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Summary:

Two years ago I was starting to get conscious about my online presence, so I Googled my name. One of the first things I saw were links to my earliest projects, which were how-to e-books about dating and seduction. I remember using a pseudonym at that […]

899403_utilitiesTwo years ago I was starting to get conscious about my online presence, so I Googled my name. One of the first things I saw were links to my earliest projects, which were how-to e-books about dating and seduction. I remember using a pseudonym at that time so I was surprised to get the byline.

While I believed in my output and knew that the customer was satisfied with my work, I didn’t want these projects to be the first thing that potential clients saw. After all, I hadn’t written about dating for several years. I wanted to focus my writing efforts on business, freelancing and travel.

If you’ve ever done low quality work, accepted a project only for the money, changed niches, or even worked on something ethically dubious, you might understand this situation. There are just some past projects that should be buried by your current ones.

How can you make sure that happens?

Highlight your best work. To reduce the negative effect that an embarrassing project has on your portfolio, focus on promoting your best work instead. Revamp your portfolio to include only relevant, high-quality samples. If you use social media, put them at the foreground when discussing your work.

Work the search engines. My problem with the embarrassing e-book projects was that they belonged to the top three search engine results for my name. This meant that anyone — from potential employers to curious friends — would find that project if they typed my name into Google. If you can easily find your “bad” project using your name as the search term, here are some ways to fix it:

  • Purchase your own domain name if you haven’t done so already. Many new web workers tell me that they just can’t afford to buy their own domain name and set up a blog. But what they really can’t afford is the lack of control over what shows up first when you enter their names (or the name of their business) in search engines. This is why it’s important to get domain names based on your real name and your business name. Anything you pair up with it — a blog, a splash page or a static site — has a good chance of ranking well.

You don’t necessarily have to buy hosting and code your own site, either. You can point your domain name to your LinkedIn or Facebook profiles or to a free hosted blog (such as Blogger or Tumblr).

  • Get backlinks. Once you have your domain name make sure people link to it. This is easier to do with a blog, since it’s more encouraging to link to something that contains an interesting idea or discussion, rather than just a personal profile. Also, it’s better if they use your real name as the anchor text.
  • Learn the basics of on-site SEO. You don’t need to be an SEO (search engine optimization) guru to get your professional blog to rank well for your name. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and using some of those techniques might make your blog look spammy. Here’s a good introduction that talks about capitalizing on simple, long-term tactics rather than the “SEO trick of the month”.

Contact the person in charge, if applicable. Since the agreement with my previous client involved using a pseudonym for the dating e-books, I immediately contacted him about it. In a polite email I asked if he could use my old pseudonym for the books. He apologized and told me that he had simply forgotten about our agreement when he had his site and the e-books redesigned. He then corrected this oversight and changed the byline.

This approach may not be useful to those who have different arrangements. Still, if you can do it without upsetting anyone and it’s within the limits of your contract, it doesn’t hurt to ask a previous client to change the credit or byline. They can be very understanding if you explain the situation well.

Become more conscious of these projects from now on. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Go uncredited or use a pseudonym for projects that aren’t up to your usual standards or that are incompatible with your personal brand. Your future self will thank you.

Remember that whatever happens and no matter how shameful your previous projects may be, it’s important to stay honest. If ever someone asks you directly about these projects, tell the truth and accept it with grace. These projects may be embarrassing, but it’s more bearable than being caught in a lie.

Have you ever worried about embarrassing projects from the past? How have they affected your brand?

Image by linusb4 from sxc.hu

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By Celine Roque

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  1. What web developer hasn’t made a pr0n site or three? :)

  2. Heather Floyd – Web Developer for Concious Entrepreneurs Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    One of my worst was one of the first sites I ever designed – in 1997 for a college group. It exhibited all the hallmarks of bad old-skool websites – framed navigation, crazy background, ugly text. They left it up for YEARS after I graduated. Thank goodness it’s finally gone offline :-)

  3. Truly a great article. I google my name every once in awhile to make sure I have nothing bad showing up. But reading this article sure did bring back some memories of when I 1st started out..

  4. The tip about getting your own domain and redirecting it to an existing site, like Facebook or Twitter, is a very good and simple method to help control how you appear on the web.

    I have the same name as a famous guitarist from the 70’s – he ahs forty years exposure on me so I don’t get much of a look-in to be honest. This can be advantageous though! ;)

  5. Great Article Bro

    This article talks about maintaining your Online Reputation but taking this further i would like to discuss a situation where some very authoritative website tries to spread a bad name for you.

    Lets take up an example

    In case you failed to deliver a project at some early stages of your courier and the client reports it to some consumer complaint portal say http://www.ripoffreport.com/ Then you are in deep trouble.

    Reputation Management Companies charge too heavily for a common man to hire them. Is there a solution ?

  6. In addition to these important points, I want to chime in with some useful information.

    There are tools you can use to help Google be smarter about how it finds you (and your most important expertise) and then serves you up online. StepRep is a great tool that I like a lot. You can watch an interview I did recently for my blog with Rene Fabre and Matt Sweet (two guys who work for Ticor Title up in the Pacific NW teaching Realtors how to establish and maintain their online reps). There are 4 interviews in the series but #2 focuses on how you can use your Google Profile and StepRep to “weight” the links that Google finds and associates with you.

    Take a look here: http://virtualmeetingcoach.com/2009/06/12/online-reputation-management/

    I’d love to hear your comments after you watch the show!

  7. Diane D. Stein Sunday, August 23, 2009

    Thanks for a great article that anyone can understand and apply. I have worked in the area of crisis management since 1989 and with the introduction of the internet, and then social media, the rules of engagement have completely changed. Since 84% of people will search online before they try, buy, go see or do something it is imperative that people and companies take control of their online presence. Your advice is spot on and if followed can make a difference.

  8. SmartBlog on Workforce » Blog Archive » This week’s most clicked Monday, August 31, 2009

    [...] Cleaning up your online reputation [...]

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