Whenever someone applies for a job with my company the first thing I do is search for them on Google. Likewise, if a consultant, freelancer or contractor offers their services, Google becomes their CV. If I can’t find them on the Internet, which is quite unusual, I don’t rule them out, but they will be at a disadvantage if alternative candidates or businesses have strong online reputations.
Today, whether you like it or not, you are who the web says you are.
This is an essential lesson for everyone to understand, but it is particularly important for people who earn their living from using their experience, knowledge and expertise to advise others. This includes consultants, coaches, trainers, academics, writers and thought leaders. If Google does not know you, most of your potential audience will not know you either. Worse still, if the stuff that Google finds about you does not fairly represent who you are, it can seriously damage your reputation and impact your personal success.
How Much Can You Control Your Online Reputation?
You cannot control what others write about you on the Internet, and worse still, once something is on the web it is there pretty much forever. You can try resorting to the courts, but it is an expensive and futile route to take.
However, you can have a great deal of influence over what people who are searching for your name will find; you just have to know what to publish and where to publish it.
What Should You Publish Online?
When you are building an online reputation you should not write about yourself. Nobody, accept your mother, really cares!
You should write about the subject you want to build your reputation around. If you love graphic design, you should write about this subject. If you are passionate about green issues, or living in Panama, or writing apps for the iPhone, you should write about these subjects. Building a really strong reputation is about becoming known for being an expert in one niche subject.
In the celebrity world you can be famous for being famous, like Paris Hilton, but on the Internet you need to become recognized for a reason.
When writing for the web your goal is to let both your expertise and your personality shine through.
What Not To Publish
You can be outspoken on a subject or even controversial; this is often a way to grab attention. However, you should always be honest, factual and constructive. Avoid attacking other people and getting into personal arguments. Not only is it time consuming and draining, but also you don’t want to build a reputation for being angry, belligerent and unyielding; who wants to work with that sort of person?
Before you click the ‘Submit’ or ‘Publish’ button always remember:
EVERYTHING YOU PUBLISH ON THE INTERNET IS THERE FOREVER.
The HEART Rule Of Great Content
When writing for the web I always remember and use the HEART Rule. Make sure everything you publish is:
Stick to these guidelines and you will publish stuff that Google likes and your audience will want to read.
Your Online Activities
To influence your online reputation you need to spread your activity and presence across the web.
Everyone should have there own website over which they have total control. This is will become your online real-time CV; the beating heart of your reputation.
Many people rely on third party sites like Facebook to be there ‘home’ on the web. You should have a presence on these sites, but your home on the web should be your own website.
If you are new to the Internet start with a free site builder (Blogger, WordPress.com, Yola). Once you are comfortable publishing on the web invest in a site which gives you greater flexibility (WordPress.org, SubHub).
Your Website Content
Your personal website should be focused on building your credibility and authority in the area you want to become known for. You should publish well thought through posts, which demonstrate your deep knowledge and understanding of your subject. Quote and link to other experts so you are perceived to be part of there world. Your goal is to position yourself as a thought leader that any employer or prospect would like to be part of their network or team.
Your Domain Name
You MUST buy and manage your own domain name, this will become one of your most valuable and important assets. Don’t let someone else buy it for you or be in control of it. Also don’t use a subdomain like www.peterpan.wordpress.com
Ideally the domain for your site should be your own name or nickname, and if possible be a ‘.com’. If you can’t get the ‘.com’ try to find a domain that is place neutral e.g. go for ‘.net’ or ‘.info’, rather than ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.co.nz’. Alternatively, if you are confident that the subject you are passionate about will always be your passion you can have the domain associated with this subject e.g. PassionForPanama.com, GreenWarrior.com, etc.
The Social Networks
Whilst your own site is your home on the web, you also should have an active presence on the biggest social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) and on any social networks related to your niche interest e.g. Steepster.com is a community of people who love tea.
On the web you reap what you sow.
Use the social sites to build your network by offering free advice and support to your community. Don’t expect any reward for providing this help; the reward will come in the intangible form of authority and credibility. The more goodwill you build, the more successful you will be. Your reputation will be built as much on what others write about you as you write yourself.
You can’t control what others say, but you can influence it.
