In today’s digital world, how you look online is just as important as any other aspect of your reputation. It doesn’t matter who you are or what profession you’re in: Google is now the first impression you'll make. When there’s no evidence online of your real-world expertise, you are simply going to lose out to people who already have online reputations.
The fact of the matter is, people Google you before deciding to do business with you or your company. If you think about it, it makes sense. Most businesses grow primarily through word of mouth and referrals, especially in the early years. As an entrepreneur, in most cases, your name will be the focus of a Google people search 5 to 10 times more than your company’s name will.
That means it’s absolutely imperative that you be proactive about managing your online brand, especially if you want potential customers, employees and investors to be impressed by what they find.
If you’re like most people, your personal brand is not up to par. According to our data, almost half of U.S adults (48 percent) say that most of the search results about them aren’t positive, and nearly a third (30 percent) say nothing shows up at all. Some 15 percent of adults report finding at least one negative thing about them.
Typically, most business owners fall into the following three categories:
1. The “negative” category:
This is obviously the worst-case scenario, but you would be surprised how often this happens. In fact, the more successful you become, the more likely that you’ll become a victim. The most common negative results you’ll see come from: disgruntled employees you needed to fire, vindictive competitors trying to destroy you or, oftentimes, a former customer who just couldn’t be pleased. No matter what the reason, a negative result can completely ruin your chances of getting that new customer.
2. The “irrelevant” category
In this case, potential customers won't find something negative, nor will they find anything that encourages them to become a customer. This is the category most people fall into. Instead of finding your personal website, all the awards you’ve won and all the good press you’ve had -- things that will impress customers -- they find out that you recently had a wedding, or that you share a name with an up-and-coming musician. Either way, you’ve missed the opportunity to separate yourself from the competition.
3. The “all-star” category:
This is the category you want to be in. When customers Google your name, they immediately find things that reinforce your expertise and back up your qualifications: insightful blog posts about your industry, customer testimonials, awards and accolades you’ve achieved, etc. When you consider the fact that very few people fall into this category during someone's Google search, you can imagine what an advantage this provides over the competition.
At this point, it should also be clear that a strong personal brand gives you a huge advantage when it comes to your business. Aside from the inherent merits of having a strong brand online, being proactive about your presence also protects you from any negative results that might pop up in the future. Simply put, if you don’t define yourself on the web, you will be defined by someone or something else.
But there's hope: If you’re afraid your personal brand, or lack thereof, is losing you business, here are four fundamental steps to make sure you have a strong foundation online.
1. Claim your domain name.
Visit a site like GoDaddy.com and purchase all domains containing your name (yourname.com, yourname.me, etc.). It's the most important thing you can do for 10 bucks. These domains will show up high on the list in searches for your name. So, even if you're not planning to create a personal website, you'll prevent others, like a competitor, from hijacking Google search results of your name.
2. Build a personal website.
With free tools like Wordpress and Tumblr, anyone can quickly build a website. This will be an important hub of information about you that shows up high in results.
3. Set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Search engines tend to rank these social networks high on their lists, so you should definitely have a presence on them. Even if you don't plan on using your accounts much, it keeps other people from hijacking search results of your name.
4. Do some basic search engine optimization.
Use your actual name wherever possible (PatrickAmbron, not Paddyboy22, say), and link all your various pieces of online content to one another.
This will give your content a huge boost and put your brand on the path to customer recognition.