Whether there are too many Facebook photos of you with red solo cups, you’ve got an ex who blogged about your relationship in detail, or you’ve publicly made some bad career moves, your poor online reputation can hurt your business and limit your growth opportunities.
Luckily, all is not lost. While you can’t recreate a perfectly spotless online life, there are steps you can take to improve your online image and give your business the time it needs in the spotlight.
Untag, Delete, Remove
If you have administrative control over the unflattering content out there, do everything you can to remove it from the internet.
Untag or delete photos that can reflect poorly on you or your company. If you have old blog posts whose content don’t reflect your current positions, remove specific content or take down the whole blog. For social media accounts, change the name on the profile so they don’t show up in a search for your name or delete them entirely.
Yes, there are sites (and screenshots) that permanently save online activity. But a little change is better than none, and most searches won’t go deep enough to find more.
Once you have removed or disassociated your professional self from this content, adjust your privacy settings on any social media or blog account that you have for personal use. Make sure that when you are sharing pictures of your weekend activities, only your closest friends and family can see them.
Ask the Owner (Nicely)
If the content is not under your direct control, but you know who does own it, reach out to the owner and ask for it to be removed. Don’t threaten legal action or be aggressive right off the bat—politely explain the situation and ask for them to remove the photos, posts, or articles you no longer want public.
Friends and family will likely be willing to do as you ask, though your request may be the butt of a few jokes at the next reunion. Professional sites (and old flames) may be a little more difficult to convince. If they are unwilling to take down the content you object to, ask if they will associate it with a pseudonym or “guest author” account, rather than your own name. Some people may be more willing to remove a name rather than delete content entirely.
Move it Down the Page
Sometimes, you won’t be able to remove the photos or posts that keep popping up and reflecting poorly on your or your company. It’s still out there, threatening to appear on Google anytime someone types in your name.
Luckily, when people search online, they usually only look at the first page or two. That means your best course of action is to fill up those pages of search results with content that makes you and your business look good!
If your personal social media accounts keep showing up when people search for your business, create business profiles and update them regularly so that they appear first on Google. Create search optimized content, such as blog posts and articles, for your own website that show the professional value your business offers. Guest post on popular website—these often have a high search rank and will show up in a Google search before any other content.
Once you create more positive content, you don’t need to worry so much about older, more negative content. If it doesn’t show up in the first three pages of a Google search (and it’s not criminal activity) the chances of anyone but you finding it are slim.
Ask Google for Help
If you find yourself with a more extreme problem than old college photos or an unfortunate blog post, you may be able to seek help from Google itself. Residents of the European Union can petition Google to remove search results under the Right to Be Forgotten Act.
To ask Google to remove content, you have to fill out a form that submits information about the content and why you want it taken out of search results. Filling out the form doesn’t guarantee that Google will comply, but it is an option in more severe cases of reputation management.
If you live in parts of the world other than the EU, you may still be able to ask that Google remove legally objectionable content or personal information if it compromises your safety and identity. To request that this sort of content be removed, you must submit a separate request for each of Google’s services.
Even if the information you want to remove online is not extreme enough to warrant Google’s interference, you can still get the search engine giant to help you monitor your online reputation. As soon as you launch your new business, set a Google Alert for yourself and the name of the business. This will help you monitor the information that is being shared about you online, allowing you to stay ahead of potential problems.
Call in the Pros
When big money and investors are at stake, you might need to abandon your own efforts and call in a professional reputation management company to help you out.
These companies provide all of the above services—finding ways to have unflattering content removed, replacing it with positive content, seeking legal recourse when necessary—but they do it with an experienced team that can tackle more complex situations than you can on your own. They also usually offer social media management and third party website monitoring in order to keep problems from escalating or reappearing.
Before you buy and professional reputation management services, be sure to ask for a customized analysis of the problem and an outline of the strategy they will use to fix it. This ensures that you aren’t paying high fees to fix something that wasn’t actually a big deal to begin with, as well as helping you avoid companies that uses shady, black-hat techniques to improve your reputation, which could end up backfiring in the long term.
Author: Katharine Paljug is a web copywriter and consultant who helps small businesses make the most of their online presence. You can find her online at Katharine Writes, where she shares advice about business blogging, social media, and crafting an awesome website, or on twitter as @kpaljug, where she tries not to complain about how cold it is in winter.
Website link: http://www.katharine-writes.com
Twitter link: http://www.twitter.com/kpaljug