Selective vs. promiscuous linking

One of the great dilemmas of online networks is what does a ‘link’ mean? Orkut offers several levels of ‘friendship’, whereas Friendster and LinkedIn just offer the binary option: yes i am your friend, no I am not. In several conversations with the LinkedIn team, I have heard them say very strongly that they want to promote a culture in which linking is meaningful–it indicates that you would actually pass on a request from the person to whom you link. Which, after all, is the whole point of LinkedIn and similar systems.

I agree 100% with this. When I get link requests from people I barely know, my standard response is:

I’m sorry, but I have a policy of not linking to anyone on LinkedIn with whom I haven’t developed some sort of significant business/personal relationship. This is nothing personal against you; this is a general policy I have to prevent me from getting deluged with requests and to keep consistent with the LinkedIn philosophy. I’m happy to get to know you in other contexts. I hope everything is well with you!

However, cultural realities — the desire to appear more popular and connected—may make it hard for LinkedIn to hold by this idealistic position. On their home page is this ad:

Get Exposure with CV Advantage
Is your resume lost in a sea of 1-2 page resumes?

Which leads to http://cv-advantage.com/CVA_LinkedIn/
, which says on it:

Don’t forget to send us LinkedIn invitations if we’re not already connected!

This is an invitation to the most promiscuous possible linking. If LinkedIn wants to make their system functional, and not have it drown in a sea of spam and unwanted requests, I suggest they make a stronger effort to discourage this sort of approach.

Which leads to a broader question: how can LinkedIn and similar systems create a culture and design a system to prevent such activities? by imposing a maximum number of connections? by grading people on % of requests which they accept? other?

Search engine optimization for your blog

My friend Kimberly D. Wells recently asked this question in the Blogging for Business forum on Ryze:

Is anyone else finding that their Blog is getting heavy traffic from search engines? Any tips for Blog SEO?

A pretty good chunk of our traffic here comes from search engines. Here are some tips for optimizing your blog for search engines:

  1. Keyword research- What are the most popular terms around your topic? Use Overture and WordTracker for research.
  2. Keyword-rich category names – Text in hyperlinks gets preferential treatment. Category links are going to appear on every page, so they’re going to get a lot of exposure. Also make sure that there are hyperlinks to the category name(s) in each post of the category(ies) that the post is in.
  3. Hyperlink titles to the permalink – In plain English, that means make sure your headlines are linked to the permanent URL for that post. Blogger, by default, doesn’t do that — instead, the timestamp is the permalink. Wacky, useless convention. I have instructions on how to fix this here (see step 2). Warning – it’s pretty technical – probably going to be a challenge if you don’t know HTML.
  4. Use Trackback/pingback to notify other bloggers when you link to their blog. Some will automatically display a link back to your post.
  5. Put titles in an H2 or H3 tag – H2/H3 tags will score better than just big bold text created with CSS.
  6. Make sure each post can be its own page – If each post is on its own page, your keyword density (one of the criteria for search engine rankings) will be higher, since each post will talk about one fairly narrow topic. If all you have are weekly/monthly archives, and each post is a bookmark, you’ll have long pages with a variety of topics discussed, and your keyword density drops.
  7. Leave comments on other people’s blogs – Don’t spam them just to get a link. Contribute to the conversation. But you can usually put a link to your blog in when you leave a comment, and that helps build link popularity for your site.

An important note is that Blogger.com (and many other free services) really isn’t well-suited for much of the above. Most of the things I describe above that you do on your own blog either aren’t there by default (heading tags, hyperlinked titles) or aren’t supported at all (categories, single pages for each post). That’s why I generally recommend using WordPress or Movable Type on your own domain if you really want to get the maximum marketing benefit out of your blog.

For more on this topic, check out Case Study: Using a Weblog to Achieve #1 Rankings in Google

Trust and Transactions, Numbers and Strength

Ross Mayfield writes:

At dinner tonight I had an interesting conversation about the difference between Americans and Europeans. One theory put forth is that Americans focus on transaction volume and efficiency while Europeans focus on the strength of relationships. With enough transactions you gain economies. With trust underpinning transactions, you gain similar economies. Its hard to say which system is “better.”

This reminds me of what we wrote in Balancing strength of relationships and number of relationships:

You can spend all of your time with your close friends and family (Strong ties with those people, but a low Number of relationships), or spread yourself thin across a wide number of people (high Number, low Strength). However, maintaining both high Strength and high Number is physically impossible.

How do you optimize the value of your network? How can you find the proper balance between Strength and Number?

