You’ve been warned that old pictures and social media posts can cost you a job, admission to your choice school or otherwise stand in the way of your dreams and success. But what can you do to make sure your public image isn’t tarnished?
There are a few steps you can take to make sure that when your name is Googled, nothing you wouldn’t want public shows up. We talked to Darius Fisher, president of Status Labs, a unique startup combining traditional PR techniques with online engineers to handle digital crisis and tailor search results, for some tips.
1. Log out before you Google yourself
The first step is to always Google yourself from a logged out browser with cache and search history cleared. This gives you a look at what the average person sees when they Google your name. Otherwise, Google gives personalized search results that might not reflect what others see about you online.
2. Identify problematic results and remove what you can
Look through the first few pages of results and see if there are any negative news articles, reviews, unflattering pictures, old social media posts or personal data that you’d like removed. Personal social media posts, photos and personal data can be removed by you, or you can at least change privacy settings so they don’t come up when your name is Googled. Keep in mind that all social networks will make your profile public by default, so unless your account has a professional use, you’ll have to manually change the settings to protect your content.
You may not be able to remove negative reviews or bad press, but there are steps you can take to prevent it from being the first thing others see. And if you find nothing unfavorable, the tips below are valuable to build a “fortress” around your search results should something appear in the future.
3. Develop new content
By creating new content, you give Google’s algorithm new, relevant content about you that will rank highly in search. The type of content you create will depend on your profession and the time you can devote, but some ideas include a personal site, social media bios, press releases, videos, guest articles and blog posts. If you build a personal website, buy your name domain (sagelazzaro.com, for example), or if you’re looking for something simpler, a basic resume website with blog functionality is a great choice. Update your site frequently as Google likes fresh content.
Additionally, create all the mainstream social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, at the very least), for they rank highly in Google search. Update them often and also customize your privacy settings so only desired content appears publicly.
4. Look out for data brokers
Online data brokers, companies like PeopleSmart, Intelius, Spokeo Pipl, ZoomInfo and Whitepages, scrape the web for personal information (social media, public records, corporate filings, etc.) about you to create online profiles. Most of these sites have opt-out forms that are effective, and while this article summarizes the process to manually opt-out of the most common data brokers, there’s also a company called SafeShepherd, which tries to automate the process for you. Removing this information is a good first step to avoid being doxxed, but unfortunately, because these data brokers automate the profile creation, even if you remove yourself once, they can create another profile about you in the future. So you really need to be vigilant about monitoring these sites if you’re committed to keeping your personal information off the web.
5. Be proactive
If there are photos online that you can’t control, take a proactive approach. Contact website administrators and request the photos be removed. Always be polite at first, and if that doesn’t work, an attorney can assist you in drafting a takedown notice. If the images are explicit and distributed on the Internet without your consent, research your state’s revenge porn laws. If in violation of state laws, it is possible for legal actions to be taken against the distributor or website.