People are googling you. People who matter—colleagues, employees, managers, clients, hiring managers and executive recruiters—are making judgments about you based on what they find online. Consider the following statistics:
23 percent of people search the names of business associates or colleagues on the Internet before meeting them, according to a 2004 Harris Interactive poll.
83 percent of recruiters use search engines to learn about candidates, according to a 2007 ExecuNet survey.
43 percent of recruiters have eliminated candidates based on information they found online, up 17 percent from a similar 2005 ExecuNet study.
Your search results may determine whether or not an executive recruiter calls you in for an interview, you land your next job or attract the best technology professionals to your organization. Given the extent to which people use search engines as research tools today, building and managing your identity online is no longer a luxury. It’s a requirement.
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But where and how do you start? It can be challenging to get high-ranking results for a search on your name or to remove inaccurate information from websites. Fortunately, you can take a variety of measures, including starting a blog, actively engaging in online discussions appropriate to your profession, and joining social networking sites like LinkedIn, that will boost your online profile and improve your standings in search engines. Like anything worth doing, these activities require a consistent investment of time, but they’re enjoyable and great ways to network.
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Establish Your Baseline
The first step in taking control of your online identity is to know where it stands. Enter your first and last names in quotes into a search engine. How many results do you get? How many of those webpages actually pertain to you? Do the references to you on the Web communicate a positive, negative or neutral image of you? How consistently do those results communicate what you want to be known for—your personal brand?
The online identity calculator at CareerDistinction.com will measure the effectiveness of your online identity and rate it on a scale of one to 10, from digitally disguised to digitally distinct (See sidebar, The Scale of Digital Distinctness). Knowing where you stand will help you determine exactly how much work you have to do and your next steps.
The Scale of Digital Distinctness
Digitally Disguised: Your vanity search does not match any documents. There is absolutely nothing about you on the Web. To those who google you, you don’t exist. This is an easy place to start. Determine what you should be communicating online and start steadily building your volume of relevant results. Begin quickly with an optimized profile at Ziggs, some thoughtful comments to relevant blog posts, and an Amazon.com book review related to your area of expertise.
Digitally Dissed: Entering your name into a search engine yields little about you on the Web, but what exists is either negative or inconsistent with how you want to be known. In this case, attempt to get the off-brand content removed or remove it yourself if you have control over the page. Bear in mind that it will take time to disappear from the search listings, and remember that nothing on the Web is ever permanently deleted. Next, begin to create online content that will help you reach your goals. Sometimes the best you can do is present the positive side of the story next to the content you cannot remove.
Digitally Disastrous: There is much information about you on the Web, but it has little relevance to what you want to express about yourself. The information may also include results about someone else who shares your name. If your name is common, try to make it less common by using a nickname or middle initial. Use the same name consistently in all your communications, both online and offline (on your business card, résumé, etc.). Also, register your name as a domain name. When you use it for your own professional blog or website and people search for your name, it will very likely appear in the top search results. This will help ensure that you paint the right picture before any confusing or disastrous content is seen.
Digitally Dabbling: There is some information on the Web about you that supports the personal brand you’re trying to communicate but not a ton of it. What you have to do here is beef up the amount of on-brand information about you on the Web. You can do that by starting your own blog and updating it at least once a week, as well as creating a public LinkedIn profile and writing articles for online publications.
Digitally Distinct: A search of your name yields lots of results about you, and most, if not all, reinforce your unique personal brand. Make vanity searches a regular practice so that you can keep tabs on your online identity. That way, if something negative, such as an anonymous ad hominem attack on your character on a blog, crops up, you can address it quickly, before it gets out of hand.
—K. Dixson and W. Arruda
Determine Your Message
Now that you know where you stand on the digital scale, consider your personal brand—that is, how you want to be known both online and in the physical world. Take stock of your strengths, particularly those that are unique to you, as well as your personal and professional goals. Having a clear personal brand that you want to communicate to the world will help you determine the most effective mechanisms for promoting yourself online. For example, if you want to distinguish yourself as a thought leader, you need to make smart contributions to the blogosphere. Exposing your interests and thought process will help you establish a virtual rapport with like-minded individuals and attract the right kind of opportunities, such as speaking engagements at conferences. When you do get asked to speak at an event, make sure your bio gets listed on the conference website, which will improve your online profile.