The way to optimize the value of your network is to determine the necessary level of Strength required to accomplish your goals, and then maximize Number at that level. For example, if you are selling investment banking or strategic consulting services, you need a high Strength level for someone to buy your services. These are big-ticket items which require a high level of trust in their provider. Your Number will likely be small. Ideally, you have a small Number of close relationships with senior executives who are in a position to buy these services.

You may be tempted to try to meet everyone in your golf club. In most cases, it is unproductive and even impossible to build relationships with everyone there. Instead, develop a substantial relationship with the top 30 most Relevant to you.

However: if you are trying to sell books or food, your Strength can be much lower but your Number has to be much higher. Movie stars mainly make money by selling people the chance to watch a movie for $5 – $10 per view. They try to have ties with as many fans as possible. Spending an hour with just one fan is unnecessary and inefficient for them; they want weak ties. Similarly, a restaurant owner should build a large number of weak ties and encourage those weak ties to try her restaurant. Once the weak ties try the restaurant, the quality of the restaurant itself will probably drive any repeat business.

There is no one right solution overall; your needs will likely be different from one context to another. For example, the movie star will want to develop Strong ties with producers and directors. Also, you may be able to leverage the weak connections of your Strong ties. The restaurant owner should build closer relationships with high-profile customers, party planners, and group or association leaders. They could bring in significant groups of people, as well as referring people from within their own large networks.

This tension is why it is so important to develop strategies that allow you to increase either Strength or Number without more demands on your time. Building a large mailing list allows you to increase the Number without spending significant additional time. Learning to write more effective emails will help you increase the Strength of your ties without spending too much time on those relationships, beyond the initial cost of learning the new skill.

The ideal network has a large Number of heterogeneous people who think highly of you and with whom you are well bonded. That is the power of university and corporate alumni communities. Using the online member databases, you can easily access people in any industry and region of the world. Once you approach a fellow member, who may be from a totally different background than you, you have an immediate bond by virtue of the common background. In addition, this principle explains the value of “Outward Bound” expeditions, Ropes Courses, and other similar programs. These retreats all promote quick bonding between participants (immediate Strength).

LinkedIn case studies and the importance of being findable

Maybe I’ve missed this before, but my friend Bill Vick was just featured in and called my attention to these LinkedIn case studies. The examples include several areas, including hiring employees, finding a job, making deals, and finding experts.

I teach classes in conjunction with LinkedIn (we’re on hold at the moment and will start up after the first of the year). I also really use it. I used LinkedIn to find our literary agent, to connect with the person who’s writing our foreword, to find success stories for our book, to connect with experts in related fields, and to identify and connect with a critical contact for my next book project. I don’t use it a lot (rather, I don’t initiate a lot of requests), but that’s not the point — the point is that I have used it very successfully when I used it.

David Teten’s two companies both use it very heavily — for recruiting and for finding experts. I’m particularly interested in the aspect of finding experts, because I’ve often heard the argument that these sites are a waste of time because it’s just as easy to find people on Google. This is simply not true, either when you’re looking for extremely niche expertise or on a topic that a lot of people talk about, but that there are very few experts on.

My wife, who works for David finding these experts, has had several cases where there was simply so much information out there that it was nearly impossible to sift through Google to find experts. But on LinkedIn, the searches produced results that were much closer to a match. Structured search is valuable because it allows you to distinguish, for example, people who have actually worked in a particular industry from people who are consumers of that industry and just blog about it. Simply talking about something a lot doesn’t make you an expert.

What’s frustrating is that more professionals aren’t making their information available in these tools. Really — if you’re a professional and want to be found, list yourself everywhere possible. Copy and paste your information, and it only takes a few minutes per site. You don’t have to actively participate if you don’t have time — just make yourself searchable in a structured way. There really are people who are looking for you in these sites and want to find you. As Dr. Philip Agre says, “The most fundamental way of finding people online is to help them find you.”

Balancing strength of relationships and number of relationships

You can spend all of your time with your close friends and family (Strong ties with those people, but a low Number of relationships), or spread yourself thin across a wide number of people (high Number, low Strength). However, maintaining both high Strength and high Number is physically impossible.
How do you optimize the value of your network? How can you find the proper balance between Strength and Number?

The way to optimize the value of your network is to determine the necessary level of Strength required to accomplish your goals, and then maximize Number at that level. For example, if you are selling investment banking or strategic consulting services, you need a high Strength level for someone to buy your services. These are big-ticket items which require a high level of trust in their provider. Your Number will likely be small. Ideally, you have a small Number of close relationships with senior executives who are in a position to buy these services.

