Take a moment to Google yourself. You might be surprised what you find. Your online reputation is in many ways a collection of all the information about you on the first page of Google. This is what 93% of people are going to see when they search your name or company. If you didn’t like what you found, you’re not alone.  

Over 50% of people are unhappy with the results they find about themselves on the front page of Google. Now, consider that 70% of employers turn to social media to research potential employees, and the possible repercussions this could have. These eye-popping statistics don’t stop there, and the news is even more stunning for business owners.

65% of consumers view online searches as a more trustworthy source of information than anything else and businesses can lose up to 70% of potential customers if consumers find four or more negative posts/reviews.

The good news is that with proper reputation management, you can clean up your search results and show the world the side of yourself or your business that you want them to see. Since 93% of searchers will never look past the first page when googling someone, you can begin taking control of your online image the same that you would in day-to-day life.

The following twenty-step guide will walk you through understanding your online reputation, developing a strategy to rebuild your image and maintaining it for years to come:

Get a Clear Picture of Your Reputation and Your Brand’s Reputation

You’ve already googled yourself, but it’s time to dig a little deeper. Explore each link about you on the first couple pages of Google, familiarize yourself with the good and the bad, and save all relevant information in a bookmarks folder. If you own a business, do the same for your business name.

Make notes of what conversation – if any – surrounds your name and your brand. Does the online image align with what you want people to see, think and say? Is any negative information based in fact or fiction? Are you being targeted by anyone actively attacking your reputation?

These important questions will help you better approach the following steps in this guide.

Set Up Reputation Monitoring Alerts

Google Alerts Reputation Strategy

Now that you know what’s out there, set up notifications with Google Alerts about your name, your business name and any other terms that’ll let you know when something is published about you. This small step gives you easy-access to reputation monitoring.

When something new is published online containing any of your Google Alerts search terms, you’ll be notified immediately so you can inspect the item. While this doesn’t give you the power to then delete that item – as nice as that would be – it allows you to respond promptly, control potential damage before it goes viral and stay on top of the conversation related to you and your brand.

We’ll get into how to respond to posts later; for this step, just worry about setting up notifications so you don’t need to google yourself every day for accurate updates.

Set Realistic Long-Term Reputation Goals

Google results don’t change overnight and it’s important to keep this in mind before beginning your efforts. It takes months to revamp your reputation, and you’ll need to space out your attainable goals to keep it realistic.

Even expert online reputation management (ORM) teams can’t make results appear instantly. Sample goals might include “get one positive result on the front page in three months” or “push one negative result off the front page in six months.” Though an ORM team might be able to achieve faster results, these are more reasonable for a DIY case.

Revisit what you learned in step one when you made notes on what your reputation currently looks like, and then use those to form your long-term goals.

Claim Your Accounts and Domains Across the Web

It’s time to purchase domain names that could be relevant to your name or business, claim business accounts if applicable, make accounts on popular social media platforms and otherwise own your image. If you don’t claim these accounts, you’re selling yourself short. Outside of cases like purchasing relevant domain property, it’s typically free to make these accounts.

Make accounts for both yourself and your brand, give them a professional polish and start building a protective barrier around your name in search results.

This works because major business websites and social media networks rank high on Google, and when you’re posting regular, relevant material, they’ll start appearing in search results. The front page of a search engine only has so much room so other results will naturally get pushed down.

Define Your Branding and Image Goals

Research personal and professional branding in whatever direction makes sense for where you’re at in your career and life. Use the information you gain to define your branding and image goals. This is the face you want on the front page of Google. It’s your CV, your business card and your professional profile.

List qualities that you’d like associated with your name and brand – such as responsive, positive, ethical and successful – and build your brand around them.

If you have multiple presences online, or several business endeavors, bring this personal branding to each one of them. A unified image is better for transparency and avoiding internet slander from the competition, disgruntled customers or even past romantic interests.

Begin Eliminating the Negative Items

With your negative threats already identified, it’s time to start eliminating them. Unfortunately, search engines aren’t much help unless highly-sensitive information such as social security numbers, adult material or legal violations are involved.

Though you can submit a request to Google, Bing and similar search engines, it might work better to contact the owner or host of the negative information directly. This process will vary depending on the website, but if you can’t find a section with information about removal requests, submit a help ticket through the website’s contact section.

Asking for each negative item’s removal as an individual often does not yield results, but in the event that it does, you’ll be cutting out harmful items from the roots!

