Most folks in the Internet business understand the importance of creating an online brand, but is it just as important for individuals as it is for businesses? Absolutely.
An “online brand” is the way other people (and businesses) see you on the internet. This can be as simple as a Google search for your name, which most of us have done at one time or another. Here’s a useful exercise: do one for yourself now, and make a note of what you see on the first page of search results. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Are they relevant, positive links to you and your identity, or are they:
a) links to another person with the same name, or worse,
b) links to negative items you’d rather people not see?
Positive examples can include profiles of you on sites that you can control (Facebook, Picasa Web Albums, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), while negative items can be web pages with your name on it that don’t put you in a good light.
Make no mistake: people can and will search for you – a new girlfriend, a prospective employer, or even family members. There are a huge number of websites out there that specialize in collecting information on you and selling that package to whomever wants to buy it. This is similar to companies that sell your browsing behavior to marketing firms, but it goes WAY beyond that – most of the time, you will not be personally identified in packages of browsing data (you will be part of a large statistical sample). With sites like WhitePages.com, Intelius.com, pipl.com, 123people.com, and many others, it’s all about finding YOU, you personally.
There’s generally one rule to the internet – once it’s out there, it doesn’t go away. This rule isn’t great for anyone who has embarrassing content posted about them – think about any celebrity scandal involving pictures or video. But there are ways of bending these rules in your favor, and it has everything to do with flooding the internet with links to sites that are within your control to “bury” sites that have bad content, pushing those items to later pages of a search (where people are less likely to see it). This is Search Engine Optimization for YOU, and this is what this article is all about.
First, a little background
Search engines like Google and others use a complicated method of determining what web pages are listed first for a particular search term. This formula is called an algorithm, and the specifics are usually kept secret. But there are general rules that everyone knows and follows to get on page 1 of search results. Let’s say you have a website: FluffyBunnies.com, and you want people who search for “fluffy bunnies” to see your site on page 1. The rules include:
- Web pages that list the exact search keywords (“fluffy bunnies”) in their meta tags are ranked higher
- These keywords need to exist in the title of the page as well as the content (and have those words appear more than once)
- If people search for “fluffy bunnies” then click on fluffybunnies.com, it moves up in the rankings
- If other web pages link back to fluffybunnies.com, that’s also good (especially if those other sites are popular)
- If you pay Google to list you as a “Sponsored Site” for those words, you’ll be listed (but we’d like to do it for free)
So what does this have to do with you?
Your online brand is made up of web pages displaying various things about you, so those pages need to be at the top of the search results (using your name as the search terms). It helps to do the following:
Collect several sites that you use (or could use) to post content about yourself, then insert links to all the other sites in each site. If you have a Facebook account, post a link to that page on your personal blog, and vice versa. Here are some examples of popular sites that you can create free profile pages on, then cross-link all the others into each one:
Then make sure your name is listed in the body of each page, as many times as is reasonable. Don’t write “Johnpamplin.com is John Pamplin’s website where John Pamplin talks about whatever John Pamplin thinks about, John Pamplin does, and everything else John Pamplin. Oh did I mention John Pamplin?” That’s stupid, don’t do it.
Note: there are sites out there that basically do this for you, and add in some basic monitoring of your brand. Good examples are brandyourself.com, or safeshepherd.com, which walk you through the process of setting up cross links to your various online identities to boost your online brand. It’s a pay site, but free for up to 3 links. I’d say it’s worth the yearly $80 cost if your online brand is important to you, but if you’re short on cash, you can do most of it yourself.