When people Google your name, what comes up?
Because in this day and age, we are who Google says we are.
The very first thing people are going to do when they hear about you, and your services, or after having met you and been impressed by you or wondered more about you is look you up online. And that could be everyone from potential employers or clients to friends, friends of friends and potential dates and even your dates parents.
And it’s not just me saying that
Recent research from the Hinge Research Institute, who specialise in understanding how so called ‘Visible Experts’ are created, i.e. those with the most powerful, potent and well known personal brands, found that one in every 3 people turn to the internet immediately to look up someone they have heard about or are considering for an opportunity.
I know the very first thing I do about anyone I meet, hear about or read about is Google them! (so yes, be warned, if you email me about something and I don’t already know you, I will google you).
The search results matter
What comes up in the search results matters, and that is true whether you are running your own business, building your own personal brand or expert status, or even are employed but want to keep the digital landscape around your name looking neat and tidy for the benefit of headhunters or future employers.
Most likely, whichever of the above you are, you would like it if something current, impressive and positive appears for searches on your name.
Ideally, you’d like to own the entire first (and even second and third) page of search results, so that people looking you up can get the entire picture without even going any further. But a lot of people either don’t rank, have outdated results or sparse results and so don’t really create the first impression that they’d like to.
Now noone, not even me (!) knows exactly how Google works but when it comes to the search results for ranking ‘people’, but I have a pretty clear idea which has come from working with well known people, building my own personal brand, running an online business and also being familiar with how Google works.
It’s not about you, it’s about Google and their business
So let’s not take anything personally. Google’s business is ‘search’ their main priority is relevant results.
If you think of your experience with some of the search engines of the past which you have probably abandoned by now, one of the reasons for not using that search engine anymore was the results they gave you were a bit sh*t (this is always the case if ever I use a search engine that is not Google).
It’s not all about algorithms either.
Google wants the results it delivers to be relevant to the people searching who are humans.
Therefore, if you are a human (which hopefully you are) and you are searching a person’s name, what would you like to see and what set of results would make you think
‘hey, that was a great search result, I really did see everything I needed, I must definitely use Google again and never ever another search engine.’
You’re Google’s customer and that is how they want to make you feel.
Speaking as a human, if I was Googling someone, I’d be happy with results that showed the following
- Their website
- Their social media profiles
- Any official profiles
- Any books they have written
- Any articles they have written recently
- Any articles written about them recently
- Any events they’ve attended or spoken at
- Any professional accolades
- Any recent activity that they have done that shows me that they are a decent person.
When you Google my name, the entire of page 1 is full of things that fit into the above.
- My website
- My Linked In profile
- A wikipedia page about me (lindly set up by an intern back in 2008 when I was running Talk to the Press, the online business I had recently started at that point, and Wiki pages had a positive impression on a websites ranking. This is not the case today but this Wiki profile remains useful for search results on my name)
- A industry publication article about me selling said business
- A couple of interviews about me being an inspiring woman in business
- An archive from the Huffington Post featuring articles I’ve written.
It also shows my Youtube channel – which is not an ideal result for me as despite my dreams of vlog stardom, it’s left to languish (note to self, update Youtube channel regularly)
There are also a few things that aren’t here which I would like to see ranked on page 1
- My Twitter feed
- My Facebook page
The only person responsible for what comes up in the Google search results is you
The bottom line is because I’ve been in the online world for many years, and always promoted myself, the search results for my name are pretty good. And if they weren’t, then it would be up to me (and also very important) to clear out anything that is outdated, negative and doesn’t serve what I am doing now.
So how do you shape your own results?
And clearing out the past is not too difficult to do if you come back to that word ‘relevant’. It’s defined as closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand’ and from what I see and experience online, there is are strong dose of recency and authority thrown in there too.
So what are my tips for improving your online presence?
- Work hard on the HEART of your personal brand. Typically, this would be your website, the website of your business (or your profile on the company that you work for). Get your photos, words and everything up to date. If your site is not ranking, use regular blogging and social media sharing to get it ranking. Generally, Google has no problem ranking a person’s own website on the top half of the search results for their name BUT a new site might take up to 6 months to be picked up, indexed and pulled up to this position.
- Keep at least two social media profiles updated and active ALL the time. Share the blog posts from your website across social media. Link all your social media profile and website to each other. Although these particular links won’t carry any ‘ranking value’ it demonstrates to Google that this set of profiles and website belong together in their own little eco system and are all connected.