Make a Posting Schedule and Plan

With your new social media accounts, domain names, blogs and business accounts, it’s time to start posting on a regular basis. Research each website you can post to individually to understand the best posting schedule for its algorithm, and then design a plan that accounts for all of them.

This plan should keep all of your accounts active with regular, useful content produced for your future and current followers.

Once you know how frequently you’ll need to post on each website, plan post titles and subjects for about three months. This will give you a content plan to follow so all you need to do going forward is write/create the content, edit it and post it. If you’re unsure of how to write blog posts, film videos and otherwise produce content, look for guides on each on to lead the way.

Produce High-Quality Content

Speaking of producing high-quality content, you’ll want to research your industry and what your audience wants to see. Check out blogs, business profiles, professional websites and social media accounts of similar figures in your industry and familiarize yourself with their most popular content.

With your titles and subject matter planned, you’ll be ready to follow content creation instructions and produce unique content that gives readers what they value most. From how-to cooking guides to financial management tips, different audiences will demand different material. What matters is that you’re knowledgeable, reliable and good at offering engaging information to others.

Once you’ve produced a few posts, research what gives content a better chance of going viral and start to include tricks you learn in your creation process.

Moderate the Conversation About You and Your Brand

If you’re not in control of what’s being said about you and/or your brand, who is? Watch your Google Alerts, respond to people on your social media and content websites, promptly handle negative comments and otherwise moderate the conversation.

This approach can help you turn something that could destroy your reputation into just another positive thing that’s been posted about you.

For example, if a customer makes a blog post about your company and a bad experience they had, you’ll know right away, which means you can contact them and make it right. In fortunate cases, the customer will update their post with a positive outcome and even leave a new five-star review, effectively turning a negative into a positive.

Never Argue or Lie Online

On the topic of responding to potentially-negative content, it’s important to never argue, lie or otherwise act with emotion online. It’s good practice to revisit your personal and professional branding to refresh your memory before posting anything.

This helps by reminding you of the image you want to present so you can identify anything that goes against it. If you have a hard time keeping your cool, try waiting 24 hours to post what you’ve written and give it a once-over the next day. For those who still have trouble, responding to negativity might be a task you want to delegate to a neutral party.

If you’re considering lying, posting fake positive reviews or otherwise putting something untrue online, stop where you are. It’s not a matter of if false information is found out, it’s a matter of when. The internet is full of people who will prove you wrong just for the sake of doing it, and you don’t want your next item on Google’s front page to be about your lies in a recent comment, post or review.

Inspect Existing Social Media Carefully and Protect Your Accounts

Go over all personal social media accounts and inspect your entire history. It might take some time, but you want to go through and unlike anything that contrasts with your brand, delete posts that show you in a poor light, remove negative comments and otherwise touch up your online past.

For personal accounts, you can also change the privacy settings of each one to only be visible to friends, but you’ll need to ensure that you’re not friends with any professional associates. Anyone you know professionally should only have access to your career-related pages, and only a small group of family or close friends should be able to see the rest.

Going forward, be mindful of what you like, share, comment on or otherwise associate yourself with online. It should all align with your personal and professional branding.  

Enlist the Help of Friends

Some social media posts that can harm your reputation – pictures of a night out drinking, for example – might not be under your control. If a friend has posted images of you that you’d rather not be associated with, ask them to remove it and explain your reasoning.

Though not all friends will readily take down potentially-harmful posts and pictures about you, many will. Regardless, also ask all friends going forward to avoid including anything negative about you in their future posting and to increase the privacy settings on things with your name attached.

Do the same with family members and remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Become a Leader in Your Field

If you can establish yourself as a thought leader in your field, you’ll have an easier time pushing content off the front page of search results. Improve your education, get more certifications, learn about public speaking and begin studying thought leadership.

When you’re ready, start giving presentations, leading workshops, posting educational material and otherwise taking the position of leader seriously.

The more media respect and attention you command, the easier it’ll be to change your image in a positive direction. You might even consider writing a book, filming a video series, giving free speeches or hosting a donation-based workshop.

Get Involved with Your Community

Just as establishing yourself as a leader helps fix your reputation, community involvement can do wonders. For example, if you volunteer at large events happening in your city and surrounding areas, your name might end up in the newspaper or on a list of volunteers. When people search for you, these items will have a high chance of appearing.

You’ll need to be proactive to get involved, so look for events that are related to your industry and reach out.

From offering free speeches to running a donation drive or renting a spot at an upcoming event near you, your best options will vary depending on your career. What matters is that you make yourself known.