You may be tempted to try to meet everyone in your golf club. In most cases, it is unproductive and even impossible to build relationships with everyone there. Instead, develop a substantial relationship with the top 30 most Relevant to you.

However: if you are trying to sell books or food, your Strength can be much lower but your Number has to be much higher. Movie stars mainly make money by selling people the chance to watch a movie for $5 – $10 per view. They try to have ties with as many fans as possible. Spending an hour with just one fan is unnecessary and inefficient for them; they want weak ties. Similarly, a restaurant owner should build a large number of weak ties and encourage those weak ties to try her restaurant. Once the weak ties try the restaurant, the quality of the restaurant itself will probably drive any repeat business.

There is no one right solution overall; your needs will likely be different from one context to another. For example, the movie star will want to develop Strong ties with producers and directors. Also, you may be able to leverage the weak connections of your Strong ties. The restaurant owner should build closer relationships with high-profile customers, party planners, and group or association leaders. They could bring in significant groups of people, as well as referring people from within their own large networks.

This tension is why it is so important to develop strategies that allow you to increase either Strength or Number without more demands on your time. Building a large mailing list allows you to increase the Number without spending significant additional time. Learning to write more effective emails will help you increase the Strength of your ties without spending too much time on those relationships, beyond the initial cost of learning the new skill.

The ideal network has a large Number of heterogeneous people who think highly of you and with whom you are well bonded. That is the power of university and corporate alumni communities. Using the online member databases, you can easily access people in any industry and region of the world. Once you approach a fellow member, who may be from a totally different background than you, you have an immediate bond by virtue of the common background. In addition, this principle explains the value of “Outward Bound” expeditions, Ropes Courses, and other similar programs. These retreats all promote quick bonding between participants (immediate Strength).

How to network with your blog, Part 2

Last week, I talked about Biz Stone’s tips on how to network with Blogger. His tips are all right on track, and I highly recommend you read them before continuing with this article. But in going over it, I also realized that some additional explanation of a couple of the tips might be helpful, and that there are a few key things missing if you’re trying to use your blog to increase your visibility and build business relationships, i.e., “network”.

For convenience, the following is a quick summary of Stone’s tips:
1. Personalize your blog template to suit your personal sense of style.
2. Update the description of your blog to reflect the image you want to put forth as you network.
3. Write about yourself (more on this below).
4. See who’s linking to you and visit their sites.
5. Link to other blogs with blogrolling (more on this below).
6. Make your data feed widely available.
7. Add user comments so that you can carry on a conversation, not a monologue (more on this below).

I’m going to pick up where Stone left off, plus offer some more details on a few of the items. Some of the tips are specific to Blogger, as a followup to Stone’s article, but others will be generally applicable to any free blogging service that doesn’t include comments, blogrolls (link list management), and trackbacks. The last few will be applicable to any blogger that wants more visibility. Some of the tips may seem like they focus more on making your blog attractive to search engines than on building personal relationships using your blog, but search engines will drive new people to your site, who, if they stay, you can build relationships with. So yes, increasing your search engine placement is a way to build your network with your blog.

Specific to Blogger:

1. Under “Settings | Formatting”, turn “Show Title” on. In conjunction with the next step, this will help you make keyword-rich titles for your blog posts that are links to the individual post. This will help make your blog more attractive to search engines.

2. Change your template to make the title the permanent link, rather than the default, which is to make the name of the author and the date of the post the link. The default template’s Blog Posts section looks like this:

<Blogger>
  <BlogDateHeader>
    <h3><$BlogDateHeaderDate$></h3>
  </BlogDateHeader>

  <BlogItemTitle><h2><$BlogItemTitle$><a name=”<$BlogItemNumber$>”> 
  </a></h2></BlogItemTitle>
  <div class=”blogPost”>
    <$BlogItemBody$><br />
  <div class=”byline”>posted by <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>”title=”permanent link”>
  <$BlogItemAuthorNickname$>  # <$BlogItemDateTime$></a></div>
  </div>
</Blogger>

Take the <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>” title=”permanent link”> and move it in front of < $BlogItemTitle$> and the </a> after < $BlogItemDateTime$ > and move it after </BlogItemTitle>, such that your resulting code looks like this:

<Blogger>
  <BlogDateHeader>
    <div class=”DateHeader”><$BlogDateHeaderDate$></div>
  </BlogDateHeader>
    <div class=”Post”><a name=”<$BlogItemNumber$>”></a>
  <BlogItemTitle><span class=”PostTitle”><a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>”>
      <$BlogItemTitle$></a></span></BlogItemTitle><br>
    <$BlogItemBody$> 
  <span class=”PostFooter”>
    ¶ <a href=”<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>” title=”permanent link”><$BlogItemDateTime$></a>
    </span>
  </div>
</Blogger>

This makes your post title (that you enabled in #1) the permanent link, so that there are keywords in the link (again, search engines really like this).

