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When someone wants to learn a little bit more about you, Google tends to be their first stop. And that's especially true if that person is a recruiter behind the keyboard.
So we probably don't have to tell you that it's crucial to take ownership of your search engine results. You probably don't want a Myspace photo circa 2004 or that embarrassing poetry contest from the third grade pop up when a hiring manager types in your name.
So here's a crash course on personal SEO management—a.k.a. making your first online impression stand out (in a good way). Before we get started, be sure to log out of your browser, and then clear the search history and cache. This will ensure you see the search results that the public sees, rather than the personalized results that Google provides when it knows you're the one looking.
After that? Use the two-step strategy below to clean up your online presence. First, we'll neutralize any negative content, and then we'll beef up the positive to improve your professional image and chances for job-search success.
Step 1: Find and Purge Cringe-Worthy Content
In case you're wondering why this step is so important, consider this. Research shows that the number of employers who use social media to screen candidates has increased not 100 percent… not 200 percent… but a whopping 500 percent over the past decade. What's more, nearly half (49 percent) of those hiring managers who peek into social networks to screen candidates have decided not to offer a candidate a job based specifically on what they found on social sites.
Now that you're sufficiently freaked out, let's get started.
Identify any negative or problematic results. Google your name, then take a peek at what comes up on both social media and other websites. Review your search results with the eye of a recruiter or employer and ask: Would you hire yourself based on what you see online? If the answer is no—or even "maybe"—you have some damage control to do.
Check for inappropriate personal comments, data, or photos. We know—most of what you post online is intended for only the eyes of your friends and family members. Unfortunately, Google's algorithm doesn't always separate the social from the professional. Unless the sites allow privacy settings that truly keep them from being included in search results—and you select those options—consider removing or hiding content that seems questionable in a work context.
Delete anything that could make you appear unprofessional. Pictures of you partying with a drink in hand, open discussions about your health problems that appear on your Facebook wall, disparaging comments about an old boss, even (fair or not) your angry political opinions—these are some of the items that should be targeted for quick removal.
Step 2: Build a Better “You" Brand
Of course, ruthlessly deleting negative content that can cause recruiters to pass you by is only half the battle. The second part of your one-two punch to improve your search results should be developing new types of content. Your goal? To create the type of online material that employers actually want to see, which might include:
- Thoughtful, well-written blog posts about professional or relevant personal interests
- Guest articles that you've bylined to showcase your industry expertise
- Your current resume crafted with keywords in mind
- Social media bios that highlight key points about your experience and professional brand
- Mainstream social media accounts (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) that show hiring managers that you know how to use social tools and can leverage them to build contacts
- Videos of any public speaking or other events that reveal your engagement with worthy causes
In addition to generating new content, make sure you're easy to find on the major social platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest if you use them professionally). To do this, claim a vanity URL—i.e., a personalized user name instead of the generic user name that the platform assigns you. Your vanity URL might just be your name, though if you have a common name, you can add a middle name or initial. You can even add your job title or industry if you want these areas of expertise closely aligned to your brand (think "/carriebrownmarketing). Since social platforms rank well in search results, adding vanity URLs will help the new “you" rank higher.
Another smart strategy? Create a personal website, optimized with your name and keywords relating to your career and aspirations. Once you have a site, you can use it to your brand's advantage by:
Own your top Google result. In the game of SEO, a domain with the exact verbiage of the search item will likely appear first on the results page. That means investing in "www.yournamehere.com" will do wonders for your brand. First stop for any personal website build? Find and claim your domain name.
Linking to your social media channels. Think of your personal website as the home base for your brand. Because Google will ultimately list your site higher in search results, the easiest way to ensure that your social media channels are associated with your name is linking to them from your site. You can also guide readers to your preferred social media platforms intentionally.
Creating quality content. This is a bigger investment that will do wonders for your personal SEO, because Google's algorithm ranks premium content higher than any other search result. You may be asking yourself what is quality content? and does this mean I have to be the next New York Times? Luckily, quality content doesn't mean building a newsroom from scratch. While Google's exact measure of quality is under lock and key in what we imagine is an underground, rainbow-colored fortress, we know that content that is 1). useful and informative 2). engaging by making use of visual elements and 3). credibly backed by research and testimonials performs well in search results.
Thinking outside the box. Unlike portfolio sites that require you to showcase completed work, your personal website can show your interest or burgeoning prowess in an industry. Want to be known for your crafting tutorials? Include some short videos on creating the perfect scrapbook on a blog page. Interested in showing off your knowledge of international relations? Curate thought pieces on current events and add in your commentary. Your personal site is prime real estate for building an aspirational brand as much as it as for showing past accomplishments.
We didn’t say it would be easy. But taking the time to understand, manage, and improve the type of content that hiring managers see when they Google you, just might pay off in landing the job you want.