- Contribute articles to industry or mainstream websites that serve your niche. Google likes to display content from authority websites, such as news websites, online magazines, industry magazines or industry blogs, and if you write for them it will recognise you as the author and be likely to put the article into the results – and it also looks good for you to be the author of articles or opinion pieces in the area in which you work.
- Get yourself ‘featured’ by other websites. There are always opportunities to give talks, be interviewed, be profiled, host an event and if you can be featured by other websites because you’re talking somewhere, or you’ve been interviewed about what you do, or your the host or organise of an event in your niche then that will be likely to be something Google will think ‘hey this is RELEVANT’ and put in their rankings. If you’re thinking ‘Noone wants to interview me, I’m not known’ then firstly that’t not likely to be true and secondly, you can always start small, with a local paper and the alumni publication at your university.
- Take part in industry showcases and events. People running industry events always need others in the industry to take part and get involved and in return, whether you’re speaking or just helping out, you can ask to be featured on the event website. Once you’re in with a big event, make yourself even more useful by writing articles for their blog with your byline on them. All of this will be seen and indexed by Google.
What if there is another you?
I’m going to let you into a secret. I really get irritated by my surname as it means people jump to all sorts of conclusions about me (based largely around the fact that I have a double-barrelled name and so must be posh) but also the fact Courtenay is spent with an unexpected ‘e-n-a-y’ which I end up spelling out god knows how many time each day.
But the good news is, my name means there isn’t another Natasha Courtenay-Smith and hopefully won’t be, and the only time anyone came close was when a tragic news story occurred back in 2002 about co-joined twins called Natasha and Courtney Smith who sadly died 19 days after their birth. Back in 2008, this news story did come up for search results on my name but nowadays Google recognises that me, and the tragedy of these co-joined twins, are separate ‘things.’
For some people though, there are other people with the exact same name. One of my clients is Polly Dunbar, the newspaper journalist. There is another Polly Dunbar, a children’s writer.
So what do you do when someone else with the same name ranks for your name?
There is only one option and that is to ‘out-relevant’ them and go to town with your content creation, articles, website, interviews, and all the things that Google likes to make sure that it is you showing up and not them.
And also, although of course in time you want to rank for all searches on your name, for the short term, it’s worth focusing on a slightly ‘longer tail’ version of your name, such as Polly Dunbar journalist’ (which people will also be searching) and make sure you at least own the results for that set of keywords.
What about if you have negative search results?
Dealing with negative search results is a different kettle of fish to dealing with no search results, sparse search results or an outdated search result. You will most likely need to employ specialist help on this (talk to me if this is you) especially if the negative content is appearing in official news websites.
I have recently been asked to help someone for whom the search results are the worst I have ever seen: basically a number of national newspapers are reporting on a business breakdown which resulted in this person being struck off from what they do for a living and called a ‘fraudster’.
When you are looking at set of results like that, the one thing that is clear is that it will take a long time to clear up, you will need the assistance of a specialised law firm, a lot of money and even then there are no guarantees of a total clear up.
BUT all this said, this incident in 2009, and this individual has (perhaps understandably) kept his head well down. Google has had NOTHING on him since then, despite the fact his life has moved on considerably, he now has a new hugely successful business and could once again be moving in a leadership position as a visible expert or leader in his new industry.
Throw the dog a bone
Remember how I told you Google likes ‘relevance.’ Are articles written in 2009 relevant to 2016? Not necessarily – not if a whole new set of articles, interviews and profiles of good quality were put in their place over a consistent period of time.
I’m talking about content creation, blogs, social media profiles, profile pages on the new business website, charity work, press releases, interviews. Of course, clearing up bad results can not be done overnight but if you haven’t thrown Google even so much as an updated LinkedIn profile since 2009, then what do you expect? Google may be many things but it is not psychic.
It’s a case of ‘throw the dog a bone’ (or lots of bones) and those results will start to change.
Don’t forget to take the long term view
As with everything online, changing search results takes time and consistency. There are numerous things that affect search rankings and noone knows exactly what, but generally a long term best practise view brings dividends.
So forget about Google as a scary robot that noone understands. And instead start thinking about yourself, a real human being, and what you would want to find when looking up one of your peers. What would you genuinely find interesting, informative and that demonstrates their identity and expertise. Apply these thoughts to yourself and get creating and doing.
Make life easy for Google, throw it lots of bones and watch as the results start to shift over time.