Your Digital Footprint Could Determine Your Next Job [Here’s How to Improve it]
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
5 personal brand hacks to optimize your cyber reputation
“A brand isn't a short-term fix or a fad, but a way to strategically build a (person’s/businesses/school’s) assets in a transparent digital world.” – Trish Rubin, Author of BrandED
About a year ago I Googled myself out of curiosity. No surprise… the results looked nearly the same as they had two years prior. The first result was my LinkedIn page. Next, an old IMDb entry for a film I never made. Then, page after page of ads to “see this person’s private, hidden, background check information for only $1”.
Tucked in-between those *cough* 100% legitimate *cough* offers were snippets of people who definitely weren’t me. Michael Von Bardeleben is, apparently, a South Australian model and actor. H.J. von Bardeleben likes to study hydrogen in semiconductors and silicon. While none of this necessarily makes me look bad it’s wasted advertising space for myself and my personal brand.
Most of us know how important it is to clean our digital footprint.
Just ask the monthly Cx0 getting fired for their decade-old tweet.
However, not enough of us make the effort to market our digital reputation.
Think about how much time and effort you put into your resume and cover letter. Now compare that to the energy you put into your digital brand a.k.a. what people see when they search for you online. Which did you spend more time editing, fixing, tweaking and perfecting? Now which do you think savvy employers spend more time looking at or place more value on… the paper you typed about yourself or what the cyber world says about you?
Your digital reputation and personal brand are critically important today and are only growing more valuable. The sooner you take control over what search engines say (or don’t say) about you the quicker and easier it’ll be.
For that reason I give you five personal branding hacks, that you can do today, to improve your digital footprint and impress employers.
1. Plan your personal, digital brand strategy
It’s much quicker, easier and cheaper to create a digital footprint from scratch than it is to rebuild one. Strategize what you want your digital brand to say about you before attempting to create it. Here’s a little exercise to get you in a professional branding mindset;
Put yourself in the shoes of an employer. Imagine you’re doing the hiring
Find a stranger on LinkedIn who would likely apply for that job
Google that stranger
What did you notice about the results? What is that person likely an expert in? What do their photos say about them? Is there a lot, or very little, information about them?
Keep that employer mindset
Now search yourself (be sure to include name variations)
Now, ask yourself honestly… if you knew nothing about you… what would these search results say you’re all about?
2. Change what doesn’t fit your brand
Now that you know what Google thinks about you it’s time to start affecting it.
It generally takes longer for old information to be changed or removed than for new data to be indexed or added. This is why we start pruning (a.k.a. removing) information first.
Don’t worry too much about what’s on page two or further of the search results (unless it’s really bad… which is a whole different article).
The goal should be to control, at least, the entire first page of results.
Start at the top and work down, one by one, digging into each search result
Look around here for instructions about how to change or remove information
If there are none then email them or make a support ticket.
Request to remove any information that’s outdated or doesn’t fit your intended brand
Some will comply and others won’t. Some respond right away while others wait weeks or months. Don’t get caught up in any one single site or search result. The goal here is to affect the ‘low-hanging fruit’. We’ll be banishing the rest to the depths of the search results soon enough.
3. Buy your personal domain name
Owning your name, in URL format, can do wonders for your personal branding and cyber persona. Domain names that say exactly what someone is searching for rank near the top.
Why wouldn't they? Can you imagine searching for "Nike" and nike.com not being one of the first results? Your name is no different. If someone searches Google for you, and yourname.com is, or leads to, an actual website about you it's going to rank highly.
If you have a fairly unique full name you’re in luck. Less common names tend to cost about $9 per year to own. While .com is still the most sought after top-level domain (TLD) you may be able to save a few dollars going with .info or .site. Go to any domain registrar and search to see which variations of your name are available.
Once you own the domain there are a variety of things you can do with it to optimize your digital footprint. You could create a personal website or portfolio on a free web host, like WordPress or Wix, then redirect your domain name to it. If you don't have a personal website you can redirect the domain name to your LinkedIn profile, your GitHub page, your Medium blog, etc.
MatthewBardeleben.com, my full name, actually redirects to my free WordPress site mattbardeleben.wordpress.com
MattyBv3.com, my tech blog handle, sends you to my Medium blog at https://medium.com/@matthewbardeleben Both sites appear on the first page of results when searching any variation of my name.
