Thursday, October 15, 2009
(Cross-posted on the Webmaster Central Blog)
A few years ago I couldn't wait to get married. Because I was in love, yeah, but more importantly, so that I could take my husband's name and people would stop getting that ridiculous picture from college as a top result when they searched for me on Google.
After a few years of working here, though, I've learned that you don't have to change your name just because it brings up some embarrassing search results. Below are some tips for "reputation management": influencing how you're perceived online, and what information is available relating to you.
The first step in reputation management is preemptive: Think twice before putting your personal information online. Remember that although something might be appropriate for the context in which you're publishing it, search engines can make it very easy to find that information later, out of context, including by people who don't normally visit the site where you originally posted it. Translation: don't assume that just because your mom doesn't read your blog, she'll never see that post about the new tattoo you're hiding from her.
Tackle it at the source
If something you dislike has already been published, the next step is to try to remove it from the site where it's appearing. Rather than immediately contacting Google, it's important to first remove it from the site where it's being published. Google doesn't own the Internet; our search results simply reflect what's already out there on the web. Whether or not the content appears in Google's search results, people are still going to be able to access it — on the original site, through other search engines, through social networking sites, etc. — if you don't remove it from the original site. You need to tackle this at the source.
- If the content in question is on a site you own, easy — just remove it. It will naturally drop out of search results after we recrawl the page and discover the change.
- It's also often easy to remove content from sites you don't own if you put it there, such as photos you've uploaded, or content on your profile page.
- If you can't remove something yourself, you can contact the site's webmaster and ask them to remove the content or the page in question.
Proactively publish information
Sometimes, however, you may not be able to get in touch with a site's webmaster, or they may refuse to take down the content in question. For example, if someone posts a negative review of your business on a restaurant review or consumer complaint site, that site might not be willing to remove the review. If you can't get the content removed from the original site, you probably won't be able to completely remove it from Google's search results, either. Instead, you can try to reduce its visibility in the search results by proactively publishing useful, positive information about yourself or your business. If you can get stuff that you want people to see to outperform the stuff you don't want them to see, you'll be able to reduce the amount of harm that that negative or embarrassing content can do to your reputation.
You can publish or encourage positive content in a variety of ways:
- Create a Google profile. When people search for your name, Google can display a link to your Google profile in our search results and people can click through to see whatever information you choose to publish in your profile.
- If a customer writes a negative review of your business, you could ask some of your other customers who are happy with your company to give a fuller picture of your business.
- If a blogger is publishing unflattering photos of you, take some pictures you prefer and publish them in a blog post or two.
- If a newspaper wrote an article about a court case that put you in a negative light, but which was subsequently ruled in your favor, you can ask them to update the article or publish a follow-up article about your exoneration. (This last one may seem far-fetched, but believe it or not, we've gotten multiple requests from people in this situation.)