Your digital reputation matters more than you think [here’s how to improve it]
5 personal brand hacks to optimize your cyber reputation
“A brand isn’t a short-term fix or a fad, but a way to strategically build a (person’s/businesses/school’s) assets in a transparent digital world.”
– Trish Rubin, Author of BrandED
About a 2 years ago I Googled myself out of curiosity. No surprise… the results looked nearly the same as they had two years earlier.
First was my LinkedIn page. Next, an old IMDb entry for a film I never made. Then, page after page of ads to “see this person’s private, hidden, background check information for only $1”.
Tucked in-between those *cough* 100% legitimate *cough* stalker tools were snippets of people who definitely weren’t me.
Michael Von Bardeleben is, apparently, a South Australian model and actor. H.J. von Bardeleben likes to study hydrogen in semiconductors and silicon.
What do they have to do with me… Matthew Bardeleben?
Nothing… and that’s the point.
While none of those other Bardeleben’s necessarily made me look bad they are wasted advertising space on the real estate of my personal brand.
Most of us know how important it is to clean our digital footprint.
(Just ask the monthly Cx0 getting fired for a decade-old tweet)
However, not enough of us make the effort to market our digital reputation.
Think about how much time and effort we put into a resume and cover letter. Now compare that to the energy we put into our digital reputation a.k.a. what people perceive about us when they find us online.
Which did you spend more time editing, fixing, tweaking and perfecting?
Your resume or your digital branding?
Now, which do you think savvy employers, clients, and even possible love interests spend more time looking at or place more value on?
A scripted press-release you typed about yourself…
or what the rest of the world says about you?
Your digital reputation and personal brand are more important now than ever and they’re only growing more valuable. The sooner you take control over what cyberspace (i.e. search engines) do and don’t say about you the quicker and easier it’ll be to optimize your brand online.
For that reason, I give you five personal branding hacks, that you can do today, to improve your digital footprint and impress employers, clients, even swiped-right’s on Tinder.
1. Plan your personal brand / digital reputation strategy
It’s much quicker, easier and cheaper to create a digital reputation from scratch than it is to rebuild one.
Strategize what you want your personal brand to say about you before attempting to create it.
Here’s a little exercise to get you in the ideal, branding mindset;
- Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal employer, client, or whoever you’re looking to impress. Imagine you’re doing the hiring or choosing they are.
- Find a stranger on LinkedIn who would likely apply for that job
- Google that stranger
- What did you notice about the results? What is that person likely an expert in? What do their photos say about them? Is there a lot, or very little, information about them?
- Keep that employer mindset
- Now search yourself (be sure to include name variations)
- Now, ask yourself honestly… if you knew nothing about you… what would these search results say you’re all about?
2. Change what doesn’t fit your personal brand / digital reputation strategy
Now that you know how Google sees you it’s time to start optimizing it.
It usually takes longer for old information to be changed or removed than for new data to be indexed or added. That’s why we start pruning (a.k.a. removing) information first.
Don’t worry too much about what’s on page two, or further, of the search results for now (unless it’s really bad… which is a whole different article).
The goal should be to control, at least, the entire first page of results.
Start at the top and work down, one by one, digging into each search result
Look around here for instructions about how to change or remove information
If there are none then email them or make a support ticket.
Request to remove any information that’s outdated or doesn’t fit your intended brand
Some will comply and others won’t. Some respond right away while others wait weeks or months. Don’t get caught up in any one single site or search result. The goal here is to affect the ‘low-hanging fruit’. We’ll be banishing the rest to the depths of the search results soon enough.
3. Buy your personal domain name, name
Owning your name, in URL format, can do wonders for your personal branding and cyber rep. Domain names that say exactly what someone is searching for rank near the top.
Why wouldn't they? Can you imagine searching for "Nike" and nike.com not being one of the first results? Your name is no different. If someone searches Google for you, and yourname.com is, or leads to, an actual website about you, it's likely to rank high.
If you have a fairly unique full name you’re in luck. Less common names tend to cost about $9 per year to own. While .com is still the most sought after top-level domain (TLD) you may be able to save a few dollars going with .info or .site. Go to any domain registrar and search to see which variations of your name are available.
Once you own the domain there are a variety of things you can do with it to improve your digital footprint. You could create a personal website or portfolio on a free web host, like WordPress or Wix, then redirect your domain name to it. If you don't have a personal website you can redirect the domain name to your LinkedIn profile, your GitHub page, your Medium blog, etc.
