As part of preparing to submit my book to publishers, I’m tidying up my online presence. Because while selling a book is about the quality of the writing, the story you tell, the proposal you put together, coordinating with your literary agent and a slew of other moving parts, it’s also about having a wicked platform. I mean “wicked” as in “awesome,” how we use it in the Northeast, not like the Wicked Witch of the West. And having an awesome platform includes looking good on Google.
So I ask you: How long has it been since you Googled yourself? Knowing what comes up when you type your name into that search box isn’t narcissistic, it’s smart. Because just like an employer will Google you before hiring you and a guy will Google you before your first date (at least the geeky types I’d date) and an agent will Google you before offering representation, editors at publishing houses will Google me before offering to buy my book.
If you’re building an online presence, you likely know this by now. What you might not know is what to do if you don’t like what comes up when you Google your name. Or what if nothing particularly negative pops up, but you wish the results were more favorable?
In many cases — though it depends on who shares your name — it’s possible to help those results become what you want them to be.
Before I started blogging, back in ’08, another Alexis Grant owned the search results for our name. But I’ve worked hard to cultivate my online brand, and now most of the results on the first page — which is all you really need to worry about, because few searchers click beyond the first page — link to websites or projects or profiles I’m proud of, information I want people to see. More importantly, I own the top few spots:
We’ve already talked about search-engine optimization for writers and bloggers. But as important as it is to help Google find you, it’s even more vital to help Google love you. In other words, it’s up to you to help Google show results that work in your favor.
If you’re looking to tidy up your online presence, here are five ways to improve what shows up when someone Googles you:
1. Grow a blog. And use good SEO on that blog. New content, especially content laden with smart keywords, will help your blog display more prominently in search results. And a blog is a fabulous site to have at the top of Google, because it allows you to shape your own message, rather than letting your story be told by, say, a negative article or blog post someone else wrote about you or that embarrassing photo of you swallowing a goldfish on St. Patty’s Day in college.
I keep pushing one of my clients in particular to have a blog. For one, he has fabulous ideas for content, and there aren’t any well done blogs on his topic, so he has the potential to make a name for himself in that niche. But having a blog would also push his website up higher in Google results. It’s a win-win. (Here’s my five-step tutorial to starting a blog.)
2. If you don’t have a blog, at least have a website. Blogs are better for Google purposes because new content pushes your site higher in search results. But if you don’t want to put in the effort to blog, at least create a static website with information about yourself. This allows you to control what Googles shares about you, so employers or literary agents or publishers are seeing what you want them to see. A website, even a simple one, lets you paint your own online picture. You get bonus points if your site resides at yourname.com, because that helps Google display it prominently in search results.
If the idea of creating a basic website sounds daunting, pay someone like Rachael Butts to do it for you. Intricate websites can be expensive, but you could find someone to build you a basic one for, say, $500. I just built this site for a friend. It’s not fancy, but it’s exactly what he needs to cultivate his online presence. (Here’s the basics of how I build websites using WordPress.org.) Nathan Bransford recently blogged about how it’s never too early to start using social media. The same goes for having your own website.
3. Use social media frequently. We have other, bigger reasons for being active on social media, but this is an excellent side effect: your profiles will pop up high in Google results. And while your Facebook profile is likely set to private — or should be — helping Twitter and LinkedIn show up prominently tells a lot about you.
It shows, for one, that you’re savvy with social media, a skill that’s increasingly in demand. But anyone who looks through you profiles can also learn a lot about you professionally and as a person. Like a website or blog, here again you’re helping the world find information about you that you want them to find. And the more you update your social media profiles — using keywords that folks will likely use to search for you — the higher up your profiles will rank.
4. Write guest posts. Write them for websites that have more readers than yours. If you hover over the images that pop up when you search for “Alexis Grant,” none are from my website. They’re all from guest posts or interviews I did with websites that get more page views and have better SEO than my blog, like The Creative Penn, where Joanna interviewed me about writer’s retreats and traveling, and Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, where I guest posted about using Twitter for networking. Like using social media, writing guest posts has lots of other benefits. But having your photo or post that you wrote for someone else’s blog show up in Google results is a nice perk.
5. Create a Google profile. This is a great place to put links for all of your social media profiles or wherever you hang out online. Do you really need it if you have a website? Probably not. But because it’s a Google feature, it’s bound to pop up high in search results. So this is one more option to help fill that first page of results, especially if you’re trying to push any unfavorable results to page two. Here’s the link to my Google profile as an example and the page where you can quickly create your own.
Unfortunately, most of these ideas aren’t changes you can make overnight. Google needs time to process them. So don’t wait until you’re ready to look for a new job or an agent or a publisher before improving your online presence. Get started now. If you do it with the right attitude, it might even be fun.
Update: @JobHuntOrg reminded me that Google sometimes customizes search results based on your preferences, which I should’ve mentioned in this piece. To get around this, try Googling yourself from a friend’s computer.