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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 22, 2010 • Issue 10:11:02

Establishing your online identity

By Nicholas Cucci
Network Merchants Inc.

A business owner needs to actively build his or her identity and establish a solid foundation online. And this is growing more important by the day. If you're not doing this, you're letting search engines find random information, good or bad, and compile a public story for you or your company - without your input.

People rely on search results to help build a picture of you, and you obviously want that picture to be a good one. Search engine queries should direct prospective customers to your version of your professional accomplishments, not to inaccurate or out-of-date information posted by someone else.

With a new year coming up, I'm sure some of you are thinking about enhancing your online identity. This guide will help you get started.

The importance of domain names

Domain names are the real estate of the Internet. Services come and go, taking profiles and postings along with them, but a private domain name gives you a permanent address that can outlive the hosts and services you point at. Registering a domain name usually costs about $10 a year, or less, if you register for multiple years.

When registering a domain name, do not overlook .net, .org, and other less common domain extensions. You can frequently bundle them when registering, securing multiple variations at a discount.

Before registering a domain name, make sure it points somewhere. Understand that you don't need a highly trafficked blog to satisfy the requirements of your domain "going somewhere."

If you don't have time to maintain a personal blog, point your domain to an established social network profile, or simply a very basic portal. Point your domain name at something you can control or, at the very least, something you can trust.

A domain name can point to a simple splash page that directs people toward your online activities or a full-service blog and well-maintained information portal. The virtual address will provide search engines, prospective employers and friends with the right text and relevant links to promote your good name or company.

Simply registering a personal or company domain name does not guarantee that people will visit your page. Search engines are basically just giant indexes.

They can only index what they find and tend to give the most weight to links that appear in a relevant, trusted context, such as a website with similar content.

The more a link to your website appears on other legitimate websites, the more weight a search engine will give the link. Without referring links, your website remains almost invisible.

However, simply including your website link on a Facebook or LinkedIn profile can help bring the domain name to life. A reciprocal sharing of links with those and other websites will get the attention of the major search engines.

Their "web crawlers" will come across your links again and again, connecting your name with your website and helping create your online identity. It sounds confusing, but is really pretty simple.

The pitfalls of negative impressions

Now let's talk about Facebook. It's easy to misrepresent yourself through seemingly innocent information if it appears in the wrong place. If you want to build your career as an industry expert, those Facebook pictures of you double-fisting beers will probably not help.

Make sure things you post are relevant to your field and personality. It doesn't hurt to post pictures of yourself engaged in positive activities such as playing baseball with your kids. Just make sure you showcase content that makes a good first impression.

The easiest way to build your online reputation is to place your real name and a link to your website on sites dedicated to activities you are passionate about. If you love cars, post to a car forum or blog.

Also, start using your real name instead of a nickname like "CarGuy2011." Join discussion forums related to your profession and hobbies.

It's also important to keep your content up to date. If someone looking for you finds information that has not been updated in the last five years, the site may appear neglected. Your presence needs to reflect your current accomplishments, not just your past activities.

Your company can apply all of these steps. You can also create a LinkedIn company profile and a Facebook company group. All of these will help your website increase its search engine ranking. Blogs also greatly help companies increase their ranking.

The rewards of taking control

By taking the steps I've just described, you can help organize the seemingly chaotic representation of your identity online so the search engines can find the facts you want them to find.

When maintaining or creating your personal identity online, understand that this is basically a resume for you or your company.

It is meant to give you a professional edge and to help you rise in the Google hits rankings. end of article

Nicholas Cucci is the Marketing Director for Network Merchants Inc. He is a graduate of Benedictine University. Prior to joining NMI, Cucci worked in the payment processing division for a Fortune 500 company and has advised several large retailers on credit card fraud protection, screening and risk assessment. He can be reached at ncucci@nmi.com or 800-617-4850.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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