If The First Google Result For Your Name Is Your Mugshot
Don’t bother trying to get it taken down.
Remember how in elementary school, when you did something wrong, your teacher would threaten to send a note home to your parents? Well, thanks to Google, the internet is one big parental note for every one of us—available for friends, potential dates, employers, grandparents and the weirdos we never even made eye contact with in high school to see.
And, if you’re one of the estimated 70 million Americans who has an arrest record, you’re probably not so psyched that your mugshot has likely made its way onto the internet to be preserved for all time.
Unfortunately, someone who Googles your name only to find a bleary-eyed portrait of you with a gray background and a booking number only has a moment to decide whether you’re a convicted murderer out on parole, or maybe one time you got really drunk and vandalized a vending machine trying to score a free Kit Kat. Fortunately, you’re not without hope?—?while it’s virtually impossible to truly erase anything from the internet, there are things you can do to protect your reputation.
I reached out to Ryan Eick, a Senior Account Manager at BrandYourself, to talk to him about what people can do to hide their mugshots or any other potentially negative information that Google displays. Here’s what he told me.
Don’t waste your time trying to get it taken down
“Ninety-nine times out of 100, you aren’t going to be able to ‘delete’ something off the internet that somebody else posted,” Eick told me.
Some sites will take something down simply because you asked. If something is truly defamatory, you might be able get a lawyer involved and take legal action. But ultimately, it’s a tough approach, and who’s to say that someone won’t just go posting it again somewhere else? Instead, Eick advises another approach:
“The best thing you can do is bury it. The further back the better. The best place to hide a body, as the joke goes, is the third page of Google.”
Boost positive profiles to bury negative ones
The best way to redeem your internet reputation is to force Google to push down all the bad stuff. This means producing and publishing enough content to make yourself look like a total digital badass.
Let’s take a little break to learn some digital marketing. Google and all the other search engines out there have a ton of wickedly sophisticated algorithms in place, which help decide what content should appear first in a search. Generally, these search sites want to produce the internet content that most precisely matches whatever it is you searched for, but since it would take far too much manpower to direct search terms to each of the estimated 1 billion web pages on the internet, they’ve developed hundreds of ranking factors to help automate this process.
It’s in the search company’s best interest to make sure these results aren’t spam or other crap content, so it prioritizes sites based on things like how much traffic they get, whether they’re adhering to best practices for SEO and generally anything that makes the site seem legitimate. (Note that I haven’t used the words “credible” or “trustworthy,” because satire and fake news sites can show up as legitimate search results, depending on why you’re searching.)
Your mission, then, is to make sure the site that hosts your mugshot isn’t the most legitimate result that pops up when someone searches your name. Here’s how to do it.
Make all your social profiles public
This is one of the best ways to bury things you don’t want public, since things like tweets, Facebook pages, Pinterest profile pages and Instagram profiles are indexed. And, if you want the highest likelihood of success, you shouldn’t hold back.
“It’s very important to make your full name your handle on these profiles, and that everything on these profiles is well filled out and relevant,” Eick says. So make sure you share your location, post an “About Me” blurb that includes your full name, fill out where you work and where you went to school and so on.
Now, if the mere thought of going public seems terrifying, just remember that you’re doing this because the first thing people see from you right now is your mugshot. If necessary, clean up your social profiles before making them public. You probably don’t want a med school admissions team to see you spent last Halloween as an “adult baby” who drinks his beer out of a bottle.
Use hyperlinks, but do it strategically
One of the ranking factors Google looks at is linking. It’s a little complicated, but basically: If a site with a high Google ranking links to you, it shows you’re pretty credible. But if you link too much, it starts to look like spam. So, link strategically.
For instance, if you tweet a lot and think you might be able to gain a little traction from having your Twitter profile included among Google’s front-page finds, you’ll want to link some of your other active profiles, such as Instagram and Pinterest, to that page. But, because linking every single social profile you’ve ever created to Twitter might look a lot like spam to Google, you’re safer taking your other social media profiles, such as about.me or tumblr, and linking those to Instagram and Pintererst. Eick calls this approach a “buffer strategy.”
Content is king—but it has to be good
Google’s product is most successful when the webpages it delivers directly match the search term you enter. So, it’s going to do what it can to make sure the content that appears on top is good, solid content. The way to get your mugshot off the first page of Google is to make sure you’re regularly keeping your profiles updated, producing new and interesting content as regularly as possible.
“Keep everything updated regularly, but don’t make it look spammy,” Eick says. “The latter part is particularly important, but is also the most overlooked. This is about quality over quantity. One really good blog post with a bunch of views, likes and shares is going to boost your WordPress page a lot more than a bunch of reposts every day.”
There’s no fast-and-hard rule as to what makes content “good,” but if people are sharing it, if it’s unique, and if it’s overall not spammy, then Google’s algorithms will pick up on this and index your post according to those ranking factors mentioned above.
Armed with this know-how, it’s time to give your digital makeover a shot… and this time, hopefully it won’t be your mugshot.