Writing Life: Google and Your Web Presence
Web Presence for the Writer – Short Articles on Improving Your Internet Profile for Authors
Readers of this blog probably have blogs of their own, so I’m assuming that the concept of “web presence” isn’t wholly a foreign one. But being a writer who’s fond of his personal space — mental and physical — myself, I know that it’s not always the most comfortable arena for the quiet, creative sort to jump right into, either. Having a well-maintained blog is just the tip of a very hard, chilly iceberg, as I’m discovering for myself. So over the next few posts (likely interspersed with other things, as the blog usually goes), I’ll try to lay out some of the basic first steps that I’m stumbling through.
From a writer’s perspective, trying to keep up with the social networking explosion can be a painfully large time commitment — hours spent tweeting, stumbling, digging, and so on are hours not spent writing, and unless you’re successful enough to have quit the day job, those hours come from a pretty small reserve. But the payoff is the leg up with potential publishers that previous generations never had, and that lets well-networked writers slip around the traditional process of desperately submitting “cold” until someone picks up enough of your stories to make approaching agents and publishers directly a possibility. Web presence allows for a first impression that isn’t dependent on either knowing someone on the inside or cobbling together a sufficiently-impressive portfolio of random credits, freelance articles, and essay contests you won in college.
The catch here is that the impression can be a good one or a bad one, and no impression at all defaults to “bad” in most people’s books. The web is huge and knows many things, so if it doesn’t know anything about you, there’s an automatic sense that you haven’t done much with your life. This can be completely untrue and it doesn’t matter — realistically, the first thing anyone who wants to find out more about you is going to do is Google your name and see what comes up. So be prepared for it: Google yourself.
Make a Name for Yourself
People with less common names are obviously at an advantage here. I’m the only “Geoffrey Cubbage” on the web (and probably the only one in the world), so most of the websites that Google turns up if you search for me are at least tangentially related to me. People with more common names might do well to both write and maintain their various webpages using a middle initial or even the full middle name; if even that doesn’t set you apart from the masses, it may be time to consider a pseudonym. Just be sure that everything you do is under the same name, whatever you choose it to be — since I go by “Geoffrey Cubbage” on the web, signing myself as “Geoffrey Alan Cubbage” makes the phrase a less-perfect match for search engines and pushes that particular hit lower on the results.
Move the Important Things Up
Once you’ve found yourself on Google, take a look at what it’s turning up, and in what order. Odds are that your Facebook page will be first (and Facebook is something I’ll look at closer in another post), and if you’ve done your job on it, your blog or other personal webpage that you want people to see will be close to the top as well. If it’s not, get to work making it a more relevant match for your name — and for the most part, that just means using it more. If you can get it in an actual page header, so much the better; “Free Association: the Blog of Jerusalem Keynes” is going to come up higher on a Google search for “Jerusalem Keynes” than “Free Association” would. Slip the name in other places, like an “about the author page” or a contacts listing, and in the case of a blog, you can even consider simply “signing” your posts with a dash followed by your name. No one is likely to notice it as terribly invasive of their reading, and it will tell Google that your website is more about you than other sites your name turns up on.
Improve Any Content You Control
After Facebook and a properly name-laden personal website, you may be looking at an awkward potluck of Google returns, depending on what you’ve been doing on the web. Clean up any pages that you have editorial control over — no one is going to expect your Facebook page or a casual blog like this one to look like the front page of the New York Times website, but you probably don’t want pictures of you doing body shots at the strip club popping up either. Since we’re talking about web presence for the writer here, be sure that anything you can add content to or edit a profile for mentions you as a writer in some context. You want to seem like it’s a serious part of your life and how you identify to anyone who’s looking, even if they happen to be looking at your Cat Fancier forum profile. Be a writer that fancies cats.
Add New Search Results
Once you’ve cleaned up anything you can, resist the temptation to say “it’s out of my hands” and let the other random junk — old sites that mention you by name, forums you may have defunct posts on, those random genealogical search engine scams, etc. — sit on the first couple pages of a Google search. Even if it’s harmless content (a small newspaper article you were quoted in, for example), boring old stuff is just that. It’s old, and it’s boring. It’s probably an overall positive that I was the Illinois state champion in Lincoln-Douglas debate my senior year in high school, but do I really want people to think that I haven’t done anything worth mentioning since then?
Instead, load the web with newer, fresher things that use your name. Join some forums and post under your real name (but only nice things, please). Use a blog or a book reviewing service to put up occasional short pieces on what you’ve been reading lately. Submit some replies to how-to sites, or write a “guest post” for another blogger (offer them the same opportunity, of course). Keep dropping your name so that it appears more recently and more frequently than it does on the old junk pages that Google’s returning, and they’ll soon drop off the first couple pages (which is all anyone is going to look at, unless they’re a government employee running a professional background check on you).
What I’m finding as I go along with all this (and anyone who Googles my name will realize that I have work to do yet) is that web presence is a time-hungry beast with a lot of heads. I’ll talk more about it in future posts, but for now, start out small — keep a blog or a webpage and work on getting it toward the top of the Google search returns for your name, clean up anything else Google pulls up that you have control over, and try to get some new content out there with your name on it to replace all the old, defunct stuff. If nothing else, you’ll get to spend a day Googling yourself and calling it work!
- Geoffrey Cubbage (see what I did there?)