As business people, we spend a lot of time online every day — reading and responding to emails, collaborating with team members, catching up on the news or conducting research. While we might use it everyday, we rarely think about keeping our reputation clean online. The internet just is. Often the thing that knocks us out of this comfortable indifference is when something happens that forces us to look a little deeper, writes Hamish Wyatt CPM Founder of Reputation Partners.
A rude wake up call
A business owner’s prospect got cold feet midway through negotiations. Worried about the change in mood, he asked them what the problem was.
“I searched you online and I don’t think it would be a good look for us to use you.”
No matter how much explaining the business owner did, his potential client was resolute, and a $100,000 opportunity went begging.
Frustrated, he searched his name online and was furious.
Someone had set up a blog and started writing negative articles about him. Needless to say, the stories were greatly embellished.
The articles dominated the first page of the search results for a number of different searches.
Surely they can’t say that?
A legal challenge was an option, but it would be expensive, long winded and could inflame the author to produce more negative content.
Additionally, historical decisions and commentary about public figures and business leaders suggested a judgment could fall on the side of ‘public interest’, even though it was distressing to the business owner. This could mean a lot of time and energy spent for very little benefit.
All while the offending articles remained in plain sight.
He called me to discuss the problem.
Looking into it, the only results he had control over were his profile on his business’s website and his LinkedIn profile. Luckily, both were near the top. Scanning the page though, it was clear that, to the online world at least, he was on the nose. The first page of Google — the top 10 results that showed up searching his name — showed 5 negative results clearly naming him.
While it was distressing, it was mostly fixable.
Using the process you’re about to read, a one-off investment and one month of work got the search result for his name and profession down to 1 slightly negative result on the page within 3 months.
Thankfully, the search page now paints a much more balanced picture.
What you can do to insure yourself against unfair and damaging search results
If you have a visible or senior role in an organisation — maybe as a CEO, director or senior manager — and you want to reduce the chances of being sideswiped by negative coverage, you can take steps today without spending thousands on a professional Online Relationship Management service.
In fact these steps are likely the first steps a Reputation Management firm will follow anyway.
While there are more advanced procedures that can be carried out, these are your “bare-bones, better than hoping it doesn’t happen to me” steps to help you keep your name in good standing online.
Best of all, they aren’t too technical.
Do your research
Head to Google and put yourself in someone else’s shoes: search your own name, your name plus your profession, your name plus your current company and your name plus your city. These four searches are the foundation of your online reputation. Read at least 3 pages of results for each search, and take note of any negative or concerning pieces.
Buy your own domain name
Visit your favourite domain registrar and buy the .com and .com.au domains for your name. If your name is taken, try adding your company name or profession after it. For example janecitizenarchitect.com.au. Buying the .com and .com.au variations gives you flexibility when it comes to hosting your site. For buying domains, I’ve had consistently good service and results with VentraIP (ventraip.com.au).
Build your own personal website
Go to squarespace.com or wix.com and build a simple site that tells who you are and what you do. Include a number of photos of you, and publish any relevant articles or presentations you have made in the past. Focus more on content than looks.
Connect the site to the domain/s you bought. If most of your work is in Australia, I recommend redirecting the .com to the .com.au domain.
While having your own website used to be seen as a little narcissistic if you were a business person, the times have changed. In fact most visible business people have one and use it to both build their brand and reduce the likelihood of negative content taking valuable positions on the search page.
Search business people like Janine Allis, Steve Baxter and Mark Bouris or any politician you can think of. They’ve learned that it’s better to claim your name online before anyone else does. Better you at the top of Google than a keyboard warrior.
If it’s possible, make sure your personal profile is published to the organisation’s website, ideally linking to your new website. This gives you extra chances of gaining another position on the search engine results page.
Register your name on social media
When it comes to personal searching, social media sites are hugely powerful. When set up correctly, search engines treat social media profiles as very trustworthy indicators of the owner being a ‘real person’ — especially when the same information is found across your profiles.
We recommend using a standard ‘boilerplate’ description for each profile that mentions your city, profession and company name. By incorporating social media into your reputation management plan, you dramatically increase your chances of claiming valuable spaces on the first page of Google.
Platforms we recommend for business people:
Facebook (Especially a ‘Public Figure’ page if you are an entrepreneur, CEO or Director. You can still lock it down to comments, but it means you have a controlled Facebook presence that is just as trusted as Twitter and LinkedIn.)
It’s best to avoid Wikipedia unless you are a CEO and/or founder of a large or listed company.
If you have your own social media accounts already, congratulations!
Check all your posts (especially on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and remove anything that could be misconstrued or taken out of context.
The basic rules of engagement on social media:
Twitter can be pretty lighthearted and is a good way of showing your human side.
LinkedIn is a place for professional conversations about business things and business life. Avoid politics unless that is a big and well-known part of your personality.
Instagram is a good way of showing events in your business life and can be a nice way of showing an ‘unstaged’ side of your personality.
Facebook (as a Public Figure) is about sharing on-topic content with your audience and is largely a one-way communication medium (in a reputation management sense, anyway).
Once you’ve created or modified your social media accounts, add your website link to all of your social media profiles, and update your website to link to all of your social media accounts.
This is critical because search engines crawl the web looking for connections: by linking everything, you are increasing the authenticity and relevance of all the individual parts, and in doing so, increasing the chances these assets will be seen as more authentic and relevant than other results.
Publish and share relevant content consistently
Occasionally publish articles that demonstrate your knowledge and experience of your sector. Publish them on your website, then share them on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Interact with other accounts occasionally and generally show the digital world you are ‘alive’. If possible, comment on and share articles your company has written that are relevant to you or mention your name. Getting quoted (positively!) in industry press is another great way to gain security.
Whatever you’ve heard about repeating the same words over and over to increase your ranking position, or hiding words at the bottom of pages, DON’T DO IT. Google actively penalises ‘spam’ content and websites it finds trying to influence rankings.
If there’s already negative content out there about you, identify the terms in the articles that people may stumble across — for example, your name and a particular client — and then produce positive content that mentions these terms in passing to increase the chances of ‘suppressing’ or pushing down the bad results. If you can afford it, a tool like SERPWoo (which we use) is really useful, because it takes care of tracking your progress over time with very little upkeep.
About the Author
Hamish Wyatt is the owner and founder of Reputation Partners. Based in Brisbane, Australia and servicing clients around the world, Reputation Partners is a boutique Online Reputation Management firm. The Firm specialises in pushing negative search results from the first page of Google. Hamish has over 10 years’ experience in marketing, software development and search engine optimisation, and works with CEOs, Company Directors and other professionals to improve their standing online.
*This article was originally published by Reputation Partners.