3. Go to “Settings | Publishing” and turn on “Ping Weblogs.com”. I don’t know why this isn’t enabled by default. Weblogs.com is a centralized database of recently updated blogs, and is a key data source for many of the tools we’ll talk about later.

4. Set your archive to daily. I suppose if you post every day, once you’ve been blogging a while, you might want to change it to weekly or monthly, but in general, search engines like a site with more pages and less content per page. That way, whatever a particular post is about, the keywords in the post will be more dense than if there are several posts on a variety of different topics on a page. While you’re at it, replace the “/” at the end of the one line in the BloggerArchives section with a <br> tag for better readability.

Generally applicable to most free blogging services (assuming they don’t offer these features):

5. Set up blogrolling at Blogrolling.com. Detailed instructions will be provided on their site once you register (for free). It’s actually very simple — one line of code inserted into your blog template. This allows you to publicly display a list of other blogs you like to read, and to easily add to and manage that list. Besides being a social gesture of sorts, people may see your blog when using one of any number of tools, such as Technorati, to look at a list of blogs connecting to that other blog. Also, some bloggers automatically display on their blog a list of blogs that are linked to theirs. Social gesture + additional visibility = network-building technique.

6. Set up comments and trackbacking (for free) using HaloScan. Stone’s article recommends several other services, but:
– One is no longer in service
– One is not in English (if you speak Portuguese, it may work fine for you)
– Two (1|2)have numerous notices apologizing for severe performance problems and service interruptions recently.
– The one left besides HaloScan has a few thousand users, while HaloScan has over 100,000. AND, that one doesn’t allow you to edit or delete comments posted to your site — an intolerable situation with the ever-growing problem of blog comment spamming.

No slight intended to any of the other services, but HaloScan is the clear winner. It has by far the most robust comment management features, plus they just announced the addition of trackback support on February 18. This will also help you connect with other people by identifying people who have linked to your blog and displaying them

HaloScan provides easy, detailed instructions once you register. Setting it up involves simply cutting and pasting two blocks of code into your blog template.

Applicable to all blogs, especially new ones:

7. Read and link. Link to posts by other bloggers. Add your favorite blogs to your blogroll. Learn how to use Trackback. HaloScan provides a very detailed Trackback tutorial. FYI, Blogger does not provide a way to generate outbound Trackbacks at the time of posting—you will have to manually input the Trackbacks at HaloScan. If that all sounds like Greek to you at the moment, don’t sweat it—the tutorial will explain it in great detail.

All of this will help with your visibility in the various blog search engines and other tools described below.

8. Make yourself known to the blogosphere infrastructure. Some of these services will get you into their database eventually if you do the linking activity described above. However, unlike the major search engines, there’s no advantage in waiting for that to happen “organically”. Go ahead and register your new blog right away.

Keep in mind that Blogger uses the Atom format for syndication, not RSS. If you host your Blogger-based blog on Blogspot, the URL for your Atom feed is the home page of your plage, plus “/atom.xml” . There are ways to create an RSS feed for Blogger, but they involve extensive technical manipulations that go beyond most users’ interest or abilities. That will be an issue on some of these, as noted.

Here are some of the most popular blog search engines and directories:

Blogdex (submission page)
Blogdigger (submission page – submit your Atom feed)
Daypop (submission page)
Feedster (submission page – submission requires RSS feed – Blogger users are currently unable to register here)
Popdex (submission page – they supposedly fast-track your submission if you link back to them)
Syndic8 (submission page – accepts Atom and other feeds)
Technorati (register so you can claim your blog and do all kinds of cool things with it)

I’m not one to reinvent the wheel… a far more extensive list can be found at the Ari Paparo’s big list of blog search engines.

9. Once you become comfortable with some of the blogging technology, you may want to explore submitting some of your individual posts to:
Boing Boing
Topic Exchange
K-Collector

These are more involved than the blog search engines, as you generally have to notify these services manually when you make posts in particular topics. This should also be reserved for your higher-quality, longer posts, not merely short commentary with a link.

