When someone is looking for more information about you—whether a potential customer, employer, business partner, or even a date—it’s likely he or she will turn to Google or other search engines. The information contained in search result pages is in essence your “online bio,” and weighs heavily in how others perceive you, and your company or products.
For this reason, it is important for everyone—businesses and individuals alike—to protect their online bio, so that it presents you in the best possible light.
What Can Happen: Political Online Bios Gone Awry
With the republican primaries well underway, we're bound to see some policy and personal attacks in ads, blog posts, opinion pieces and news stories. This round, we're seeing top presidential candidates deal with varying levels of defamation online as well.
Note: This is not intended to be a political leaning post; we're just reporting on what we see in the news today.
In 2003, relationship-advice columnist Dan Savage took offense to anti-gay comments made by then-senator Rick Santorum (@ricksantorum). In response, Savage asked his followers to help him redefine “santorum” (I’ll let Search Engine Land explain what won—warning: it’s vulgar).
Savage then created a website all about the new definition of “santorum,” which has been linked to and written about a number of times. Today, nine years later as Santorum runs for president, a Google search for his name shows less-than favorable results sprinkled among his own properties and recent news.
Recently, a copycat by the name of Jack Shepler gave Mitt Romney (@mittromney) a similar search engine headache when he followed in Savage's footsteps and created a site to redefine the candidate's last name, which now appears on page-one search results. Search Engine Land offers an interesting article on the topic, and finds that sometimes site rankings can't be explained by SEO best practices.
Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) also ran into some problems when a non-supporter purchased the domain name newtgingrich.com. The owner uses the site to redirect visitors to references of the former Speaker's controversial happenings of past or negative news articles about him.
What To Do: How to Defend Your Online Bio
The fact that these men are facing online bio trouble, despite articles being written about them regularly on some very powerful websites (e.g. CNN and WashingtonPost.com), shows that anyone is subject to highjacking. That's why it is important for everyone—businesses and individuals alike—to take steps to protect their online reputations and ensure they are accurately represented in search results.
Following are seven actions you can take to better defend this valuable online real estate. Please note: This is not a comprehensive list. Though these activities will help, they do not guarantee you will “own” your Google result pages.
1. Regularly Google Yourself
If you haven't recently, Google your name and the name of your company. Take stock of the listings that show on the first, second and third pages. Index any negative or inaccurate listings, and then monitor them for fluctuations. If the information is inaccurate, you may consider reaching out to the site owner to correct it. Otherwise, use the following activities to help suppress these listings and fortify your results page.
2. Purchase Relevant Domain Names
Visit GoDaddy.com, or another website registrar, and buy the website addresses that pertain to you and your brand, including full name, nicknames, common misspellings and multiple domain extensions (.com, .co, .me, .us, etc.).
For example, even though I don’t do anything with it, I own www.KeithMoehring.com; no one else can buy it and use it against me. As an agency, PR 20/20 owns a number of domain names, which we secured solely to protect our brand.
3. Launch a Blog
One of the best ways to safeguard your online bio is to build up the content that is associated with you, and blogs offer an accessible platform to do so. The more comprehensive the content, and more people link to and share it, the stronger your online bio becomes.
If you have a website, create your blog as a subdirectory (www.domain.com/blog) or subdomain (blog.domain.com) to combine the power of both assets.
4. Use the Rel=Author Tag
Rel=author is an HTML 5 tag used by Google to help the search engine associate online content with a specific author. The way this tag works is you create an author page about you on your website or blog and then associate it with your Google+ profile. Then, as long as everything you write—including guest articles on other sites—is linked to your author page, the content will be associated with your name. Currently, only Google knows how much weight is given to this tag, but AJ Kohn (@ajkohn) from BlindFiveYearOld.com has seen a 40% increase in traffic since implementing.
For more information, see this video from Google on how to set up the rel=author markup.
5. Build Social Media Profiles
Secure social media profiles across all relevant networks, especially Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. Even if you don’t intend to use them, securing your name here, as you did with URLs, will ensure that no one else can.
However, to impact your search results, you should get active and build a following. The larger your network and the more your content is shared, the more credibility you’ll be given by search engines.
6. Diversify Your Content
A well-rounded online profile includes a variety of content formats, including blog posts, images, videos, presentations, and more. Oftentimes certain content formats, like video and images, are given higher rankings on search engines because of their visual nature. Expand the type of content you create, and help it spread by and publishing on powerful third-party websites, such as YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare.
7. Purchase Google Ads
If you're already experiencing online bio ownership issues, or if they arise in the future, you can circumvent the issue immediately by bidding on PPC ads for the hijacked search term(s). This can give you a presence in search results while you build your organic listings up using steps 1-6.
What other suggestions do you have to protect your online bio?