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.