My sister’s boyfriend is a giant knucklehead. Seriously… he’s enormous and I’m fairly certain his head is full of knuckles. Although I’ve come to like the guy, my brothers and I have spent an absurd amount of time teasing my sister about the likelihood of him turning into the Hulk (didn’t help when he dyed his hair purple). Every single day he continues to date my sister, my bald Dad loses another hair he doesn’t even have. We’re in crisis mode at this point; marriage talks aren’t all that far away.
Even so, Big Ol’ Boyfriend isn’t nearly as bad as his Google results would have you believe. He recently posted on Facebook that a simple Google search for his name led to the following horrifying result. Names have been blurred to protect the not-so-innocent.
That’s pretty horrible, right? The attack shocked even verteran cops. I mean, yikes.
A prospective employer Googles his name, and they’re immediately inundated with headlines about “BRUTAL GANG RAPE.” Even though any recruiter with half a mind is going to quickly realize this is not the droid they’re looking for, it’s a bad start to what should be a simple background check.
Is Google slandering your good name, too? The rest of this post is going to take a look at why this happens, and what you can do with social media and SEO to grab control of the search results.
Just Make It Go Away!!!
On the agency side of SEO, I see this situation a lot. Here’s how it generally plays out:
Client: Hey, when I search for my name, I get this ripoffreport bad review.
Me: Ah, yes, we’ll see that happen. Ripoffreport has built up some serious site value.
Client: I want you to push that result out.
Me: Ok… well here’s the thing….
Client: Just make it go away. What am I paying you for?
Me: Your wife’s a strumpet.
Ok, the call doesn’t usually end that way (Unless it’s true. A man deserves to know). But most of the time local business owners have exactly the same response any of us would: Make the bad thing go away!
In his novel Boomsday, author Christopher Buckley (of Thank You For Smoking fame) creates a prominent character who earns his less than righteous fortune through a company that cleans the online slate of any person or business. For a healthy sum, the software Spider Repellant ™ literally wipes out all your negative results, never to be found again.
Of course, the problem with this satirical concept is that in reality it’s totally bogus. You can’t just up and kill online results. The web is deep and wide and endless; you’d have an easier time killing the concept of space.
Does that mean you’re stuck? That there’s no hope of ever ridding yourself of a negative search result? Not exactly.
Defending Your Home Turf
I wrote a short piece on online reputation management for Catalogs.com, and the majority of the pointers there still hold up. As I start thinking a little more about what I look like online, a few of the items stood out to me.
1) Sign up and utilize social profiles – This one is so easy, but it’s increasingly important to act on right away. The reason being? When you’re trying to lay claim to search results for your name, your competition is fairly limited. This will vary of course, and I extend my condolences to all the ‘Mike Smith’s’ out there, but there are only so many people with your exact name. If you can grab the social profile for your name before your competition, you’re very likely going to outrank them.
How do I know this? When I run an incognito search for “Dave Buesing,” 7 of the top results are social profiles. Check it out:
That’s a huge percentage of the search page consumed by social media. A few additional notes on the idea:
a) To run an incognito search using Google Chrome, hit “Ctrl+Shift+N.” This will give you a non-personalized search result, meaning you’ll see what the average searcher would see, uninfluenced by the fact that you may Google your own name on the regular.
b) Facebook is actually a fairly tricky profile to own, but if you can lay claim to your branded vanity URL (e.g. “facebook.com/mike.smith”) you’ll be in great shape. From your Facebook profile, click “Account SettingsàEdit Username.” You’ll be able to edit the URL one time only. If you can grab your name, do it.
c) Relevant social profiles will vary depending on your interests and professional desires. You’ll want to lay claim to the obvious ones (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+), but from there it becomes a little more variable. You can see in my results that my SEOmoz profile ranks very high – naturally, if you’re not in the SEO industry, this result could be different for you. Find the main industry hubs and communities and at the very least, register to become a part. I’d also highly recommend Quora (Question and Answer site), and to a lesser extent, Pinterest.
2) Get Active on Google+ – Goes along with the last point, but if you haven’t already, get and occasionally use your Google+ profile. I’m not breaking any ground with this analysis, but Google+ is important to Google related things as long as Google cares about Google. Check out that screenshot of my personal results. Two of the top 10 results are from Google+. And that’s non-personalized search. When I’m searching from the perspective of someone connected to me on G+? Check it out:
Again, this is Google’s baby, which means you can directly impact search results just by playing along on Google+. And guess what? G+ is kind of awesome. Give it a shot and you’ll come to enjoy how private and easy it can be.