Twitter is a phenomenon which, for now, is an important part of building a community, credibility and a network. Sign up for an account and start tweeting about your subject. Avoid mindless and worthless comments like ‘Sitting in the airport waiting for a plane’. Like everything you write, your comments should provide value to your reader to keep them interested and engaged. Tweets are now showing up in Google search which means you now have the potential of getting to the top of page one of the search results if your tweets are popular in your community.
The future of the web is multimedia.
Photos, video and audio are becoming universal on large and small websites alike. It’s time for you to jump on this bandwagon. Buy a cheap camcorder (e.g. Flip Mino) and start getting use to recording short video clips.
Post them on YouTube and embed them on your site. Publish interesting photos to Flickr and possibly interviews on iTunes. Multimedia can be fun, valuable and make you stand out from the pack.
Be Part of Your Community
If you don’t already know who the shakers and movers are for your niche on the web, get researching and find out. Make a list of the most important and influential blogs and sites and start contributing. You can do this through discussion forums, commenting, creating your member profile and contributing articles.
Alerting and Tracking
An important part of managing your online reputation is always being aware of what people are saying about you and the subject you are interested in. There are some simple free tools which can help you stay on top. Set up a Google Alert for your name and any other phrases you are interested in tracking. Create a Google Reader account to track new posts from the blogs you follow. Set up Tweetdeck or Sessmic Desktop on your PC and add a ‘Mentions’ column to track your name in the Twittersphere.
Get Some Love From The Search Engines
Understanding how the search engines work is critical to understanding how you can take greater control over your online reputation. You need to ensure the important information about you shows up on the first page of the search results when people search on your name. If you don’t get content you control on page one, it means someone else is in control of your online reputation; not a good situation to be in!
Google, which is the dominant search engine, promotes pages up the search results ranking by looking a few important criteria.
- First, they match the words the searcher is looking for e.g. your name, with the words on a site. There should be an exact match.
- Second, they look for a repetition of these words in the title, headings and body text
- Third, they look for how many other websites link to that page. These inbound links act as testimonials or endorsements for the site. The more links, the more valuable Google perceives that content to be, and the higher they rank the page. The more successful the site is that is linking to your site the more valuable that link is in the ranking process
So, to ensure your website gets a high ranking you must put your name on every page and also think about how people will search for you. If you have a common name, searchers will probably add additional keywords to identify you e.g. your company name, your area of expertise, your university, your location, etc. Make sure you mention all of these additional keywords on your site so they are connected to your name.
You should also proactively work on getting inbound links to your site. You can add many links from third party sites yourself, for example link to your own site from Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, forums, commenting, syndicated articles, etc. You should also ask friends, colleagues, peers, customers and suppliers to link to your site. If you are a member of any clubs, associations or societies, get links. Link, link, link!
‘Conversation domination’ is a phrase coined by some successful Internet marketers. It refers to trying to control or influence as many of the search results on page one of Google as possible. Google usually only lists one page from any single website in their results, so to dominate page one you must have your name and information on at least ten sites. Using the techniques above you can do that e.g. your own site, Facebook, LinkedIn, comments, forum posts, etc.
Challenge yourself to see how many of those page one listings you can control.
The Benefits of Managing Your Online Reputation
- The web is your most powerful tool for getting a great job or new contracts
- It is a very cost effective way of promoting yourself
- You can reach a global audience
- You can build your authority and credibility way beyond just qualifications
- You can use networks and communities to attract work or new roles
- You can find new business partners and opportunities
- It’s fun
The Disadvantage of Online Promotion
- It can be very time consuming
- It can be challenging to keep up with changes
- You can’t unpublish anything that goes on the web
- Being high profile online can be a double-edged sword. The more prominent you become, the more you will be criticised and attacked; usually unfairly
Bringing All Your Online Activity Together
I recommend that you split your time 50:50 between publishing to your own site and contributing to third party sites (including the social networks). Quality is more important than quantity, but publishing regularly will keep you in the spotlight.
Make sure, whenever possible, that you link back to your site from any and all third party sites. Don’t be afraid to ask for links. Google has to love your site or you will remain out of sight, out of mind.
Everything you publish on the web is part of your reputation and online persona. Think carefully about what you say and how you say it.
Everything anyone else publishes about you is also part of your reputation. You can’t tell people what to write, but by helping others without expectation of anything in return you can influence what other people say. You will reap what you sow.
Most of all enjoy it! It can be fun and very rewarding to be recognised for your achievements by a group of people who care about you and your expertise.