In the physical world, most people lock their doors, buy car insurance, and take other precautions to protect themselves from harm. In the digital world, most people leave their valuable online reputation wide open and vulnerable to computer errors, cruel pranksters, vicious rivals, and identity thieves.
“Active self-defense is the only way to protect your online reputation from accidental damage and malicious attacks,” contends Michael Fertik, leading authority on online reputation management. In WILD WEST 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier (AMACOM; June 3, 2010), he offers help through these offense tactics:
Claim your online identity. Your online identity is made up of all the online content that appears to belong to you. To claim it, you do not need to reveal any information about yourself. You simply need to claim usernames and URLs that mirror or resemble your real name. Create profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook. Visit the most popular user-created content sites—Google Profiles, Twitter, and blogging sites—and register your name, or something close to it, as a username. Finally, register your name as a domain name. It doesn’t require any technical knowledge and, if you use a popular registrar such as GoDaddy.com, costs around $10 per year. By claiming your name across the digital frontier, you will have an established profile in case of a future impersonation attempt or slanderous attack.
Create positive and neutral content about yourself. Creating your own content effectively builds a Google wall against false, misleading, or negative search results. Information about your career and accomplishments counts as positive content. So does content that makes you look likeable—such as smiling photographs with friends or powerful people. A website that simply lists your name as part of a directory is a form of neutral content, which indirectly improves your reputation. For example, if the first page of results for a search for your name returns all neutral content, then very few people will see negative content on subsequent pages. Plus, neutral content does not appear self-promotional. Work to ensure that search engines recognize positive and neutral content about you as relevant and important. To achieve this, build content across a variety of sites and link these sites as much as possible.
Encourage other people to create positive or neutral content about you. If you have already been a victim of online reputation damage (accidentally or maliciously), reach out to friends and colleagues to explain the problem. Most likely, somebody who keeps an active blog or other website will be able to assist you by linking to positive and neutral content about you. In the meantime, reach out to others and preemptively improve your Google insurance. There are thousands of local and microbloggers who write about the happenings in neighborhoods, small professions, and other narrow topics. If you reach out with a relevant story or comment, you may be able to get yourself quoted—and that quote becomes relevant content to protect your reputation.
Bolster the visibility of existing positive and neutral content about you. When malicious information starts to spread online, it often shoots to the top of a Google search. From there, its popularity becomes self-sustaining because many people see it and link to it. However, if there are a number of well-established positive or neutral sites at the top of a Google search, then the new false information is less likely to make it all the way to the top. To make sure that false information fizzles out before it can harm you, boost existing content by linking to it in your various profiles and blogs. Encourage others to link to it, too. Search for and include websites that mention your name positively but that do not currently appear on the first page of Google results. Be sure to keep your links legitimate and relevant. Google’s algorithms can detect attempts to force content by overly aggressive linking.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of ReputationDefender, Inc., the world’s first comprehensive online reputation management company, with clients in over 40 countries. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, 20/20, Fox Business, and Dr. Phil, among numerous programs, and has been featured in publications including The New York Times, USA Today, Forbes, Business Week, Investor’s Business Daily, and The Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he serves on the advisory board of The Internet Keep Safe Coalition. He lives in Redwood City, California.
David Thompson is General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer of ReputationDefender. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he served as Supreme Court clerk before shifting his specialty to Internet technology and the law. He lives in Los Angeles.
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