Updated July 30th, 2021
Your Google results – what comes up when someone searches for your name or business online – act as your business card and first impression in 2021. With over 80% of consumers going online to learn more about businesses, what they see can have a significant impact on whether or not they work with your company.
If you see something you don’t like when searching for yourself or your business, it’s likely others feel the same way. 90% of consumers report not frequenting a business with a bad reputation. Online, a bad reputation can mean one negative headline or one bad review. In fact, according to a study published in 2019, the effect of negative news on reputation is three times larger than the effect of positive news.
So, what can you do about it? While it may seem impossible to help your reputation if you’re already seeing negative results, know that anyone can work to fix their online reputation. With these ten steps, you can begin to take control of the narrative and build an online presence that makes the first impression you want to make.
1. Create and Manage Social Media Accounts
Social media accounts tend to rank high on search engines because they’re consistently popular among internet users. Really popular – in 2020, the global number of social media users was 3.6 billion – a 25% increase from the 2.9 billion in 2017. This is project to increase to 3.78 in 2021, and 4.41 billion by 2025 – over 50% of the world’s population. In the US, these numbers are even more significant: over 80% of Americans have a social media account.
By creating and managing your own social media accounts – under your personal name or that of your business, depending on your focus – you’ll be able to have these profiles ranking in Google results, as opposed to websites that you don’t control.
This allows you to begin pushing negative search results off the first page in a process known as suppression. Because over 75% of people will never look past the front page of search results, the visibility of negative items is reduced significantly if you push it to page two. Page three is an even safer bet.
In fact, even suppressing negative results to the bottom of page 1 can have a positive impact on your online reputation, as the top 3 results in Google search account for over 75% of clicks.
Social media sites you need to focus on will vary by your reputation needs, but Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium, Quora, Google+, Foursquare, Digg and more are all viable options. Each account should contain positive, current information about you indicative of the image you want to create.
To manage these accounts, you’ll want to post regularly, participate in groups, discussions, and forums relevant to your personal brand and otherwise use them as much as you can.
2. Comment and Actively Participate in Conversations
Through your new social media accounts, you’ll be ready to comment and actively participate in conversations to get your name on more sources. This creates more search results for Google to pull from and can help suppress negative search results so they’re off the front page.
Following your personal branding – if you don’t have a personal brand, now’s the time to work on that – make your presence active by interacting with others online. This will help you get publicity and help your branded voice appear across the web.
As a rule, every comment or online interaction should be informative, accessible, grammatically-correct, and spell-checked. This lowers the risk of your created content contributing to your negative reputation instead of helping you get rid of it. If you’re emotional about a topic, either don’t reply or wait 24 hours to revisit what you’re saying so you can be sure it’s posted from a clear mind – but don’t wait too long. 20% of users expect responses to online reviews within one day of posting, so make sure to not leave those that demand responses hanging.
Finally, remember that anything you post online can be immortalized, so you don’t want to argue with or insult anyone, no matter how incorrect they are.
3. Link Between Your Sites for Better Rankings
Google uses links between websites as a factor in its search ranking algorithm. This means that linking between your sites and social media profiles can help your positive content appear higher in search results and increase their suppressive power against your negative items.
Link to each of your social media accounts on your personal website, and do the same on professional profiles like LinkedIn. Then, link to your personal website and professional profiles from your personal social media accounts.
Whenever possible, insert links to your profiles and accounts in ways that are useful, intelligent and unobtrusive. Don’t spam links, but if you’re linking your personal website in your Twitter bio, for example, this can help in your rankings and have a positive impact on your reputation. Another way to link these profiles together is to use the same username across platforms, and to include these profiles in your Knowledge Panel or Google My Business listing (if you have one).
4. Target Negative Keywords
An in-depth look at your search results should help you identify negative keywords to target so you can take them back, in effect. What this means is identifying negative keywords that are associated with the harmful items in your search results – ones that people might be using to specifically look for this information – and writing quality, positive content that uses them.
Keyworded writing, or search engine optimization, isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most effective ways to get rid of negative results. For example, if “your name” brings up positive things, but “your name CEO” brings up negative items, your target keyword will be “your name CEO” when you begin producing content.