If you can’t find any opportunities you like, find a local nonprofit organization – such as an animal shelter or soup kitchen – and start donating your time.

Network, Publish Guest Posts and Engage Your Audience

Networking with fellow professionals, past peers and other people in your industry can put new opportunities on your radar. You’ll benefit your career, get your name out there and hopefully receive a few positive reviews on professional profiles.

Likewise, contacting blogs related to yours and publishing guest posts can expand your positive reputation and further push down negative materials.

As part of both networking and publishing guest posts, engage your audience to make connections. From replying to comments on your guest post with invitations to link up on social media to leaving reviews for your peers on LinkedIn, every effort counts.

Leverage Your Professional Profiles

On the topic of LinkedIn, if it didn’t make your list of social media accounts to claim, do so now. If you’re a business owner, also make an account for your brand. Now do so for related professional websites.

These profiles can be leveraged as some of your most valuable online assets if you approach them correctly. If you neglect them, though, they can leave ugly stains on an otherwise pristine reputation. Employees/employers, colleagues, clients, customers, peers and future business connections all have the potential to stumble onto your professional profiles, and you want them to show your best side.

A positive LinkedIn profile, or any professional profile, should feature a recent headshot and/or brand image, your job title, your company’s vision, your education/qualifications, a summary of who you are/who your brand is, a complete list of skills and any nonprofit work that you’re engaged in.

This is a great spot to direct attention to your community involvement from earlier in the guide.

Feature Positive Reviews or Feedback

Your personal website or your business’s website, or both, should feature positive reviews and feedback you’ve received in plain sight. Customers and clients want to see what others are saying about you, and if it’s on the front page of your site, it’ll be hard to miss.

It’s wise to get permission to feature reviews or sign up with a reputation management service that combines your reviews into a single portal to avoid violating anyone’s privacy.

For business owners and entrepreneurs, consider offering a discount for reviews that you feature on the front page of your site. Often, this inspires better comments that display your best traits or those of your business.

Revise Your Reputation Goals Regularly

Schedule quarterly checkups with your reputation management strategy to keep yourself on track. A professional team might revise and update the plan as frequently as every month, but quarterly can suffice if you’re doing this on your own.

You’ll update the goals you’ve achieved, set longer deadlines for the ones you haven’t, examine what’s helping and identify what’s holding you back.

With a comprehensive check-in, you should come away with renewed direction, updated goals and a clear heading on how to achieve them. If you have difficulty seeing points that need revision, consider delegating the task to get some outside input.

Protect Yourself Against Legal Trouble

Almost everyone will face some sort of legal trouble over the course of their professional career, especially if you’re a business owner or high-positioned professional. If you haven’t found one already, bring a legal professional onto your team.

After your initial consultation meeting, you can maintain this legal relationship for relatively low costs, and you’ll be protected if a crisis ever occurs.

If you’re not sure whether you need a legal professional, contact one in your area for a consultation to get an idea of what he or she can do for you. Also, if you own a business, bring in a financial manager at the same time for extra legal protection.

Hire an ORM Team or Specialist

Just as a legal professional will safeguard you and your business against crisis in the courtroom, an ORM team or specialist offers new layers of protection for your online reputation. Imagine the security of having a team of experts working on your reputation every day of the week, knowing they have technology scanning for new posts, moderating comments, producing content and more.

Plus, unless you have extra time every day, hiring a specialist or a team of specialists is among the only ways to ensure your online image gets the attention it deserves.

If you follow this reputation management strategy guide, the front page of Google and other major search engines will begin to change. You’ll need to devote long hours to the campaign – or delegate the task – but the results are more than worth it.

We live in the age of information, and the future will only bring a society that is increasingly connected to the internet. There’s no going back, and the sooner you embrace the power of your online reputation, the sooner it’ll start working for you.

Think of reputation management as an investment, not just in your professional life, but in your personal life too. Dates now commonly google someone before meeting them, family members search for each other on a regular basis, spouses often look each other up online and friends google friends out of curiosity. Don’t leave negative or dated information in plain sight for anyone to see and judge you by.

Whether you’re a busy CEO, a small business owner, a young professional or a college student, a positive reputation will do wonders for your life. Plus, you’ll have more peace of mind when you know that you’re protected from online slander, hate websites, negative comments and more.

In a world where the front page of Google is the new business card and everyone googles everyone, it’s only natural to want some protection.

Status Labs is the premier digital reputation management firm, with offices in Austin, New York, Los Angeles, London, and São Paulo. For more information visit StatusLabs.com or sign up for a Free Consultation.