Friday, February 13, 2009

Controlling Your Name Online (Before It's Too Late)

Major search engines are becoming much more adept at recognizing your personal information and "people search engines" such as 123People, ZoomInfo and Pipl are consolidating that information. Nowadays, the top results in major search engines serve as your resume/business card and people will automatically judge you by what they see in these results. With that in mind, you have to ask yourself an important question: are you sure that you have control of your name online? Consider some of the following tips in order to ensure that your online reputation is positive and controllable.

• Complete searches for your name on major search engines as well as "people search engines," such as 123People, ZoomInfo and Pipl. Find out what information is already out there about you (you'll be surprised how much personal information search engines can collect!) and determine how you would like to add to it.

• If you have a common name, it will be more challenging to distinguish yourself in search engine results (ex. "Steven Smith"). You will most likely find that top search engine results for your name are not all related to you. Be selective and diligent in optimizing your chosen asset(s) and don't be afraid to get a little creative with usernames, though you should always try to have your username be your real name . This way, your site has a much better chance of ranking in search engines for your name.

• Be selective when signing up for social media networks, blogs, and similar sites. An easy tool to use is UserNameCheck.com; enter your desired username and see where it is still available on popular social media sites. While you want to own your name as much as possible on these types of sites, it is also important to contribute to these networks and communities in the future. Don't limit yourself to being defensive only; harness the power of these assets. Build out your profiles as much as possible to include the information you want people to see.

• Use a domain registrar such as Moniker.com or GoDaddy.com to buy the ".com" domain for your name, if available (ex. stevensmith.com). Once you own the website, obtain some cost-effective web hosting and use the website to your advantage. You don't have to be technologically savvy to build a simple site that states who you are and what you do. Use the opportunity to brand yourself and present the most important information about you!

• If you are a high-profile individual and are handling your own online reputation, you will definitely want to monitor your name and the internet "buzz" about you. Consider using a variety of free online tools such as RSS feeds, Search.Twitter.com, Google Alerts and Google Blog Search.

Repairing, controlling and/or monitoring your online reputation requires continual effort and a watchful eye - you may need professional help to stay on top of it all.

Special thanks to 123 Social Media's Barry Hurd for his blog post, "Online Reputation Management - Google Loves Virtual Voyeurism."