Online reputation management (Or how to remove yourself from Google)

Have you ever Googled yourself? It sounds somewhat narcissistic but given the increasing amount of information that we put about ourselves online managing how that information is presented and what can be found is something you should be considering. I have always had a fascination for technology and have been involved in various internet communities over the years. This has, unfortunately, left me with a number of search results that are outdated and inactive. If someone is looking for me those results aren't particularly helpful so I recently went on a spring clean of these search results and figured detailing the process may be of some help to others.

Find out what people can find out about you

Before we can start removing things from Google we need to see what sort of things it is picking up. You may not be aware that Google personalises search results for you. Based on previous activity from your Google Account (if you have one) or from cookies it arranges search results different in hopes of giving you more relevant results. This is fine, but I wanted the generic and unpersonalised results that will likely appear when others search for me. To do this, I recommend using the private browsing/incognito mode in your browser. If you're not sure about how, wonderhowto.com takes you through how to do this for a range of different browsers.

Google's Search Results

I should perhaps clarify, very basically, how Google and the internet work. The internet is made up of webpages that hold content. Google is a tool that allows us to find this content. Removing a result from Google is not the same as removing the information from the internet. It will still exist, although for a while at least it may be slightly harder to find. If you want information to disappear from Google's results you need to remove it from the source. This article will take you through how do this and and how to remove information from Google's results.

Google's Search Results and your profiles

The first step in taming your online profile is to hide or delete the original content. This is the information that Google is finding. If you are still active on a particular social networking I advise you to check out your privacy settings. Most social networks allow you to adjust your privacy options so search engines can't find you. Walking through these steps for each website is well beyond the scope of the article. However, there are some brilliant tools out there to help. AdjustYourPrivacy.com gives you direct links to social network's privacy options page making it a simpler task to take control of your privacy. These settings generally working by adding a special tag to your portfolio page to telling search engines not to index that page. The setting takes effect straight away, however, it will take time for your page to disappear from the results. Search engines store a cache of information that they periodically update. This amount of time it takes varies and unfortunately there isn't a way to speed it up. However, generally, you are probably looking at around seven days for changes to take effect.

Removing indexed results

Deleting accounts, however, is much quicker way to remove information. If you have an account on a network or website you don't use anymore I recommend deleting your profile. If you're not using it there is simply no reason to have it and it may also have the added bonus of removing you from any mailing lists. JustDelete.me is another helpful tool designed to help you quickly close down your online profiles. Once your profile is closed down, anyone that tries to acccess your old profile will receive an error page. Now this content doesn't exist Google will eventually drop it from its index. You can help it along with this process by requesting removal of the content from Google. This is really straight forward. Google provide a page where you can request content removal (You should do the same for Bing too). Click 'Create new removal request' and paste in the ULI of the page you want removed (highlighted in red in the picture above right) as it appears in the search results. Depending on how the page is configured by the website, Google may see the page as still being live and ask you to provide a word that isn't on the new page. To combat this I simply used my surname 'Stanier' and didn't seem to have any futher problems. Google state it can take up to seven days to process the request but mine were fulfilled within a day, Bing's I am still waiting on.

Search results and other content

In the mix of your results I'm sure you found results to some sites that you didn't sign up for. Sites such as 192.com use information that is in the public domain (like through electoral roles) and provide access to it online for a nominal fee. You stil have control over this information and can request it is removed from their site, however, it is a bit more of a faff. All these sites should offer a method of getting in touch. To remove my details from 192.com I had to fill out a form and email it to them (Information and form). They were prompt to acknowledge my request and said my details should be removed from their directory within seven days. You may also notice sites other sites seem to have collected information on your actions on social networks such as Twitter and Last.fm. The operators I dealt with were happy to remove accounts at my requests. I found there were a lot more of these sorts of results than profiles I signed up for. Most were harmless, weren't using my information in a way that I was particularly adverse and weren't appearing high enough in the rankings to knock down the results I wanted seen so I opted to leave them.

Claiming results

The focus of the article has generally been on removing dated content from the rankings. Inferior quality pages will be knocked down the list automatically if something better appears. Try signing up for services such as about.me (mine is about.me/crstanier) that allow you to create a public online profile . I obviously own my own domain too, that helps. You can pick them up relatively cheaply from providers such as GoDaddy and push traffic to where you want it to be. If you're feeling really adventurous, why not try creating an online CV?

Summing up

I recommend you click through a few pages of results if you want to do a tidy up. Be aware it may take slightly longer to find results about yourself if you're not as active online or have a less common name. I Google stalked a handful of my friends and results about them were often pushed down the rankings if another, more prominent, individual has the same name.

I hope this is of some use to you, if you've got any questions, feel free to comment,email me at hello@crstanier or get in touch through any of the social networks to the left.

As we spending increasing amounts of time online our digital papertrail is getting longer and longer. If people want to find out more about you they often turn to Google for the answers. Unfortunately, that Bebo page from 2007 where you profess your love for Busted is still lingering in Googles index. This article is a crash course in cleaning up those listings so you can help people find the info that they need.

2013/11/22

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and insights about this article. You can get in touch with me through any of the options on the Contact Page.