In my last column we reminisced about the time when one could jump out of a cake in a tutu without debuting on YouTube the next morning. But what if you jumped out of a cake last week and you’re praying that your boss (or future boss) doesn’t Google you? What if someone with your name posts shamefully bad erotic poetry on the Web, your long-lost identical twin appears on Flickr streaking across Yankee Stadium, or your ex Photoshop’s your head onto a photo of his dog? In a few steps, you can ensure that most of your search engine results present you in your best light, rather than your best (and most) embarrassing moment.
1. If you’re truly in a tutu situation, contact YouTube or whatever website your tormenters are using, and ask them to take the compromising footage or toxic gossip down. Most webmasters will gladly comply.
2. Post your professional profile for free on one or more of the many professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Ryze, Ziggs, Yorz, Ecademy, or Xing. Emurse lets you create and update a professional resume that potential employers can find online and download in any format. Profiles and resumes on these sites rank high in Web searches, so if your boss Googles you, she’ll find a list of your accomplishments. Hopefully this will distract her from the photos of you dancing on a table with a lightshade on your head.
3. Buy a domain name in the form of www.yourname.com. (Mine is www.lisamontanarelli.com.) Basically you’re purchasing a piece of property online and hanging out a shingle so people can find you more easily. Virtual property can be cheap: GoDaddy.com offers domain registration for less than $10 per year and Web hosting for less than $5 per month, along with tools to help you build your site and improve traffic.
If you have a common name like John Roberts, you’re competing with hundreds of prominent joint-name-owners, so you may have to add your middle name or initial: www.JohnIgnatiusRoberts.com. Go to www.betterwhois.com to find out if your domain name of choice is available.
4. If you or a company you own gets a fair bit of press, it might be worth squatting on a slew of domain names, such as yourname.org and yourname.net, as well as some subdomains and group names. The possibilities are endless, but here are some places to start:
Google Groups: companyname (http://groups.google.com)
MSN Groups: companyname (http://groups.msn.com)
Yahoo! Groups: companyname (http://groups.yahoo.com)
5. ClaimID allows you to group everything you want to include in your “online identity” into a single place. You can link to your website(s), blog, online articles by or about you, projects you’re affiliated with, eBay store, schools you attended, organizations you belong to, and virtually any other virtual thing you want associated with your name.
6. If you want to know when and where your name, URL, or favorite subject is mentioned online, sign up for a free Technorati membership and set up a Watchlist. Another tool, Google Alerts, will send you an email automatically when there are new Google results for your name or other search terms.
7. In a worst-case scenario—if your ex posts your embarrassing photos all over the Internet or if you’re simply a scandal magnet—the new industry of Online Identity Management (OIM) or Online Reputation Management (ORM) awaits your call. Companies such as ReputationDefender and International Reputation Management will conduct a virtual purge. ReputationDefender promises to help “remove, at your request, inaccurate, inappropriate, hurtful, and slanderous information about you and your family using our proprietary in-house methodology” and even offers “MyChild,” an online reputation management package for your child or teen. Who knows what their “proprietary in-house methodology” involves, but they’ll search out and destroy the latest dish about you, prod your online enemies to take down deadly posts, and reshape your online image by designing flattering websites about you.
8. Finally, I can’t promise that these time-tested strategies will work for you. Government sites are resistant to prodding, and .gov URLs usually rank above LinkedIn, MySpace, and all the other networking sites I’ve mentioned. If you’re Bernard Madoff, even Reputation Rx can’t save you.