Claiming Your Online Identity

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Defining and managing your identity online can be time consuming but considering how many of our social and professional relationships begin with a Google query, it probably makes sense for all of us to invest a little time pulling it all together and presenting the image to the World that we want displayed, rather than whatever just happens to show up on the Internet.

First, let me make a distinction. In SEO circles, there is a practice called ‘reputation management’ that generally involves creating numerous pages of external content that will rank for the given brand’s related searches.  All those external pages are intended to rank below the corporate website but before whatever negative reviews or remarks exist, hopefully pushing any negativity down to the 3rd or 4th page of results, where no one will notice.  In other words, it is a focused spamming effort on behalf of said brand, with the goal of manipulating search results.  Sometimes brands have no choice and have to engage in this level of online warfare. Pragmatism aside though, this is NOT what I am describing here.  Rather I am talking about a proactive and cooperative effort to help Google identify all of your identities and content online, in return for preferred placement of your content when people search for you.

Google implemented an important new feature, along with the release of Google+, that allows them to recognize social channels and owned content and properly attribute this to the brand or individual.  The implementation takes advantage of a new semantic tagging attribute (@rel) in the HTML5 spec that specifies origination and authorship of content.  If you create a Google profile and link your content and social identities using these tags, you can essentially let Google know which content is really you.  In a recent presentation, Matt Cutts (Google) called this new ability “author rank”, and if you’ve been following their recent talk about quality signals, you know that authenticity of content is a big deal in recent algorithmic updates. In fact, they’re not only giving preferred placement to authenticated content for brand and name searches, they’re even displaying the photo of the author in many cases, to help set these aside as authenticated content, from reputable authors.

Okay, sounds good so far right?  Now we just need to work on the confusing mess that is our social network and tie it all together in some meaningful way.  After a bit of homework and practice on my online identity, I distilled down what I feel is a best practice approach.  First, I created a simple website for myself under my namesake URL and created links to all of my social accounts from this location.  NealCabage.com is my literally my homepage now. Next, I linked all my enlogica articles back to my homepage.  And of course enlogica has a couple of its own social accounts to facilitate outreach and easier content socialization. So its important to keep the social accounts owned by the blog separate from those attributed to my own personal identity.  So whereas I link to the blog’s social sites on the sidebar of the blog, I keep all my personal social media accounts separate and only link to them from my own personal homepage.  Once all of that is clear, I create a Google profile page for my own personal identity link all the personal identities together.  Iterative.ly should probably also do this for its own identity, separate from my own.

Sync Up Your Online Profile

Now let’s get a little more specific about how its actually implemented and the use of authorship tagging. On my homepage, each of my social account links contains the new attribute: @rel=”me”. The homepage should have proper authenticity to make such a claim since you already liked to it from your Google profile account.  Next, on the blog that you are reading now (for example), I placed a small author block at the bottom of each article that provides a link to my homepage. This links back to my personal homepage, with the attribute: rel=”author”.  Just like the @rel=”me” helped Google to identify my social profiles, @rel=”author” will help it to recognize any content that I have created and authenticate it.

Since I know this can be a little confusing, here’s the same information in enumerated form:

1. Create Google profile (profiles.google.com)
1a Link to your website and all social accounts
1b Link to any blogs or online magazines that you contribute to
2. On your blog, provide a link on each article page back to your home base site.  Include rel=”author”
3. On your homepage, link to all of your social accounts.  Include rel=”me”

Connecting Accounts to Google Profile

The final step is to validate that everything is setup correctly. Google provides a tool for you to use. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, the tool is giving me an error for using the @rel=”me” attributes on my social account links from my homepage. This appears to be a bug however; even Matt Cutts blog is getting the same error for the same reason.

Anyway, despite that hiccup, if everything was done properly, you will soon start to see that your homepage, social accounts, and your content begin to dominate the search results for terms related to your name or brand.  You may even begin to notice for profile picture next to your content.

There you have it.  My homepage, my social accounts, and my blog contributions are all accounted for and properly attributed and validated.  Now hopefully with a little time, Google begins to treat my identities with a positive bias for searches related to my personal ‘brand’.