I don’t understand how the press on Google’s recently launched “Me on the Web” tool classifies this feature as a reputation management tool. “Me on the Web” is basically an FAQ, a repackaging of pre-existing information and tools that Google hosts in it’s Account Help section and links to from users’ account dashboard. Regardless, this repackaging is an affirmation that searchers are increasingly interested in and concerned about the information associated with their names and email addresses. Searchers care about what others see connected to their names in search results, and they want to know how to manage it.
Here’s Google’s official stance:
We run into a lot of people who think that Google runs the web and controls all the sites on it, but that’s really not the case. The sites in Google’s search results are controlled by those sites’ webmasters.
Essentially Google is saying, “We don’t own this stuff, we just distribute it. Don’t blame us.” But searchers do. Hence the need for “Me on the Web.”
So what can the average human being do to manage their online reputation viewed through Google’s search results? Not much really, unless the content in question is confidential personal information. Google recommends:
- Set up a Google profile: The best way to be sure Google sees the good side of you is to feed it the information directly.
Be knowledgeable: Google yourself and/or set up alerts. Googling yourself is hardly new, and Google Alerts have been around for years. But Google does add a nice twist to the equation here by offering a link to “Set up search alerts for your data” that pops up a prepopulated box with your name and email address to get you started.
- Remove unwanted content from the site: Searchers who find skeletons in their search results are encouraged to remove the content themselves if it’s on a site or profile they own, or to contact the owner to request that they remove the content. If it’s a news source, you’re out of luck. If the content is from someone who is intentionally trying to smear you, you’re out of luck. If the site owner doesn’t want to or doesn’t exist anymore, you’re out of luck.
- Request removal from search results: If you own the content, you can request that Google remove it from their search results. This option only works for site owners and under urgent circumstances. Google’s definition of urgent, by the way, doesn’t include your embarrassment at being photographed with a lampshade on your head at that party last weekend.
- Post positive content: Push negative content lower in the search results by blogging, creating positive profiles on social sites like Twitter and Facebook, getting positive press, etc.
Violations of privacy involving personal confidential information like social security numbers, financial account numbers, images of your signature and instances of names fraudulently associated with pornography do receive special treatment, however.
If you find a page in Google search results that lists personal information such as your social security or credit card number, let us know using the links below. Google will contact the site’s hosting company to request that the page be taken down from the web. We’ll also take steps to remove the information from our search results.
It seems to me that Google’s “Me on the Web” is primarily a CYA tactic to stir up a little good press and deflect searcher frustration, not an actual concern about reputation management. It does little for the common concerns of everyday searchers, and leaves them with few options to combat minor but embarrassing reputation issues.
I can’t say I really blame Google for the stance its taking, though. There’s no sane way to mediate the world’s online tantrums to identify what is embarrassing “truth” worth returning in search results and what is just harmful maliciousness that doesn’t deserve to be seen.