There are a lot of firms and consultants making a lot of money on the web, solely on the business of helping people shape their Google search results. For corporations, brands, and causes, the Google ranking is a kind of web stock price, with just as much obsessive energy invested. For your own name, though, Google has just released a few tools to help you monitor where and how your name shows up, and it's definitely worth a lunch break visit.
Me on the WebTo get to "Me on the Web," head into your Google Dashboard, then look down to the second section (Figure A), below the basic "Account" details. You'll see on the left the links already accounted for in your Google Profile - which might be there, even if you haven't formally edited a Google Profile. On the right, Google's provided some links to walk you through the creation and nurturing of a web identity. Let's walk through what Google says is important to say about yourself to, well, Google.
Google DashboardAs Google points out in their standard introductory blog post, many image-savvy users have already set up Google Web Alerts (formerly just "Google Alerts") that send an email and a link every time your name crops up anew in Google's results. If you haven't set up your own "Ego Alert," this is a very easy way to do so: simply click the link on your Google Dashboard, check the boxes for your name and your primary email address, save it, and then click the "View" links to see what kind of results you already have. (Figure B)
Set up Google Web AlertsNot impressed with what you see? Check out those links on the left-hand side of the "Me on the Web" panel, (Figure C) and click the "Links from your profile" header to see your Google Profile, as well as edit it. Google can automatically propagate information from other Google services into your profile: Picasa Web Albums, any "+1" buttons you've clicked in your results and some Buzz back-and-forth, if you happen to use that social service. But you're really here to click the "Edit Profile" button in the upper-right, and then add the most powerful data to your profile: sites you're connected to in the right-side box and a basic "elevator pitch" for yourself in the "Introduction" section.
Edit your Google Profile
The "Links" section on the right is deceptively simple. Click it, add links to sites you happen to own or work on, but also notice the "Connected Accounts" section, along with some accounts Google may have noticed you have elsewhere on the web. Connecting your accounts from Twitter, Flickr, Quora, and other services not only helps Google find you and make sense of the realms you create content in, but also has an effect on the results you see in your own services. So don't connect the Twitter account where you mostly complain about local restaurants, of course, and skip Flickr if it's mostly baby photos, unless that's something you want the world to recognize you for.
As for actually writing about yourself in the "Introduction" section: Write the way that you would if you were creating a web site. Aim to include specific keywords, but fit them in naturally. Provide an overview without prattling on endlessly. Add links where appropriate, but only if it's a site you're involved with, or a cause or group you believe in. After completing your profile, scroll toward the bottom and check the section on "Visibility." All that editing and consideration is for basically naught if your profile doesn't appear in search results, and can't have any influence, so click in the field and check the box to "Help others find" your profile.
Back in the "Me on the Web" section of your Dashboard, you'll notice on the right two links, "How to manage your online identity" and "How to remove unwanted content". They lead to helpful articles, but they're mostly variations on the same familiar theme: Google can't actually control the content that makes up your web reputation; it can only scan and try to make sense of it. There are links to tools for web site owners and administrators to quickly remove content that might be sensitive or harmful, but, generally, Google's letting you know that they're librarians, not publishers.
"Me and the Web" is a great place to start managing your online identity, but it's more of a guided 101 class than a hands-on course. Want to really take control of what people see about you on the web? Build your own site, fill it with good content, and link it in smart ways to other things you're a part of. Some things really haven't changed since Google was founded in 1998.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.