10. Connect with other bloggers in the various social network sites:
Blog Meetup – connect with local bloggers in your area
Ecademy Bloggers Club
Ryze Blog Network
Bloggers Tribe

There are also groups/forums about blogging on INWYK, orkut, and others that I can’t link to directly. Also, if you are into real-time chat, there are a lot of bloggers on the #joiito IRC channel, which you can learn more about at joi.ito.com/joiwiki/IrcChannel.

11. Once you get into blogging, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a small minority that use RSS readers. Make your blog accessible via email to the rest of the world by setting up Bloglet, a free service that will allow people to receive a daily digest of your blog postings via email.

12. If your blog is a combination business/personal blog, and not a purely business blog, then write about yourself. As an exercise in self-exploration, and a way of developing a very interesting profile, I highly recommend undertaking the “100 Things” exercise, in which you write down 100 interesting facts about yourself that someone wouldn’t ordinarily learn about you in an initial casual conversation. While the originator of the idea seems to have shut down his blog, the idea has become widely popular, as indicated by the 32,500 results for a Google search on “100 things about me”. You can also join the 100 Things About Me Webring, which will help draw additional people to your blog.

13. Work on your writing skills. The most popular blogs are, quite simply, well written, even those that may have a less formal style. Even people with poor grammar and writing skills don’t like seeing it in the writings of others, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why they don’t like it. And while blogging is great writing practice, it’s worth reminding that it’s not that “practice makes perfect”, but rather “perfect practice makes perfect”. If you have bad habits, and you practice them, they become even more ingrained and harder to break.

If you are unsure about your writing skills, have a friend who’s a professional journalist, editor, or author give you an honest opinion. If you need work, take a class, or pick up a copy of The Classic Guide to Better Writing, which is available for less than $10 used on Amazon—a small price to pay to communicate more effectively online. A well-written blog will attract and keep more readers; a poorly-written one will hurt your credibility.

Blogs are a tremendous tool for building your social network:

  • They can create a much richer profile than a typical static profile page on a social networking site.
  • They’re an appropriate venue for more in-depth content. For example, I would never post this article in its entirety on a discussion forum, but here it’s fine.
  • They are public—out in the open—so they are indexed by search engines and are viewable by anyone, without the barrier of having to become a member of something the reader may not be interested in.
  • You own and control them. If you decide you want to change blog hosting companies, it might be tedious, but you can fairly easily migrate all your existing content to another service. If you want to drastically change the look-and-feel or content of your site, you’re free to do so.
  • They’re distributed. There is no dependence on any one particular company to maintain the social network. Even if a major provider suddenly disappeared, others would quickly move to fill the void.

I’m not saying that you should blog instead of participating in online social networks. I’m just saying that if you’re not blogging, you’re missing out on one of the very most effective ways to build visibility and credibility on the internet.

How to network with Blogger

As Mark Pincus, founder of Tribe, recently said at the BDI event in New York, “All the social networking sites are a dumbed-down version of what’s going on in the blog world.”

Blogs and online journals have been used for building stronger relationships for as long as they have existed (else what’s the point of it being public?).

But many users may not understand how to use blogs effectively to do that, so Biz Stone has written a step-by-step guide for Blogger users on how to network with Blogger.

One excellent point he makes, reminding me of Dina Mehta’s comments about how blogging provides a richer profile than static social software profiles. Here’s Stone’s version of it:

Social networking applications barrage you with questions about your hair color, favorite TV show and what kind of pet you have. Does this communicate who you really are? Blogger provides a big, blank space for you to divulge your soul. Or anything else you think is significant. As the weeks and months go by, your readers develop a true sense of what you’re all about. When you post on Friday that “My soup rocked Natick!” they know you’re talking about the Matzo ball extravaganza you threatened to make on Monday. The context inherent in blogging provides a nuance missing in social networking sites.

This makes me want all the more a good integration between social networking sites and blogs. I don’t just want a link to my blog on my profile page, I want the most recent headlines! Unfortunately, none of the sites let you do that yet, that I know of. It’ll happen, though.

Quantity vs. Quality, or why everyone really shouldn't be your friend

Following his musings on Quality or Quantity?, Palo Alto VC Jeffrey Nolan ran an experiment on LinkedIn, in which he created a fake account and invited some people who, by definition, could not possibly know this “person”. Never mind that this is probably a violation of their User Agreement (LinkedIn’s offline for upgrades today), it’s still good information that supports a point I’ve been really trying to make in several circles recently: If “friend” or “contact” is the only designation you have for people, then everyone who asks is not your friend.