MatthewBardeleben.com, my full name, actually redirects to my free WordPress site mattbardeleben.wordpress.com
MattyBv3.com, my tech and marketing blog handle, sends you to my Medium blog at https://medium.com/@matthewbardeleben.
Both the WordPress and Medium sites appear on the first page of results when searching any variation of my name.
Before buying the .com domain names, though, neither did.
One final note about domain names...
Don’t worry about trying to buy every variation (e.g. Matt, Matthew, Matty, etc.) of your name. Google’s (and Bing’s, and DuckDuckGo’s, and Yandex’s, etc.) algorithm is smart and will likely make those connections for searchers. Owning your full, legal name should be plenty. When in doubt buy the name people are most likely to search for.
4. Pay extra attention to images
Your first impression is no longer made in an office with eye contact and a handshake.
Now it’s made with the first five to ten pictures in your image search results.
These photos show near the top of the search results page and are one of the first times a person sees you.
Don't worry, hiring managers and recruiters don't expect to see five variations of your professional headshot. One on your LinkedIn profile should be enough. Here, they're expecting to see more casual, honest and sincere photos of you. Even those photos, though, should fit the personal brand or executive presence you want to become known for.
Google’s not a person (legally... yet) so there’s no way to just tell it, “Hey, this is me. When people look for me... show them this!” There are ways to suggest it, though.
One of the best ways is to always edit the filename and metadata of any photo you post.
Here are a few best practices;
Use accurate, descriptive, objective titles. Keep the most important aspects of the description as early as possible in the title. Use a dash (-) as a space as some search engines don't recognize underscores (_).
E.g. The photo on the left is accurately named colorful-sea-turtle-swimming-in-clear-blue-ocean-water.jpg rather than an oversimplified title like turtle.jpg or, even worse, the completely useless default title DCR1061445.jpg
- Captions and ALT tags Anywhere you can edit the metadata of the photo is an opportunity. Some platforms will only allow slight adjustments while others give you complete control. Use every tool at your disposal.
Many social media sites now strip away a photos EXIF and IPTC metadata (the data about the data) before it’s posted. Despite this, it’s still a best practice to edit that information on every picture. This is especially important if it’s being posted to a personal website (like your WordPress or Wix portfolio) rather than a social media platform. With certain file types and operating systems, such as .jpg on Windows, editing EXIF data is as easy as; Right-click the image > click Properties > then Details You’ll see numerous options, such as Title, Subject, Tags, etc. than can be used to describe the image. Use them.
(Note to my fellow photography nerds… yes, I know, Adobe Lightroom is a godsend for this. It’s just beyond the scope of this article)
5. Use domain authority to your advantage
The term domain authority (DA) is heavily debated in the search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing circles. DA is not a score that Google technically ranks. However, many SEO service providers advertise DA scores which they’ve created themselves.
Regardless of the validity of these scores there’s no debate about this much;
Google trusts and prioritizes some sites over others.
That’s the reason an article on a .gov or .edu site, if relevant to the search query, will almost always rank high. Search engines see these types of domains as “trusted authorities” and, in turn, show their information first.
Take advantage of that fact by posting your content, photos and information to these high DA / highly trusted sites;
Medium: You’re already here so you know it’s a great place to post articles and blogs you’ve created yourself. But don’t stop there! Medium is an outstanding way to nudge image search results. I ran a test about a year ago posting the same “About Me” type blog on multiple sites. I included my very particular photos, made sure all the titles/captions/alt text were correct, and let them fly with no promotion. The first 5 or 6 photos in the Medium article show up at the top of Google’s image search results for me. None of the other platforms are even on page one. To this day I can swap out a photo near the top of the article and, within a day or two, it shows up on Google.
LinkedIn: Outside of just posting your resume and profile information, use LinkedIn’s “Write An Article” feature. LinkedIn is turning itself into a content platform (rather than a poorly coded job board) and there is no easier place to get organic exposure. What sinks into the void of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is often highlighted when posted on LinkedIn.
Quora: This popular Q&A site is a great place to give yourself exposure and become a thought leader in your niche or industry. Answers to popular questions often show at the top (along with the profile of the person who answered) of Google’s search results.
Glassdoor: This one can be tough as you need access to a company account to post anything other than anonymous reviews. See if your company is willing to post your content (team photos, articles you’ve written, links to videos, etc.) because, if they do, it’ll sky-rocket through the search rankings.
Personal brand, digital footprint, executive presence… however, you choose to describe it there’s no debating the importance. Your cyber reputation grows more and more important every day. It’s much easier to create a digital presence than to try to change one. There’s no time like the present to start building!