Before buying the .com domain names, though, neither did.
One final note about domain names...
Don’t worry about trying to buy every variation (e.g. Matt, Matthew, Matty, etc.) Google’s algorithm is smart and will likely make those connections for searchers. Owning your full, legal name should be plenty. When in doubt buy the name people are most likely to search for.
4. Pay extra attention to images
Your first impression is no longer made in the office with eye contact and a handshake.
It’s now made by the first five pictures in your Google image search results. These photos show near the top of the search results page and are one of the first times a person sees you.
Don't worry, hiring managers and recruiters don't expect to see five variations of your professional headshot. One on your LinkedIn profile should be enough. Here they're expecting to see more casual, honest and sincere photos of you. Even those photos, though, should fit the personal brand and executive presence you want to become known for.
Google’s not a person (legally... yet) so you can’t just tell it, “Hey, this is me. When people look for me... show them this!” There are ways to suggest it though.
The best way is to intentionally edit the metadata of any photo you post.
Here are a few best practices;
Filename Use accurate and descriptive titles. Keep the most important aspects of the description as early as possible in the title. Use a dash (-) as a space as some search engines don't recognize underscores (_).
o E.g. The photo on the left is accurately named colorful-sea-turtle-swimming-in-clear-blue-ocean-water.jpg rather than an oversimplified title like turtle.jpg or, even worse, the completely useless default title DCR1061445.jpg
Caption and ALT tags Anywhere you can edit the metadata of the photo is an opportunity. Some platforms will only allow slight adjustments while others give you complete control. Use every tool at your disposal to describe the photo accurately.
EXIF data Many social media sites now strip away a photos EXIF data (the data about the data) before it's posted. Despite this it's a great best practice to edit that EXIF information on every picture. This is especially important if it's being posted to a personal website (like your WordPress or Wix portfolio) rather than a social media platform. With certain file types and operating systems, such as .jpg on Windows, editing EXIF data is as easy as; Right-click the image > click Properties > then Details You’ll see numerous options, such as Title, Subject, Tags, etc. than can be used to describe the image. Use them.
5. Use domain authority to your advantage
The term domain authority (DA) is heavily debated in the search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing sectors. DA is not a score that Google technically ranks. However, many SEO service providers advertise DA scores which they’ve created themselves.
Regardless of the validity of these scores there’s no debate about this much;
Google trusts and prioritizes some sites over others.
Take advantage of that fact by posting your content, photos and information to these high DA / highly trusted sites;
Medium: Great place to post articles and blogs you've created yourself. Can also be used for an "About Me" type blog entry.
LinkedIn: Outside of just posting your resume and profile information, use LinkedIn's "Write An Article" feature.
Quora: This popular Q&A site is a great place to give yourself exposure. Answers to popular questions often show at the top (along with the profile of the person who answered) of Google's search results.
Personal brand, digital footprint, executive presence... however you choose to describe it there's no debating the importance. Your cyber reputation grows more and more important everyday. It's much easier to create a digital presence than to try to change one. There's no time like the present to start building!
About the Company:
Peterson Technology Partners (PTP) has been Chicagoland's premiere I.T. staffing, consulting, and recruiting firm for over 20+ years. Named after Chicago's historic Peterson Avenue, PTP has built its reputation by developing lasting relationships, leading digital transformation, and inspiring technical innovation throughout Chicagoland. Now based in Park Ridge, IL, PTP's 250+ employees have narrowed their focus to a single market (Chicago) and 4 core technical areas;
Application/mobile/web development and ecommerce
Data science/analytics/business intelligence/artificial intelligence
Information security/cybersecurity and
ERP SAP/Oracle and project management/BA/QA
PTP exists to ensure that all of our partners (clients and candidates alike) make the best hiring and career decisions.
About the Author:
Matthew Bardeleben is the Director of Content and Business Development at Peterson Technology Partners. He has earned more than 35 certifications in topics ranging from artificial intelligence, blockchain, and Python programming to digital marketing, growth hacking, and UX/UI design from organizations such as IBM, Google, and HubSpot.
Please don't forget to share!