Searching for yourself on the Web is not just an activity of the vain and shallow. It is an important tool in managing your career and your personal life. Think of it as looking at yourself in mirror before a job interview: There’s nothing wrong with checking for spinach in your teeth.
Here are five ways to ensure that your online persona is up to scratch:
1. Google yourself.
One of the best ways to check the mirror is to do an anonymous Google query. If you’re logged into a Google account, the site will show personalized results, which are not what everyone else will see. You can see yourself as the rest of the Web does by opening a private-browsing or “incognito” browsing session, where none of the usual identifying info gets sent to the search engine.
Try the same inspection at other search sites, such as Bing or Yahoo (which, if you missed the connection until now, publishes Yahoo Tech). At Duck Duck Go, which calls itself “The search engine that doesn’t track you,” you don’t need to bother with the anonymous-browsing check.
Hopefully, none of these vanity searches will show dirt about you anywhere on the first page of results. Ideally, the top site listed will be one that you control if not outright own, not a page that somebody else put together.
2. See what auto-complete has to say.
It can also be instructive to see what auto-complete results appear as you start to type your name. You should know that this shows what other people searched for, not what search engines actually have on you or anything resembling actual truth.
For extra fun, type your name and then each letter of the alphabet to see what comes up.
One of Bing’s auto-complete results for my name is “rob pegoraro and mole rat.” As God is my witness, I have no idea what those crazy Bingers are up to.
3. Go social.
It’s worth doing the same check into your public persona on Facebook. Click the lock icon in Facebook’s toolbar, then Who can see my stuff? and then, below What do other people see in my timeline? click the View As link. If you’ve adjusted your Facebook privacy settings properly, you should see only the data Facebook mandates be public: name, profile picture, gender, username, and schools and employers, if you’ve provided that much detail.
4. Check back from time to time.
And what if those searches turn up nothing at all, or just not much to concern yourself with? Congratulations, Invisible Person! But be aware that it could change. In case you haven’t heard, people can be jerks online, and their actions can affect how you appear.
5. Control your own sites.
It’s better to have something that you control appear than nothing at all. Professionals might want to be sure they have a LinkedIn profile, a Google+ page or an “About Me” listing that shows a little about who you are and that implies that you’re the upstanding type who pays taxes, does the dishes, and stops for pedestrians in crosswalks.
It may be annoying to think that you have to be a publicist for your own self. But that’s better than having to think like a crisis-management PR professional when strangers first learn about you through bad news from somebody else.
Further reading: The ‘Right to be Forgotten’: A Right to Endless Argument