When you Google your name, the 10 websites that populate the first page of results are your online reputation. This is the internet version of your personal brand. And I’ll argue it’s as important as ever.
As a fellow business owner, blogger, or net citizen, I’m sure you meet new people all the time. These are your potential partners. Your potential hires. Your potential life-long friends.
It’s not like this is news. We should all expect to Google and “be Googled” every day. What’s important to address right now is the need to be aware of your own personal search results, and manage them to your own preference.
You may be charming and have a quick wit, but in 2011 the “online you” is much more important in these situations where we are in the initial phases of forming relationships.
The benefits of a quick search
Like I said, as a business owner, I know I always do some quick searches before I’m about to interview a potential new hire. I also do it ahead of any conference call or call with a new business contact.
And why not? Say you’ve got a call with a new connection at 3 pm. Set your alarm for 2:56 pm, and go search their name on Google. Find their LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed. Almost instantly, you can see a snapshot of the person you’re about to speak with.
Their picture, where they live, their career highlights, and possibly a video interview they did recently.
These simple findings add humanity and points of reference for your pending call.
Instead of BS’ing with them about the weather in Tulsa, you can say, “I saw the article you wrote on marketing to Foursquare users, that was cool.” It breeds better conversation. It makes you look more interested and engaged in forming a connection with your new contact.
And most of all, it helps you understand who they are.
We’re not just hunting, we’re being hunted
Of course, there are two sides to this coin. Many of you are entrepreneurs. You sit in the same chair as I do, wanting to learn just a little more about who this person is that you’re about to talk to. Screw the resume. Of course it says good things. You want more.
At the same time, we are all being searched by people who want to know more about us. Not only should you know how to find information on new contacts with a few easy searches, but you also need to understand how to be in the driver’s seat of what your online profile or reputation says.
For example, let’s do some searches on a friend of mine, Chris Birk. Chris is a journalist, professor, and frequent blogger. He should have a robust online profile. Let’s see what I can find out about him in a few searches and what tips I’d offer in response to the findings.
My new friend, Chris Birk
For argument’s sake, say I just met Chris for the first time at Blog World in New York. We were introduced by a mutual friend in the exhibit hall one day, and didn’t get to talk much. We did, as many conference connections do, decide to trade phone numbers and have a follow up call the following week.
Ahead of time, I’m off to uncover more about this mysterious Chris Birk. When we met, I recall he mentioned writing in a lot of traditional newspapers. His business card says he’s Director of Communications for a military-focused mortgage bank, Veterans United. Good enough to start. Now what else can we find?
1. The traditional Google search.
Easy enough, I put “Chris Birk” in the Google search bar. Immediately I see articles he’s written at WiseBread, Zillow and the Huffington Post. It looks like Chris has a strong background in finance and writes often about the benefits of government programs for home ownership. I’ll scan a few of the articles to see if anything interesting sticks out.
Mixed into the search results, I also see a few of his social media accounts.
2. Twitter and rest of them.
For Chris, I see not only his main Twitter page but also his most recent tweet right in the search results.
Twitter, and any social network with what loosely resemble “status updates” (see: Facebook, Quora, Namesake, LinkedIn) are an opportunity to see your target in conversation. I rely on these heavily in my searches. Directly in the search results for many people, or by simply going to them and doing a “people” search on the platforms themselves.
Each of these places allows you to quickly see: Who does he know? Anyone I know? What’s he saying? What stories interest him – What’s he re-tweeting?
3. Personal site.
For Chris, it took me down to result #12 but I found his personal site. I’m acutely aware of the personal site both as a “hunter” and as the “hunted.” Why? Your personal site is curated 100% by you, with the intention of highlighting all the things you think are important for your personal brand.
While the social platforms are more stream of conscious (I might see a tweet you posted as a joke, or that was directed at your college roommate), the personal site is you telling the world “this is me, in short.”
Chris’ personal site is where I find the most interesting things ahead of our pending call. (Thanks for not letting me down in this example!) His article “The Power of Retargeting” strikes a chord because I work on a lot of retargeting campaigns with clients.
The aforementioned LinkedIn is another site that often ranks highly for people’s names. For Chris, it ranks fifth. Besides the chance to see conversations and shares, LinkedIn is moreso a direct destination great for getting a snapshot of people’s skill sets and career history.
You might uncover little factoids like you once lived in the same city, or your new contact sold a company to a former competitor of yours in 2004. Further, LinkedIn does a great job showing how you are connected to people. You know Jane, Jane knows Bill, Bill knows Chris Birk. Nice to know, and worthwhile to bring up in the call. “Hey, I saw you worked with Bill. He’s a great guy. Terrible golfer.”
What I know about Chris and my tips for him
In under 5 minutes, I’m able to learn a lot about Chris. Namely:
- He lives in the Midwest, and teaches at a university there.
- He’s written in some well-known papers and websites.
- He writes often about homeownership.
- He’s attending an upcoming conference in San Francisco.
- We know some of the same people.
All this is fantastic to know ahead of time if I’m going to be sitting down with Chris to see how we might be able to help each other do business. Now I’ve got ideas about how he could help me (quote or guest gig at a blog), and how I can help him in return. Mind you, we haven’t even picked up the phone or ordered our chai.
Because of my experience in search marketing and reputation management, I also think there’s a few things Chris can do to improve his personal brand in the search results.
First, he should build links to his personal site WriteShortLiveLong.com with “Chris Birk” as the anchor text. He should use his name more frequently on the site as well. Both should serve to help increase the rankings of that site for his name so it’s not buried at #12.
While another Chris Birk has ChrisBirk.com, I’d also suggest he register a similar domain with his name in it. ChrisBirk.me or Chris-Birk.com. Something that he can throw a simple one page website up on with his picture. He already has a nice personal site, but it’d be easy to get an additional domain like this to rank in the top 10 that he can control (and would be him, not some other guy).
Lastly, I’d suggest Chris setup a Google Profile. These are easy to do, and are becoming commonplace among bloggers. It will rank for his name and drop a picture of him right in the search results.
These days, it’s fundamental
Stay mindful of what’s ranking for your name. It’s easy to put your best foot forward online, almost as easy as it is to have it be something that hurts you. Until next time, I’ll see you in the search results . . .
Nathaniel Broughton is a veteran internet entrepreneur and investor. Dating to 2002, he has helped produce 3 Inc 500 award-winning companies. Nathaniel owns Growth Partner Capital, a venture fund that provides SEO consulting, premium link building and online reputation management services. He is also owner of SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide bonding agency. Previously he served as CMO of VAMortgageCenter.com, a $65 million nationwide mortgage bank which acquired his marketing firm Plus1 Marketing in 2008. A resident of San Diego, Nathaniel often writes from his experience as an investor, marketer, and advocate of “networking like Paris Hilton parties – Nonstop”. Follow him on Twitter – @natebro.