For his experiment, Nolan sent out over 1,500 invitations from this fake account. As of Day 1, this fake person already had 16 connections! Only 4 people replied back that they did not know this person well enough to accept the connection. There were a couple of more people who asked for more information first. Now, certainly some large number of people have opted to just use LinkedIn’s new “Ignore” feature, but still, 16 people accepting a connection not only from someone they don’t know, but someone who they don’t validate through other channels (a little web research would have easily demonstrated this person to be fictitious), is pretty horrendous.

This problem, of course, is not exclusive to LinkedIn. And the problem is not so much of people being total fakes, like this, but of simply misrepresenting themselves, or having a poor reputation, and you connect with them anyway just on the basis of what you see in their profile page. I have at least three people who have requested to be my friend on Ryze who, after observing their behavior, I would have been horribly embarassed to ever have been associated with.

This should NOT scare anyone away from social networking sites—the dozens of success stories we’ve collected far outweigh risks like this. It DOES mean, though, that you really need to be selective about who your “friends” are, even online. People will use you for referrals, whether they involve you or not, and the quality of the people that you connect to WILL reflect on you. Choose your friends carefully, not indiscriminately.

Case Study: Using a Weblog to Achieve #1 Rankings in Google

In case you’re wondering why you would want to use a weblog as opposed to a traditional static HTML site, this case study on using a weblog to achieve #1 rankings in Google should answer the question for you.

Simply put, the generation of:
– numerous pages
– on a frequent basis
– with high keyword density
– and excellent keyword placement in header tags
– combined with the various linking services and tools available for blogs
makes for multiple well-optimized pages and lots of links to them—exactly what the search engines like to see.

While we’d been planning a blog here at OBN for a while, this case study was the clincher that convinced me we had to go ahead and get it done. If you’re trying to increase your visibility on the Web and you’re not blogging, you’re missing out on one of the very easiest and most effective techniques available to you.

Google Yourself

In December 2002, Randy Cohen of the New York Times answered a reader’s ethical question regarding a friend who had used Google to do some background checking on a man she had been on a date with. When she learned that the man, a doctor, had been involved in several malpractice suits, she had a much lower opinion of the man, which presumably affected the relationship.

The ready availability of information on the Internet makes it easy for people to do free basic background checks on people before entering into business relationships with them. This is something you should definitely do yourself before hiring anybody as an employee, consultant, or contractor.

So what does Google have to say about you? If you don’t know, you’d better find out. Those skeletons in your closet may not be as hidden as you think. Or worse yet, you may have someone else’s skeletons!

First of all, you want to make sure that you’re one of the top people in a search for your name, or preferably the top person. This is not so difficult when you have a distinctive name, such as David Teten. A moderate amount of online activity and publishing will ensure that you rise above the handful of other people with the same name. On the other hand, if you have a very common name, like Scott Allen, with numerous other people with that name being active online, you have to work especially hard to even be on the first page of listings (at last check, I had finally gotten to the #1 spot!).

In the case of a personal name, the strategies for improving your search engine placement are simple. Make sure your name is included in the <TITLE> tag on your page, and prominently used throughout the page. The other thing to work on is getting inbound links to your site, preferably containing your name. Two excellent ways to do this are:

  1. Develop an HTML signature to use in web-based discussion forums that has your name as a hyperlink to your web site. Every message you post then becomes a link to your site for the search engines to add to their index.
  2. Publish articles anywhere and everywhere you can, making sure that they always include an extended byline that links to your website, preferably with your name as the text for the link.

These strategies will improve your link popularity significantly, one of the major factors in most search engine ranking algorithms.

Now, what about those skeletons? Don’t just go through the first three pages—look through everything. You might want to put your name in quotes, i.e., (around 5,000 results) vs. Donna Fisher (over 250,000 results), to reduce the number of results.

So what do you do if you find some dirt on yourself? If it’s downright inaccurate or slanderous, you can, of course, try to contact the site and have them remove it. If, on the other hand, it’s a matter of public record, like the malpractice suits above, then you need some damage control. You may just want to provide an ample supply of good information about you well-positioned in the search engines, and the other can just languish in obscurity. Or, you may want to make sure people hear it from you first, or that you at least have an answer about it on your site to “set the record straight”. If the issue is major enough, you may want to hire a professional PR person to handle it, but it is something you can take care of yourself, as well, if you’re on a limited budget.

But the first step is awareness. Make sure you know what “the virtual you” looks like to the rest of the world—Google yourself.