This Entrepreneur's Online Reputation Was Destroyed. He Used His Experience Fixing It to Form a Multimillion-Dollar Company. Here's Pete Kistler's story -- and tips for improving your own online presence.
Pete Kistler had never Googled himself. It was fall 2009, and the Syracuse University junior was sending out applications for software design jobs to offset about $20,000 in student loan debt. After a couple of weeks, dozens of companies big and small had his resume in hand -- but responses had been few and far between.
"On paper, I thought I had hit all the check boxes that employers wanted to see, but I was in for a big surprise," Kistler says.
That surprise came in the form of a phone call. A name Kistler hadn't seen in a while popped up on his phone screen -- it was a friend who worked at a company he'd applied to. The friend told Kistler he'd overheard the hiring manager commenting on how silly it was that a criminal had applied for the position. Kistler googled himself right away. Sure enough, a drug dealer with the same name popped up on the first page of search results. He felt shocked and scared, then helpless. But after recovering from the initial shock, he took action -- contacting Google, considering legal action and even speaking with online reputation management companies that quoted him about $20,000 to help scrub the result.
Saddled with student loan debt and lacking the necessary cash for online reputation management, Kistler took things into his own hands. He researched search engine algorithms and teamed up with colleagues skilled in search engine optimization (SEO). Their first order of business: burying the other Pete Kistler in search results. Their second move? Founding a new company offering affordable online reputation solutions. BrandYourself, a Shark Tank alumnus, has had almost 1 million customers to date.
"Your digital identity is just as important now as your physical identity," Kistler says.
If you're looking to better your own online presence, know that it's possible to DIY as long as you have the right tools. Here's your new plan of action.
Take charge of your own content.
The best way to carve out your own niche online -- or bury negative information -- is to create an extensive amount of positive relevant information about yourself, your work and your experience. Keep in mind that certain websites statistically rank higher than others in search engine results -- namely Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress and SlideShare, Kistler says.
Websites such as these are considered "highly authoritative domains" because they're linked to by so many other reputable platforms. Although WordPress ranks higher than Medium, it's a good idea to use both if you can -- the latter has more of a built-in audience, and making use of tags on your post can help attract readers. Publishing consistent content -- blog posts, presentations, videos and the like -- can help you stand out as an authority in your industry. The more you're recognized for quality, relevant content, the more that content will be clicked on by users and linked to by sites seen as "reputable" in the eyes of search engine algorithms.
Make better use of SEO.
Creating your own website is also a great tool, especially when it comes to SEO. You'll want to include as many search keywords as you can to ensure your site will pop up higher in results -- so in your site bio, write about yourself in the third person using your full name, job title and industry. Make sure your website's domain also includes your full name, and for your site's "title tag" (the words that pop up on the browser tab), choose your full name and what you'd like to be known for (for example, John Smith: Software Developer).
Another hack? Use a service like Yoast, a WordPress tool that allows you to easily make use of site "meta-descriptions," or simple fields with space to input some of your keywords, says Zeke Hernandez, communications director at SEO Expert Danny. It's also important to make use of your full name and title in your social media handles and profile bios (for example, try to snag @JohnSmith -- or the closest you can come to your name -- for all of your accounts). Make sure you don't have any copied-and-pasted content on your profile bios, website or blog posts.
"Google doesn't like duplicate content," Kistler says. If you have a Twitter account and a public Facebook page, for example, tweak each personal bio so they don't read the same.
Become a one-stop shop.
Something else to keep in mind? Make sure that anyone searching for your name and experience can find everything they need to know via just one source -- especially if they're viewing your website or portfolio. Search engine algorithms keep track of bounce rates, so if people tend to click on your site and then click away after a few seconds, the algorithm could assume your content isn't in line with people's needs. That red flag could negatively impact your standing in search results. Amazon usually shows up high on the list of search results, so including everything a potential employer or client would want to know about you is a good strategy.
"If you were an Amazon product page, what information would you want to include?" Kistler says. Build in information such as your relevant career history, references or testimonials, side projects, organizations you belong to, education information and lessons you've learned throughout your career.