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How to Google Yourself Effectively and What to Do About It

There’s a reason that academics–and most everyone else–loves Google: it makes finding what you want just plain easy. Of course, that includes you.

But what will someone find when they Google you? Is it what you would like them to see? Now’s the time to find out. Take the next 2 minutes to run a Google search (or Yahoo!, Bing, or your search provider of choice) and see what turns up. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve seen what’s out there, is it what you want representing you? As I see it, there are three likely outcomes for what you’ve found:

  1. Your name pulls up one or many other people who share your name
  2. Your name pulls up some sites that you’d rather not have others see
  3. Your name pulls up the information that you would like to see about you

The third option is the ideal, but how exactly do you get there if you find yourself in the first or second camps?

Grabbing Your Name

I recognize that not everyone is blessed with as such a strange unwieldy charming name as “Croxall.” But you are in control of what you want to name yourself online. If–to pick a name completely at random–you’re just one of several Jason Joneses out there, you might choose to include a middle initial for your online self. There’s quite a different result for searches on “Jason Jones” and “Jason B. Jones.” You could also adopt the strategy of ProfHacker’s Alex Jarvis, who has decided drop the vowels from his relatively common name and to be “Alxjrvs” online. The point isn’t so much which name or spelling you decide on so long as it’s still recognizably you and something that is as unique as possible. After deciding on your name, make sure that you use it as many places as possible. While you might not always want to be yourself online, your ability to be found will increase as you use one identity which is as closely linked to your real name as possible.

After you’ve decided on how you want to be known, think about buying the domain associated with your name. Julie Meloni has previously written about Web Hosting 101, and I can speak from relatively recent experience to say that buying a domain and setting up a simple website is really very easy. I did it in just under two hours–and I imagine you can too. Once you have your website, it’s easy to provide others with exactly the materials that you want them–and Google–to find. If building a website seems out of reach, you could consider using a service such as Interfolio’s Portfolio. Or you could list yourself with academia.edu, which aspires to be the IMDB of higher education.

Something else that you might consider along with grabbing a domain name is to make sure your name is on relevant social networking sites. For example, Julie tweets at @jcmeloni, but she also owns the @juliemeloni account. The latter has a message which points to her real account.

Finally, in the last year, Google introduced Google Profiles, which are intended to help people control how they appear in Google searches for their name. Since this is exactly what you were looking to do in the first place, you will do well to create a profile and use it to point those looking for you to other relevant sites.

Eliminating Undesirables

But what do you do if your problem isn’t that you can’t be found but is rather that what comes up in your search isn’t what you’d like others to see? I first began Googling myself religiously in my first year on the job market, and I was surprised to see that one of the first hits for my name was my Amazon wishlist. There wasn’t anything on that list that I wouldn’t necessarily want others to see, but…it was less than desirable. The fix in this case proved very simple. I had followed my own policy of being myself online and used my real name on Amazon. I simply changed my account name to a pseudonym and within a week the offending wish list was out of sight.

If your results cannot be altered by changing your username–perhaps there’s something outdated on your institution’s or previous institution’s website–you could simply contact the people in charge of administering the space and ask them to remove or update the material. There might not be anything that you can do to force this change to happen, but in my experience people have been very understanding and helpful in making such changes.

But what about those ratemyprofessor comments? Those won’t be removed except under extraordinary circumstances and you cannot change them to a pseudonym. In this case, feel free to exercise the nuclear option: namely, produce and manage content on other sites so that the less-than-ideal material will gradually fall lower and lower on the search results. This is not necessarily a quick solution, but consider it an opportunity to commit to writing.

Why Take the Time?

As much as it might sound funny to think of professors as needing to engage in brand management, the need to do so will only increase for the foreseeable future. PerhAfter all, as Jason wrote on a very early ProfHacker post, “If you think search committees, promotion and tenure committees, merit committees–or anyone else who might evaluate you–aren’t looking you up on the Google . . . well, you probably aren’t reading Prof. Hacker.”

What successful strategies have you used for managing your search result hits?

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