Be careful what you post
Obviously the best way to control what shows up on the web is to be careful what gets put up in the first place. Do you really want your name associated with a heated forum argument about politics? Or a better question….10 years from now, will you want your name associated with that argument?
Here are some tips for controlling what gets put on your permanent online record:
- Ask yourself, “would I mind if this came up on the first page of the search results for my name.” If not, then maybe you should put it online.
- Don’t assume you can delete something. Even on your own website, once something is posted it may be on the Internet for good.
- “Do I want everyone in the world to know this–forever?” Even things you do not mind people knowing need to be run through this filter.
Plan your online profile
In the same way you need to be careful to control negative or potentially damaging online footprints. You can actively create a positive online profile. Here are some ways to do that:
1. CREATE MULTIPLE PROFILES UNDER YOUR NAME
A simple page at a number of different websites that functions like an online resume can be a useful way to build up your online presence. Be realistic about how often you plan to update. Some sites that might be worth creating a small website on are: WordPress, Blogger, LinkedIn (public profile), Twitter (if you plan to update regularly), Tumblr, About.me, chimp.mp, Google Profile, public Facebook page, etc.
2. GET YOUR OWN DOMAIN
Your own domain will cost $10 to $30 per year. Chances are it will rank high for your name and gives you a permanent home on the Internet regardless of what free services come and go. Try to get something as close to your name as possible.
3. INTERLINK YOUR PROFILES
One of the best ways to push your websites to the front page for your name is to interlink them. If you have a WordPress.com site, be sure to link it to all of your other websites and vice versa.
4. POST WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO SEE
Simply having your sites up doesn’t really help you much. You are going to need to write about things that you want people to associate with you. Think about the types of things a prospective employer would consider “good signs” when they search for your name. If you work in management, a few essays, thoughts or posts on management theories would probably be helpful. If you are a software developer, some code examples, discussion of different programming languages or a write-up about your experience on a particular software project might be useful. If you are a pastor, some good devotional or theology material will be helpful. You get the point, post what you want people to see.
5. CHECK TO SEE WHAT OTHERS ARE SEEING
One guy was having a terrible time finding a job. Every time he got called in for an interview it would go exceptionally well, but then he’d never hear anything back from the company. When he called in to check they had given the job to someone else. Finally he did a search for his name on Google. To his horror he found that the first page of results were about the trial of a child molester that shared his name.
Assume that prospective employers are going to search for your name and if you have some situation like the guy mentioned above, be sure to be proactive with something like:
When you do a search for my name in Google you are going to find a lot of articles about someone who has the same name, but is now in prison. I just wanted to let you know that isn’t me!
You might even consider using your middle name or initial in most of your online footprints if you have an extremely common first and last name and let people know that if they want to look you up online to search with your initial so they will get the results about you instead of others.
Keep in mind that some search results are different depending on where you are searching from. It might not be a bad idea to have some friends in various parts of the country do some searches for your name and see if anything problematic comes up.
6. GET RID OF BAD CONTENT
If despite your best efforts there is something in the search results that is embarrassing, there are two ways to deal with it. One way is to fill the web with enough other popular content to push it down in the results where it is less likely to be seen. The other is to get it removed–or removed as best you can. It is going to be impossible to remove a popular embarrassing picture of yourself from the Internet. However, you can create enough good sites, posts, profiles, and photographs of yourself at various websites that you dive those negative images down the search engine list. It may take some time, but it is possible.
Sometimes people overlook the simplest method of getting content off the web–asking the person who posted it to take it down. If it is someone who hates you, this probably won’t work. Some people actually hire firms that “clean the web” by contacting people who posted things embarrassing to their client and getting them removed either by asking, paying them money or threatening lawsuits.
Obviously the best action is to avoid having negative things published about you in the first place, but that isn’t always possible.
Taking a bit of time to think long-term about the footprints you are leaving on the web may save you years of grief down the road. You don’t have to be terrified about privacy issues–just use a little common sense now so you don’t regret what people are reading about you in the future.