When I was a talk radio host years ago my producer Robin thought it would be fun to do a spot about ego surfing, or the practice of Googling ourselves. In preparation for what we assumed was going to be a light-hearted look at a mild vanity indulgence, I was instantly horrified to find that the first line to show up on a Google search of me looked like this: Shannon Nelson's show on CFUN sucks!!!
Now even though the author may have had a point (we hosts used to call it crap radio), it was still very disturbing. A little digging revealed that the comment was written by a teenaged boy who had called into the show and said something asinine on air, which I then called him out for, on air.
Of course, discussing this issue on the radio only drove more traffic to the insulting post, re-enforcing it's number one spot on Google. And although I tried to convince myself that all press is good press, it really irked me that there was nothing I could do to get rid of it. Besides, what would a potential employer think if he/she Googled me? What if someone did this to my business, or worse yet, to my daughter?
I wish I'd known Matt Earle, the CEO of Reputation.ca back then.
I chatted with Matt last week about what Reputation.ca does to manipulate negative online press, and how to prevent it from appearing in the first place. He's been in the online reputation management game for more than ten years, he's an expert in SEO, and he's helped hundreds of people and businesses deal with these kinds of problems.
Matt says that 70 per cent of his business is personal -- people like me who have (had) internet issues they want to go away. And the other 30 per cent is business, clients with bad reviews from customers who are looking for a payoff.
The first thing Reputation.ca does is Google the client to find out how difficult the issue is. In the best case scenario they are able to get negative content deleted, through persuasion and sometimes even legal threats.
When that doesn't work they create positive content for the client; building assets of higher quality, with more substance, and essentially crafting a natural looking online footprint of the client. Then they promote the daylights out of it, using cutting edge SEO practices.
Linking is critical: they make sure as many web sites, blogs and social media accounts as possible are discussing and linking back to the more positive assets. Often times the process is repeated dozens of times, with a goal of bumping the negative information from the top ten search results on the client.
No wonder professional online management assistance is pricey. Reputation.ca's personal campaigns are $3000 up front and $2500 per month (most of them last 2-4 months). Their business campaigns are $4000 upfront and $3000 monthly, and they often go 3-12 months or longer, depending on the difficulty of the issue.
I asked Matt if this is something that I could do myself, given my average technology skills. He says he gets that question a lot, so he has a free blog on his site with tips for clients who find that they can't afford professional help. Bottom line: it takes a lot of effort and you have to be tech savvy to manipulate a search result. Most people aren't equipped to get the results they want.
Prevention is obviously key. There are things both you individually and your business can do to develop and maintain a good online reputation:
1. Establish your own domain, and buy your full name if you can. Create a profile, describing your interests, work experience, and even your life story. Blog if you're so inclined.
2. Even though it's time consuming, join the major social networking sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. Create a full profile and be at least a little active -- posting something like an article you want to share with a comment at least once a month is fine.
3. Do not post photos of yourself in compromising situations, ever. Not even if you think they're funny. And understand that third parties can easily post and tag photos of you as well.
4. Use your full name for everything positive and professional you are involved with online. For example, contributing to forums for your industry or answering questions on Quora or Yahoo! Answers. (Matt recommends the opposite for anything that would be perceived as dodgy). Stay away from catchy nicknames or slogans.
5. If you control websites, make sure there is good SEO on your profile pages (such as your name in the tag). Always be hunting for positive assets that are going to make you look good when your name is searched.
6. Backlinking is a huge part of SEO. The article with more backlinks from other blogs and web sites as well as social media mentions will rank higher.
7. If you're a business, ask for reviews from satisfied customers. Positive reviews can increase loyalty of existing customers and draw the attention of new ones.
8. Deal with customer complaints quickly and fairly. The power of negative reviews is diminished when people see that issues were resolved by the company.
9. Behave yourself. If you live by the golden rule, you lower your chances of running into online reputation bashing.
Finally, know this: 78 per cent of people will Google a business or a person before contacting them, and they believe a lot of what they read on the internet. Make sure you do a little ego surfing regularly to see how you look online, and for Pete's sake, be good.MORE ON HUFFPOST:
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Follow Shannon M. Nelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shannonn55