself online. But adding truthful and positive information that can come up in a search result for your name, will help obscure the negative search results by pushing them back to less visited pages of the search results. It is highly unlikely that people will search past the first page of results so adding positive information can dramatically improve the impression people get when searching you or your company.
Basically, what you need to do is set out to create positive search results. There are some easy ways to do this, but it takes some effort and some time to show results.
- Assess: Do a search on the major search engines, Google, Bing and Yahoo and for each of them, make a baseline list of the search results showing on the first pages. Identify each result as whether it refers to you and if so if it is positive or negative. Date the lists so you can track improvement over time.
- Create Positive Entries: If you are not already on the major social accounts, they are a good way to add results to the first page of a search. When you are setting up these sites, use your own name as the user name and in the profiles. Fill out the profiles completely and add the same photo of yourself to all of them. Here is a to do list. Create:
- Google+profile: add links to your website and any other site you contribute to.
- LinkedIn: complete the profile with your resume filled in as well as all of the other sections, including special projects and organizations you are active in. Ask specific people you have worked with for recommendations.
- Facebook: Even Facebook posts can show up in a search. Clean up your profile and remove anything that does not portray you in the way you want to be seen.
- Twitter: If it’s available, use your name for your Twitter handle and add a complete profile including links to your website.
- Google gives more power to entries that are linked to, so if you can link one social media profile to another and to your website, this will help you get new positive entries in a search faster.
- Blog: If you don’t have a website with a blog, create one with either WordPress.com or the self-hosted WordPress.org. Use your name as the domain name or in the domain name if possible. Once you have the site, you need to add fresh content to it on a regular basis. Write about your area of expertise. What questions do your clients have that you can answer for everyone? Write about those. Share the posts on your social media sites and ask friends to do so. Each post is like a Google lottery ticket and if you use your name in the metatags, these posts will show up in a search of your name. Create links to this website from all of the social media accounts you have created.
In the future:
- Immediately address negative reviews. Don’t sweep them under the rug or wait too long. Listen to what they have to say without defending yourself. Empathize with their feelings and it may be nice to offer them something for their dissatisfaction.
- Ask for reviews from satisfied customers. Ask them to go online and post 3rd party reviews on sites like Yelp, LinkedIn, Trip Advisor; whichever is appropriate to your business. You can also post reviews they have written on your site, but they are more believable when they are posted elsewhere.
- Continue to offer excellent service and create happy customers and good relationships. Buck up and don’t let negative information online get you down and stop you from moving forward. Use this as a reason to up your standards and take your customer service to the next level.
I know having negative information about you online may seem like life or death. And, it actually can make a difference to your livelihood. That’s why it’s important to face up to what is going on and do something about it. Everyone loves a comeback story and how you deal with a crisis and negative publicity is as important as what happened to get there in the first place.
And, finally, if this whole process seems overwhelming, you may want to consider hiring someone to help you manage a comeback for your online reputation.