Take time to research SEO and content writing before you begin this process, otherwise, you could accidentally make the problem worse. If you don’t have the spare time to educate yourself and do it right, hire a professional SEO writer to handle your content production across each of your accounts and websites.
The longer and higher-quality this content is, the better it’ll rank in Google and the more effective it’ll be for fixing your name.
5. Remove Any Results You Control
After exploring your negative search results, bookmark each of them so you know what’s where. Remove any results that you control – for example, distasteful pictures on an old social media website – by logging into your account and deleting the content.
The chances of you having control of all negative content are generally low, but some people are lucky enough to have a quick solution to their issues like this. It may take several weeks for the results to stop showing on Google, but if you’ve deleted the posts, they won’t load in when clicked on. The key to any online reputation management is patience.
If you don’t control a post, but you think you have a chance of getting it removed based on the site’s privacy terms, contact their help team directly and make your case. Most sites take weeks or months to respond or are completely unresponsive, but others will rectify your issues in a timely manner.
Note that some sites may request a fee for the removal of negative content about you and/or your business – this is generally against Google’s guidelines, so you should not have to pay to remove negative content.
6. Check with Search Engine Administrators
When negative search results violate your privacy, you can occasionally get help from the authorities – namely, Google or an attorney. Contacting Google and other major search engines regarding a negative item is often worth a shot, though success rates are generally low. Just as you would if you’re contacting a webmaster directly, contact the search engine to succinctly, clearly make your case and then wait for a reply.
In extreme cases, you may want to involve an attorney who’s skilled in online reputation disputes. This is a case-by-case decision that you should make only after having consultation meetings with a few experienced professionals in your area. It can be exceedingly costly to take a website to court over a negative search result, and the results aren’t guaranteed, but there is a precedent for success.
Often, the better approach for this is to work with an online reputation firm that staffs legal professionals skilled in these disputes. This can save you money and yield better results in many cases.
7. Own Your Personal Domain
If you didn’t purchase your personal domain when you claimed your social media accounts, now’s the time to do so. Purchase domains with your business name, personal name and any nicknames you’ve been known by that are associated with your negative results. This might seem costly, but it yields excellent results.
Once you own these domains, make sure you keep them active just as you would with your social media profiles. Keep a blog for quality content that helps protect your name and interact with other blogs on the same topic for better application of your website’s potential.
If you’re not sure how to manage or design a website, this is often best left to the professionals. Hiring a personal web designer can be pricey, but it’ll yield great results. You can also utilize website building tools.
Alternatively, you can work with a reputation management team that staffs web designers and content creators. This often saves money and keeps content more focused on the keywords that need to be targeted.
8. Become an Expert
If you can become an expert in your field, you’ll have a much easier time maintaining a positive name in search results. Respected experts are talked about on a number of large media sources that’ll rank well on Google, further suppressing negative information about you or your business. Your personal website is an excellent medium to begin establishing your position as an industry leader.
Take this further by holding seminars, speaking at large conferences, writing instructional guides, getting books published and otherwise claiming your position as a knowledgeable professional.
As you establish yourself as an expert, consider attending classes and earning new certifications. This can help you network, making it easier to get known as an expert, and open doors to opportunities that’ll support your cause. Furthermore, it’ll list your name on certification sites in some cases, which adds more positive content to the web about your name.
If this feels out of your grasp where you are, or simply too time consuming, consider posting regularly on a blog or a website like Medium with insights and advice relevant to your industry. As long as you’re producing high-quality content and sharing it regularly, it should have a positive impact on your online presence.
9. Make a Search Result Management Plan
Each of these steps is just an element of a quality search result management plan. Sit down to define not just your brand, but your goals for your online reputation. Make step-by-step plans to help you achieve these goals and follow them carefully.
Every thirty days or so, check in with your management plan to update milestones and adjustments where necessary. For example, if your search results are changing faster or slower than anticipated, your timeline will need to change to reflect this progress.
Your management plan should be well-defined with clear goals that will take you where you want to go in your career. It can be more than a way of fixing your name on Google – if you do it right, this plan can set you up for a new phase in your career. It can also protect your name from future negative content, giving you security and peace of mind.