Another thing to look out for here: Google+ Vanity URLs are just a shout away. The second you’re able to claim the vanity URL, jump all over it!
3) Set Up a Website/Blog – This idea is a huge part of the reason davebuesing.com even exists. Although exact match domain names are going to have limited success in competitive business fields, they can have huge results for your name. Again, the main reason is that if your name is even slightly distinct, and you’re not a celebrity (yet), search volume is going to be fairly low. I was amazed to see davebuesing.com become a top 4 search result within 2 days of set up. Without even posting anything, the result was already helping me own the search page.
Now, actually buying your domain name and setting up a WordPress site are a little beyond the scope of this post. For now, though, I’d highly recommend claiming ownership of your domain name. You can buy the domain without doing anything with it – you’ll just want to lay down the $10 or so now, so no one else can buy it. I’ve used Godaddy for this in the past, and that experience has been fine. I know a lot of others prefer different domain registration services, so use your own best discretion here.
4) Rebrand When Necessary – I realize with your legal, God-given name this isn’t quite as simple as pulling a Phillip Morris. But take a look at search results for your full name: how crowded and competitive is the field? Would you have decreased competition with an abbreviated version of your name? Maybe a nickname that most people in your life use?
This is what I had to do, and it’s the reason you’re on davebuesing.com instead of davidbuesing.com. I came to terms with the fact that David Buesing was just too competitive. It turns out I’m not the only David Buesing on the block. I wish I was. Wish I was only David anywhere actually. It just about drives me nuts when someone yells out David, only to turn around and smile and realize there’s a babe who wants to talk to the guy behind me.
This is essentially what would be happening with “David Buesing.” Anyone searching for that will get a whole bunch of other guys. They all seem like fine gentlemen, but they’re not me. So I’ve made a conscious effort to go by Dave Buesing everywhere online.
This is the tricky part – if you make this decision, you have to keep it uniform across the web. This means you use your chosen name across all social profile and web properties you own. Don’t go too crazy with this, though. It only really works if it’s a logical extension of your name. If ‘Scott Jackson’ is too competitive, that doesn’t mean you should adopt ‘Geronimo Jackson.’ Besides, that wouldn’t even work.
But About That Whole Rapist Thing…
Ok, so that’s how I’d recommend you start laying the groundwork for a personal search control campaign. And while I think all that will help you start to control results for your name, it doesn’t necessarily answer what to do about any very prominent criminal accusations.
The short answer, as I’ve alluded to, is that there’s not much you can do aside from waiting it out. You control the rest of the results so that anyone looking for information about you has ample place to turn to find the real you. And then, over time, news results for the fake you, the one who has done unspeakable things, should become less timely.
And if your personal competition is permanent? This is where rebranding comes into play. I had an intern one summer named ‘Kate Hudson.’ Seriously. She’s going to have a hard time outranking the celebrity. Apart from building a vast Google+ network and claiming some personal results, it’s just not going to happen. But ‘Katherine Hudson,’ or ‘Katie Hudson,’ might just be possible. Again, it all depends what you’re willing to work with.
Go Forth and Let Google Know Who You Are
A final note on the aforementioned agency SEO problem. What do we do when a client asks us to make a bad result go away? Well, we start with the social approach I’ve outlined above, making sure all relevant web properties are in position. It’s important to note that if you have a negative result in the 8 spot for your branded search, most searchers won’t even make it there. Think about it: if someone searches for your business name, there’s a pretty good chance they just want your website. If you have that in the number one position, with sitelinks and everything, you’re well covered.
That said, there’s still more that can be done. One of the best options is turning that negative result to your advantage. So some negative Google or Consumer Affairs reviews are prominent on your search results? How about responding to those reviews with a genuine attempt to reconcile problems a customer may have had? Now when searchers view the results, they can see that the company responded and made an effort to fix the problem. A lot of times this can be even more encouraging than a positive review.
End of the day, a lot of small steps can help you make sure people searching for you actually find the real you.
Have any terrible online reputation stories of your own? Think you can top this one? Throw it out there in the comments and let’s see what you got.