How to Protect Your Online Reputation in 2017
Hiding behind your privacy settings is the worst strategy.
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We live in a search-happy world. If you've spoken to a client recently, networked, or went in for an interview, you should absolutely assume you're being Googled. Somewhere, someone is typing your name into that search box and making a judgment based on what they find.
When people hear this, their first reflex is to hide. Perhaps you've changed your name on Facebook, made your Twitter feed private or started spending less time on social media altogether. Sure, you can delete your questionable content and watch what you say online. You can fix your privacy settings and try to disappear, but that's like deciding to keep quiet to avoid saying anything bad because you know people listen to what you say.
Your online reputation is the information people find about you online, so hiding behind privacy settings actually puts you at risk if something negative were to come out about you or your company. Make no mistake -- everyone is at risk of negative content online. Of the 75 percent of U.S. adults who Google themselves, nearly half say the results aren't positive.
The reason is simple. Anyone can write anything about you online, typically without consequence. A jealous competitor can anonymously write a critical blog post or fill out a damning RipoffReport. An angry client can write a horrible review for your business without recourse.
Without any positive content out there to defend against digital attacks, you have no chance of keeping your online rep clean. While you're hiding behind privacy settings and unidentifiable usernames, your real name suffers. Anything negative goes undefended, immediately rising to the top of your search results for the whole world to see.
So what can you do?
Related: 6 Tools for Monitoring Your Online Reputation
The best defense is a good offense. Here are some actions you can take right now to protect your online reputation in 2017:
Clean up your current situation.
Each person's online presence is unique -- and you can't improve what you don't know. Google yourself and see what comes up in the first few pages. If there is negative or irrelevant content showing up that you control -- weekend party pictures, old websites, etc. -- then what are you waiting for? Go ahead and delete those now.
Next, review your entire Facebook and Twitter history and flag any potentially damaging or controversial updates. Once your social media feeds are clean, you can make them public in good conscience.
Registering your name as a domain.
Registering a website with your name in the domain (like RyanErskine.com) is one of the strongest forms of online insurance. You'll prevent other people from taking this valuable piece of real estate away from you -- or using it against you in the future. But don't stop there! Build out your website as a central hub of information about you, including your experience, blog content, relevant press, awards and honors.
With a website at the very top of your search results, you ensure that when people search your name, they find exactly what you want them to find. You don't get a better first impression than that.
Related: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Online Reputation
Secure your name across all social platforms.
A website is great, but it only populates one position in your search results (or 2-3 if your sitelinks are ranking.) You'll need 10 properties ranking to take control of the narrative. Lay the groundwork for success by registering your name across the most authoritative social media platforms. Yes, that means classic ones like Twitter and Linkedin, but also lesser-known profiles like Quora, Slideshare, and Crunchbase. When you're done, don't forget to optimize your profiles for maximum SEO benefit.
Publish regular content.
Building and optimizing websites and social media properties is only half the battle. You still need to prove to the search engine gods that those properties are valuable enough to searchers to warrant a high ranking. One way to do that is to update your website regularly with content that your audience finds helpful. Having trouble getting started? Distill your expertise into digestible content like articles, videos, or slideshows. The goal is to find a "sweet spot" between topics your audience is genuinely interested in, and where your experience and unique leadership can lend credibility and value.
Get active on social media.
Getting active on social media is great for two reasons: 1) 1) the profiles will rank in search results over time and 2) it's an effective way to drive traffic to your website content. By interacting with people and building yourself an audience, you'll grow the authority of your social media profiles and the authority of your blog content. A note of caution: authenticity is key. People can tell the difference between a robotic feed and a personable one. You'll be most effective by starting real conversations with people and giving them a reason to follow you back.
Related: Protect Your Brand, Oprah Style: 5 Legal Strategies She Uses (And You Should, Too)
If you're representing a business, there are a couple of additional actions you'll want to take:
Claim and verify your Google listing.
An unclaimed Google listing is bad for several reasons. You miss out on an opportunity to provide valuable information to your customers, your contact information may be incorrect, and you risk someone else claiming your listing. Once you claim your listing you'll have to verify your business before your edits can appear across Google Search and Maps. Most businesses verify via postcard -- it will arrive with a verification code within a week.
Manage online reviews.
If you're a business with no reviews, then you're in trouble -- you're just one review away from a 1-star rating. Considering that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, having a large number of positive reviews can be a huge competitive advantage. So start encouraging your customers to get active on online review sites. Consider putting a call to action in your email signature, on your website, or even on a sign in your store's window.
Companies and clients are searching for you online and making decisions based on what they find. Rather than hiding behind privacy settings and fake usernames, take control of your online presence. Get active and stay consistent -- fixing your online reputation is marathon, not a sprint.