You deserve to be fairly represented online
This guide will give you the knowledge and tools to assess, improve, and protect your online reputation—so that you can take control of how you are perceive online.
We use the Internet virtually all the time
It matters what people find when they look for you online.
The Internet is the first place we turn to learn about anything—from job prospects and breaking news to shopping, travel ideas, and the people in our lives.
Not only that, but we use the Internet virtually all the time.
The average American spends 6+ hours per day online (GlobalWebIndex). That’s one quarter of each and every day. During that time, our ideas and opinions are being influenced by what we find on the Internet.
Are people finding the real you?
Online reputation can be the difference between fantastic success or embarrassing failure. Unfortunately, search algorithms prioritize popularity, not accuracy.
As Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan has put it, “We’re not a truth engine. We can give you information, but we can’t tell you the truth of a thing.”
That’s where online reputation management comes in
Online reputation management puts in motion a strategy to actively control the Web content connected to your name.
Some online reputation management tactics you can do by yourself, some require a team effort—but no matter your situation, there are steps you can take right now that will make a difference.
1 Create the right presence
2 Ensure it gets found
1. Create the right presence
Your online reputation can only consist of what’s out there.
For most people, that means whatever is in your search results (desktop and mobile), in addition to your social media presence. For professionals and small business owners, online reputation also includes third-party sites that might get accessed directly, like Angie’s List.
Therefore, the first step in online reputation management is creating the right presence on sites that you control. These can include:
2. Make sure it gets found
When you search for something online, how many results do you look at? Usually not that many. For any given search, less than 10% of people go past the first page, and less than 1% go past page two.
For that reason, reputation management is not purely about publishing blogs and photos and the like. You also need to encourage search engines to boost important content to the top of the results, where most people will find it.
There are many factors that influence the ranking of search results—too many to cover here. In fact, entire websites are dedicated to just that topic.
For our purposes, however, some of the most important ranking indicators include:
Relevance to the topic (in this case, you or your business)
The authoritativeness of the site and the people creating content for it
Backlinks from other quality, relevant websites
How many people search, click, and interact with the content
How often the content is updated
Whether or not the content comes from a reliable/reputable source
There is no one formula to determine the “right” balance of control, content, and sentiment. Your online reputation needs will, to a certain extent, be determined by the specifics of your professional and personal life.
However, there are some general categories of online reputation that most people fall into, each with certain advantages and vulnerabilities. Which is closest to your situation?
Sparse online presence
Most or all of the sites in your search results are automatically generated listings (like whitepages entries), you do not control many of these sites, and you have a low search volume for your name.
Your online reputation is relatively low key, which is both good and bad. On the one hand, there is little misleading information about you to distract searchers. On the other hand, your search results are not very authoritative or “sticky.” If someone posts something about you that is incorrect or unflattering, it is likely to shoot straight to the top. That means you are vulnerable to reputation damage.
Most of your results are about your business or professional life, you control some of the results, and you have low to medium search volume.
This type of online reputation presents you favorably and makes it easy for people to see your accomplishments. Check the diversity of your results: are most of the links from similar types of sites, or are they from a range of sources? For example, a doctor’s search results would ideally include his/her website, a few different review sites, some professional listings, patient education videos, and perhaps a state licensing entry. Search engines like to see a diverse range of content, so if all of your sites are similar, an unflattering or misleading link may be able to break through simply because it’s different.
One or more prominent results are critical or misleading, you control some sites in your results, and you have low to medium search volume.
This type of online reputation often arises when someone has the same name as you. If that person has been arrested, has been portrayed negatively in the news, or otherwise appears unsavory, his/her reputation can rub off on you. Alternatively, you might have this type of profile because some aspect of your life is misunderstood or no longer applies—for example, a past career or a youthful indiscretion. These types of results can taint your online reputation long after they’ve stopped being relevant to your everyday life.
You have significant critical search results, very little control over the top sites, and a medium to high search volume.
An online reputation of this sort is usually triggered by a media storm, controversy, or a coordinated cyber attack. It takes concerted, strategic intervention to turn the tide and bring more balance to the conversation.
Now that you have a sense for the state of your online reputation, you need to develop a plan to improve what’s out there. While planning, it’s important to balance several factors:
If you ignore any of these principles, your strategy is unlikely to be successful. Follow the steps below to build a workable, effective plan.
- Search volumes over time (use the keyword tool above to see if this changes)
- Position of key items in the search results
- Publication dates for your materials
- The date you hit each milestone
On a monthly basis, review the results to see how you’re doing. Then make adjustments if needed. For example, if your videos are showing up very well but your blog posts aren’t, you might want to focus more heavily on writing.
You should also realize that reputation management is not linear work. As you publish materials, you will see some quick initial progress, followed by a period of stagnation or regression, and then followed by slow, steady improvement. This is normal. Search engines value long-term trends, so they are constantly testing different combinations of search results.
That said, by the six-month mark, you should see significant improvement in your online reputation. If you haven’t budged the needle by that point, it’s time to rethink your reputation management strategy and try something different.
What if your progress stalls? Sometimes the right perspective can help you interpret the data more productively. Here are a few common engagement hang-ups and how to deal with them:
Most likely, the content you’re publishing is not considered to be of a high enough quality. Spend some time revising and refining what you’ve posted. If appropriate, increase the length. Try using synonyms for some of your keywords. Add new rich media if possible, like photos and videos.
Your online reputation is under active attack. You will need to increase the volume of your publication efforts.
Your search profile likely lacks diversity. Tweak your strategy to emphasize different kinds of content. You may also benefit from building more links to your materials. See if there’s anyone you can ask to link to your sites.
By this point, you should have a fairly firm sense of what it takes to analyze your online reputation and create an effective reputation management plan. As long as you keep working at it and reassessing constantly, you should see improvement.
In closing, here are a few guiding principles that underpin the vast majority of all online reputation management activities. Keep these in mind as you execute your strategy.
Authority and longevity. Sites of a higher quality tend to rank more strongly in the search results. So do sites that have been around longer—and that publish regularly. That’s why it’s important to start early and publish often.
1 oz prevention = 1 lb cure. A blockade of good, strong content firmly under your control creates a buffer against unwelcome surprises. It makes it that much harder for negative or misleading results to jump to the top results.
Quality and diversity. The best reputation management plans generate a wide range of unique, high-quality content published across multiple sources. When everyone is telling the same story, people (and search engines) are more likely to believe it.
Create unique content. Some people try to bury online reputation problems by posting the same or similar text across dozens of low-quality sites. Don’t do this. It looks suspicious, and it’s easy for search engines to spot. You’ll end up spending a lot of time and money creating sites without any staying power.
Work on quality backlink generation. The more sites refer to your sites, the more highly they will rank. Periodically look for sites who might be willing to link to your materials, then reach out to them.