The practice of manipulating, or "gaming" Google results is getting a bad rap this month as dozens of prominent Web sites have watched their Page Ranks plummet and inbound search traffic and advertising-paid page views slip as a result.
But not everyone is trying to maneuver Google for personal gain and future earnings, or at least not directly. Some are just job seekers, hoping to push pictures from Mardi Gras 1999 down from the number one position in a list of results when their names are entered into the search engine.
Increasingly, having damaging information or a lack of professionalism online is a deal breaker when applying for a job. Eighty three percent of recruiters—up from 75 percent just two years ago—said they used search engines to learn more about job candidates, according to an Aug. 14 survey released by the recruiting firm ExecuNet. Furthermore, the number who had eliminated a candidate based on what they found online jumped from one quarter (25 percent) to nearly one half (43 percent).
So if Google is actively trying to ensure that its results are uncompromised by human manipulation, is there any hope that a job seeker can create a more flattering profile for themselves through the search engine? The consensus from experts is: yes, but it takes a lot of work.
It’s also not actually "gaming" Google, but playing by its rules. Any individual wishing to paint a better picture of themselves through search results should do what any other online property would need to do. Google lays out in its Webmaster guidelines the importance of creating relevant links, and this is the first place any job seeker should start.
Sharing a name with an axe murderer, B-movie star, a reporter with boggling political views or having a name that is simply common enough that it’s shared by millions is the curse of all too many job-seekers, as it makes getting honest information about oneself especially difficult to get to the top of search results.
Sure, no interviewer should actually be shortsighted enough to reject your application without getting actual confirmation that you might be a bad fit, but the fact that the first and most lasting impression a candidate makes is out of their control can be a source of job application dread.
Fortunately, a new tool aims to help. Naymz.com, which calls itself a "reputation management network," allows individuals to create a profile which links out to all of their other authentic profiles on the Web, in effect, managing their brand in one place. With a PageRank of six, you can be assured that Google will take notice.
The easiest way to improve search results for your name is to join online networks and add to conversations in prominent places. LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site used for professional networking with more than 10 million users and a high page rank, is an easy place to start.
"My business blog and LinkedIn profile are both in the top ten on Google for my name, even though it’s a relatively common name. Honestly, it didn’t take that much work to accomplish this," Sean McIndoe, a Web services manager for Corel, the Ottowa-based software company, told eWEEK.
Links can be built to your name outside LinkedIn through other social networks, but also by commenting on prominent Web sites or blogs in your area of expertise. This not only gets your name out there in a positive context, but shows you to be a respected individual within your professional community.
One step beyond joining and contributing to online networking communities is to create your own content, through a blog, guest contributions to another site, providing comments in news articles or by building a Web site with information that you want people to find at www.yourname.com.
"At the very minimum, it is a well-optimized page, with your resume or any other content that is relevant to you. Clearly, the more pages you have on your site that can create an optimization opportunity, the better," Anton Konikoff, CEO of Acronym Media, a New York based provider of search marketing solutions told eWEEK.
Eventually, Google will catch up to this and determine it more closely related to the search query than less relevant results.
"Create content that’s valuable to someone, somewhere, and attach your name to it. Once the Web decides that your content is more important and relevant than your embarrassing photo, Google should too," said McIndoe.
Quests to wipe cyber-slates clean of embarrassing information are destined for failure, so most experts will recommend that you don’t bother. You may not like that unflattering picture of you, but if you are unsuccessful in politely asking the site’s Web master to take it down and it is not downright inaccurate or slanderous from a legal perspective, it’s going to stay.
"This is the democratic nature of online content," explained Konikoff. "One should start of course by asking politely. If this doesn’t work, there are other remedies available. But the best way is to displace the results by creating content that is relevant."
Pursuing the obliteration of information that isn’t illegal to have out there also bears other risks.
"Unfortunately, requests for content removal to people in the blogosphere can also lead to retaliation if the authors felt the original contents were appropriate," Peter J. Meyers, president of User Effect, focusing on Web site usability told eWEEK.
Given the tedious steps involved in having inaccurate or slanderous information removed from Web sites, and the paltry likelihood that bad press or offensive information will delete itself, you’d be surprised how often if you just explain your case from the get-go, interviewers will be forgiving.
"We are all human and the person at the other end of the interview table has likely done something equally if not more embarrassing," said Meyers.
In fact, handling the awkwardness before being confronted directly or quietly rejected because of it may be the just the thing that makes you memorable to an interviewer—in a good way.