Depending on your name, it might be unlikely you’ve come across someone with the same exact name, but they’re out there. And just a quick Google search away. If you’re lucky, their online footprint consists of a few social media profiles and maybe a personal website.
A more unfortunate scenario involves results that include arrest records, mugshot photos, or news articles about crimes. This could be detrimental to finding employment, starting your own business, and countless other opportunities. People who have never met you might not know that you are John Smith the stockbroker not John Smith the felon, who evaded taxes for 10 years and later attempted to flee the country.
So, what should you do when a stranger you’ve never met, but shares your name, has ruined your online reputation for you?
Ramp Up Your Online Presence.
Why is John Smith the Felon’s criminal history populating your search results? If you aren’t active on social and professional networking sites, don’t already have a personal website, or aren’t in the news regularly, there isn’t any other relevant content for Google’s algorithm to rank. Setting up Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles is fast, free, and one of the easiest move to make to salvage your online reputation.
Similarly, purchasing a domain for your name and setting up a very basic personal website can also work wonders. Update these properties regularly to keep them relevant. Depending on the severity of John Smith the Felon’s crimes, these properties probably won’t get rid of all traces of his bad behavior, but they will demonstrate to the people searching for you that you and John Smith the Felon are not the same people - and that’s what matters.
Titles aren’t just for doctors and lawyers who are graced with “MD”, “DDS” or “JD”. Marketers, preschool teachers, even carpenters, can give themselves titles too. Google searches for “John Smith Master Electrician” or “John Smith Marketing Pro” are unlikely to yield results for John Smith the Felon. Start referring to yourself both on and offline with your title, put it on your business cards, resume, email signature, and social media profiles. Every new person you meet who feels inclined to Google you, should also feel inclined to search for you with your title too.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of this step, it’s important to ensure you have an adequate online presence.
Change Your Name.
This doesn’t have to be as drastic as making a legal change ― although that is absolutely an option. It might be necessary to start going by your entire name - like “John Adam Smith” - or at least start utilizing your middle initial. Unless you are really unlucky and John Smith the Felon also shares your middle name, his negative search results will most likely not follow you. Similar to branding yourself with a professional title, it’s imperative to update all social and professional networking sites with your “new” name, along with your resume, personal and business websites, and business cards.
In some cases, complete resolution of the issue might require taking a combination of these three steps. Even though you do not have any control over John Smith the Felon’s criminal activities, you can take proactive steps to control your own online reputation.