I admit it -- I've been tracking search engine rankings for my name for years. But online reputation management isn't all about ego or checking out a Friday night date anymore. Your career and future job opportunities are at stake.
Ranking within Google and other search engines for a name requires primarily the same efforts as a Web page does to rank for business keywords. The main difference: in ranking for a name, you can typically "stack the deck" by making sure you name can be found on many different Web pages.
If legitimate content about a person is presented on a Web page, and inbound links are created using that name as anchor text to those pages of content, the pages will likely rank. As with any other search engine activity, competition is the primary factor that determines success. A person with a unique name will likely have an easier time getting a top ranking than "Jane Smith," although it can be done.
Certain types of content typically rank well within search engines for names. The usual default top ranking at Google is a personal blog. Many people with moderately competitive names will find if someone owns a domain that matches their name, and the site has a blog, this site often ranks first because the name is used fairly prominently. In addition, many people typically will link to the blog using the person's name as the anchor text.
Other types of content that have a powerful effect on rankings include social community and industry forum profile pages; archived news articles in an industry or general news site; and product line pages that include the person's name in the title. For example, LinkedIn profile pages traditionally rank well for names in Google and Yahoo. News articles often occupy top page rankings, at least temporarily, within Google universal search results, but tend to drop off as they become "stale."
"Low hanging fruit" (e.g., news stories, LinkedIn profiles) can be quickly created or leveraged to help gain name rankings. More in-depth content that can help dominate the first page of search engine listings include Wikipedia pages, transcriptions of interviews with industry bloggers, and additional brand-specific efforts such as a unique page within a company's "About Us" page.
Once the desirable pages to support a name have been identified and/or created, inbound links must be generated to these pages in order to gain rankings. The inbound links can come from branded sites, but this likely won't be enough to help rank the other pages and to move multiple listings onto the top page.
To support personal blogs, LinkedIn, and other community profile pages, take part in blogs or forums and use your own name as a signature when posting. The signature names within a majority of blogs and forums allow for a hyperlink to be included, turning the name into anchor text pointed to the desired page. This is an effective way to build relevance, and requires no outside assistance. Scale is only limited by the amount of time the person (or a ghost writer) can spend participating in online communities.
For additional link-building opportunities, ask writers, bloggers, and other interviewers to link to the desired pages at some point in their articles, using the name anchor text again. These links will then be automatically duplicated as the articles are syndicated and picked up on other sites, and the total number of links can grow significantly, especially if the content that includes the link becomes popular.
Internal linking should be used to support branded pages. If a page in the "About Us" section of the site focuses on a particular executive, ideally anchor text links will point to that name elsewhere within the site (e.g., on the actual "About Us" page, or within the top level "Our Leadership Team" page). Mentioning the executive's name within press releases is another way to build links to these types of pages.
The key to successful link generation to desired pages is consistency. As link value builds over months and years, search engines will begin to assign more trust to each of the pages, and eventually a dominant position can be achieved.
Frank Watson Fires Back
Online rep management has gotten a lot of attention lately, even NPR (National Public Radio) did a piece about it.
I did a search for you, Chris, and didn't know you started running to fight obesity. That story was stuck in there on the first page of Google amid all your industry memberships and boards and job change press releases. Funny thing is when you click on that result, there's a blurry picture of someone who could be mistaken for you.
Anyone who knows you would realize the error, but some may think, "Wow" and compliment you at the next search conference on the fight against obesity!
Not quite as bad as the people losing jobs for stupid blog posts or YouTube videos. Even Monster.com offers advise to job-seekers on how to clean up their online reputation. So watch out because what happens on YouTube stays on YouTube.