Many people often find themselves aghast at the content they see when they google their own names. Whether it is the emergence of a shameful episode from the past that has long since been overcome, the slanderous words of a detractor, or a less than flattering image borne out of poor privacy settings of mismanaged social media accounts, negative entries on a search results page would have a profound effect on people’s perceptions and are very difficult to live down.
Because content on the Web stays there in some form forever, ensuring that people are unlikely to see damaging content appears confusing, which leads some less savvy individuals to apply unnecessarily extreme actions off the bat. One of the most common mistakes, demanding the removal of slanderous content might seem like an attractive option, often backfiring by attracting more attention (and therefore web traffic) to the offending content.
Another is to actually de-index it from search engine results. Though it keeps the content in place, de-indexing is an arduous process that has seen little in the way of practicality. Google, for instance, de-indexes a website only if it violates its rules of ethics regarding web design and placement (indeed, overtly slanderous websites can be de-indexed for this reason alone). Recent legislation in the European Union have led to Google’s new system of allowing requests for de-indexing in the region, which may soon become common elsewhere. However, this is not without its legal controversies as it touches on privacy rights and issues of journalistic freedom and freedom of speech.
The most common way of mitigating the damage caused by negative results, online reputation management (ORM), avoids the difficulties and the ethical questions surrounding the actual removal or de-indexing of content. Involving the optimization and distribution of relevant content through social media to bring web traffic away from negative content, ORM is swift and subtle, and can begin long before any negative entries even exist.
Extreme measures should be saved for extreme cases, and the excessive use of knee-jerk reactions can prove harmful in the long run. Using ORM remains the most effective and efficient way of dealing with negative content online, and should be first line of defense for one’s online reputation.