Tools of the Trade
A blog is one of the best tools for improving your online identity. It’s better than a static website because it is written in your voice. Communicating in your voice will ensure that your Web profile is unique and consistent with who you are in the physical world. A blog also provides evidence of your expertise and achievements. You can write about your work (without divulging secrets) and share your insights about industry news. Thus, it serves as a digital portfolio. People want to see that you are on top of the happenings in your industry, that you are well connected and have solved problems that are similar to theirs. Your blog is a long-term career management vehicle. As such, you must regularly update content to keep in touch with your target audience. It doesn’t have to be daily, but you should aim to post no fewer than three times a month.
To make your blog work even harder for your personal brand, give some thought to optimizing it for search engines. Think about the keyword phrases that people will be using to find someone with your expertise and make sure those keywords appear in the title and body of your blog post as well as the keyword box on the page where you compose your post. There are a number of tools that allow you to see how frequently those terms are used in searches. If they are too common, then it will be difficult to stand out online using those words and phrases.
Make the title of your blog entries clear rather than clever. Andy Wibbels, author of Blogwild! notes that search engines don’t understand puns. You can also use Technorati tags in your posts, put a Google Sitemap on your blog, and get many relevant, inbound links to your site—all of which will improve your search engine rankings.
To drive traffic to your blog and further enhance your online profile, find a couple of relevant blogs you like, add them to your blogroll, read them regularly and leave comments. Done effectively, this is a great networking activity that may result in gaining real-world contacts. And when you link to others’ blogs, those site owners will be more inclined to link to you, which in turn will boost your rankings.
Participating in online discussion forums helps you to connect with and become more visible to others who share the same interests, though it’s not necessarily a part of your public online identity that will show up in a search. You can find forums through Google Groups or Yahoo Groups, and some by-invitation forums may be available to you through professional associations. Bernadette Martin, founder of Visibility Branding, says online forums can be a valuable way to formulate ideas and strategies before presenting them on the public Internet.
Using networking and profile sites like LinkedIn and Ziggs are excellent ways to create or expand your online identity and network at the same time. Some sites like Facebook are popular and even used within corporations, but the jury is still out on whether spending time there will help your career. To get the most out of these sites, make sure your content is consistent across all of your profiles and matches your résumé. Jason Alba, author of I’m on LinkedIn—Now What??? recommends fleshing out your profile with industry keywords, such as titles, professional interests, and company and university names. When using social networking sites to advance your career (as opposed to getting a date), keep your personal information and interests private. Use the built-in controls these sites offer to select what content gets exposed publicly on the Web and what’s only available to friends.
Clearly, you have a number of options for improving your online identity. Try to do as many of these activities as are appropriate for your brand and interlink everything. It’s not enough to create a webpage with the same information that your contacts already have offline. When you use these tools wisely, you cultivate a Web presence that ensures you’ll show up in search results the way you intend.
Your online branding efforts won’t do any good if you don’t have a good reputation in the offline world. When you behave badly in the real world, others can out your behavior, mistakes, poor decisions and bad judgment by leaving comments—often anonymous—on blogs. If you find someone has aired your digital dirty laundry online, attempt to get it cleaned up or removed. If you can’t, add your own positive content alongside it and let readers draw their own conclusions. Responding constructively and directly to negative comments is worthwhile. Building up your volume of high-ranking positive information will also help push the dirt to page 27 of your Google results.
Even when you’ve achieved digital distinction, remember that your search results can change rapidly. The lesson? Regularly egosurf to monitor your online ID. Set Google Alerts for your name so that you are notified when something is published about you online. This will also help you stay on top of any digital dirt that may sully your brand. Put online branding activity into your to-do list every week. No matter what your digital profile is, you can always improve it.
Since only 20 percent of executives have taken proactive steps to increase the positive information about themselves online, according to ExecuNet, you have a huge opportunity to stand out. “The greater the visibility enjoyed by an executive, the greater the value of his or her compensation,” says Howard Nestler, CEO of Executive Options. By steadily building your brand online and connecting it with your real-world visibility, you put yourself directly on the path to true career distinction.
This article is based on excerpts from Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. Copyright 2007 William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson. Published by John Wiley & Sons.
William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson are the authors of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand and partners in Reach, the global leader in personal branding. You can reach them at email@example.com.