Lawyers should Google themselves for the same reasons law firms and corporations do. Self-Googling (or “ego-surfing,” as it’s sometimes called) is not narcissism; it’s a wise move to identify and shape your personal online reputation or “brand.” Given that everyone from prospective employers to potential clients is likely to check you out online, you should have a good idea of what they will find. Do your Google results reflect the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build offline?
Increasingly, employers research job candidates online before making important hiring decisions, and many admit that what they find affects their decisions. Therefore, despite carefully crafting your resume and cover letter to demonstrate that you’re the best person for the job, some unrelated tidbit online could derail your chances of even getting invited for the first interview. See: Clean Up Your Digital Dirt here.
Even if do you get an interview, any interviewer who Googled you beforehand will have a preconceived impression which will be difficult to change. You’ll be subject to confirmation bias, which is where, once someone forms an opinion on a topic, they tend to reject information that conflicts with that opinion. At the same time, any supportive data is taken as confirmation that they were right in the first place.
Therefore, you want to make sure that anything that shows up in an online search about you is flattering and accurate. If you can create a positive first impression from the first page or two of Google results, you later may be forgiven a small misstep or two.
For the most effective online search, sign out of all of your accounts or use an incognito window. This yields neutral results that most accurately represent how you look in search engines without being skewed by your previous searches and preferences. For the most complete and accurate search, look up all versions of your name and any name you’ve ever used, including maiden and married names, hyphenated names, professional titles, common misspellings of your name, professional/pen/stage names, nicknames, etc. Also search on your email, home and work addresses, city, and phone number(s)—all written in a variety of ways. Put quotes around your search terms so Google will look for an exact match.
If you have a common name, or find your search results dominated by other people (or maybe a single famous person) with the same name, you can narrow the results to personally relevant entries by including keywords related to your firm or legal specialty, or even your hobbies. Your “name twin” could prevent other online searchers from finding meaningful information about you, as well. Armed with the knowledge of a potential mix-up, you might opt to set yourself apart by purposefully and consistently using a more unique variant of your name such as a different spelling, initials, nickname, etc., for professional purposes.
Pick and Choose
Once you’ve reviewed your current online results, you can take affirmative steps to polish your business reputation. Take stock of every social media profile you’ve ever created and select those you’d like to associate with your professional brand. Keep your LinkedIn profile and firm or corporate bio complete and updated. For these sites, make sure they tell a consistent story about your work history and education—and match your resume. Remember, also, that if people searching for you can’t find current contact information or see your work history, you might lose out on professional opportunities.
To separate your professional from your personal online profiles, consider changing the name on your personal accounts to a nickname or your first and middle name so prospective employers, clients, and others connected with your career won’t associate them with your professional brand when they Google you. But remember that, despite these efforts, anything you post or is posted about you may be found online—so keep even your personal accounts as “sanitized” as possible.
Your online presence
A strong online presence consists of a combination of websites and profiles you control as well as other high-authority, well respected sites and postings that present you in a positive light. Ideally, online searchers can quickly and easily find information about your practice, positive press, and thought pieces you authored. By regularly blogging, posting, and publishing original, high-quality content, you keep your presence fresh and your audience engaged.
If you have any negative, irrelevant, or unwanted search results, resist the urge to click on them frequently. Searching alone will do no harm, but extra clicks on negative results may indicate to Google that the world is more interested in those results than everything else that is positive and truthful about you. You don’t want to boost the SEO (search engine optimization) of that content.
If you discover some inaccurate or negative results when you Google yourself, delete what you can or contact the website and request its removal. If that is not possible, try to push unflattering mentions further down the results page, preferably off the first several pages (most people stop after reviewing the first few pages, if not the first one), by creating and posting new positive content. Write articles for publication in your firm’s newsletter or the legal press; create a blog, or post on your own or your firm’s blog, or guest post on a related professional blog; create an individual business website; post a member profile for your professional association’s and/or law school alumni directory; or set up business-related social media accounts and regularly post on them. (Even if you don’t find unflattering results when you Google yourself, these steps will boost your positive online profile.)
If these efforts to mitigate negative online results don’t yield the desired outcome, or if the severity of the situation warrants it, you can explore retaining the services of an online reputation management service.
Rinse and repeat
Once you’ve done a complete Google search and endeavored to polish your online image, you cannot rest on your laurels. Web content is updated constantly and requires consistent monitoring. Calendar regular self-Googling sessions. And, since you can’t predict when someone will publish a piece of content with your name attached to it, set Google Alerts to notify you by email (for free) whenever that happens. You can create multiple alerts for your nickname, maiden name, and any professional names, too.
Although Google is by far the dominant search engine, it’s not the only one. Therefore, you should Bing, Yahoo, and Firefox, etc., yourself, regularly, as well. That’s not narcissistic—it’s wise.