Illustration: Monika Aichele
We know that the Internet is a vast, untamed wilderness, but it turns out that you have more control over your little plot of digital ground than you might think. Here's a starter kit for creating an online profile from scratch—or overhauling the one you've already got.
Be vigilant. Typing your name into Google isn't (just) an act of vanity—it's part of what Internet experts call reputation management. (When googling common—or commonly misspelled—names, include relevant information such as your company or hometown.) For a summary of the info about you that exists online, visit PeekYou.com or Snitch.Name . If you discover a link with sensitive private data (your Social Security number, for instance—it happens!), you can try to erase it using Google's URL Removal Tool ( Google.com/webmasters/tools/removals ). But you'll likely have better luck if you initiate human-to-human contact with the site in question. Go to the Contact or About page, find an e-mail address or—preferably—telephone number for its webmaster, and respectfully make your case.
Own your name. Say you're a teacher with a disgruntled student posting nasty comments about you on RateMyProfessors.com , or a job-seeker whose first Google result is a fiery opinion piece you wrote a decade ago for your college newspaper—not a first impression you want to make on a prospective employer. To push cringeworthy links lower in the Google rankings, register with the major social-networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn), create a Google profile ( Google.com/profiles ), and even consider purchasing your own URL ($1.99 per year for new domain owners; GoDaddy.com ). "Search engines tend to rank pages about an individual that the person actually 'owns' higher than something by a third party," says Scott Skurnick, a search engine optimization executive in Los Angeles. The negative content won't disappear entirely, but take heart: Experts say most searchers never even make it to the second page of results.
Next: How to network online
We Hear You!