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Embarrassed by your past? Improve your online reputation

The embarrassing tweet. The drunken party photos. The DUI arrest. The messy divorce or business scandal.

When it comes to the Internet, there are no secrets. If people are searching for you, what they find isn’t necessarily what you want them to see.

“Google is increasingly becoming your first impression … but it’s getting increasingly harder to take control of that impression,” said Patrick Ambron, co-founder of BrandYourself.com, part of an “online reputation management” industry.

Whether it’s a new college graduate looking for a first job, a single jumping into the online dating world, almost everyone has some online history they’d like to bury.

And that’s the problem. On the Web, it’s virtually impossible to entirely erase anything.

That has helped spur growth in the “reputation management” industry.

According to media consultant BIA/Kelsey, small- and medium-sized businesses spent about $1.6 billion in 2012 managing their online reputations in various ways. That figure is expected to reach more than $2.9 billion in 2017.

Companies like BrandYourself, ReputationChanger.com, Reputation.com and others help individuals, companies and celebrities put their best foot forward online.

The key: Pushing the “good stuff” about you to the top of a Google search, while suppressing the negative.

“Almost 94 percent of Google searches don’t go beyond the first page. You can push things down to the third or fourth page … that’s the closest you can come to erasing things from the Internet,” said Michael Zammuto, president of ReputationChanger.com, a Philadelphia firm. “It can be very difficult to get things taken down. So instead, you have to focus on telling your story better.”

Here’s how:

Populate yourself. It’s like a positive PR campaign where you want to get yourself on as many online platforms and links as you can: A personal website, LinkedIn and other social media profiles, a YouTube video with your name in the headline. Post some articles, a lecture, a link to something about or by you in writing.

Don’t engage. For businesses, Zammuto said it’s natural to want to wage war against negative posts, especially those on customer review sites like Yelp.com. Restaurants and service-oriented businesses are especially vulnerable to nasty comments by anonymous bloggers.

Hard as it sounds, ignore them, said Zammuto.

Take a deep breath and respond carefully to negative comments, but thank those who post a complimentary review, said Morgan Remmers, Yelp’s manager of local business outreach in San Francisco.

Do it yourself. While reputation management firms may charge fees from a few thousand to a few million a year for high-level corporate and government accounts, there also are sites that cater to everyday people.

DIY tools. There are plenty of do-it-yourself tools for those who want to be sure their online reputation stays clean.

Scott Eggert, director of digital communications for Merlot Marketing in Sacramento, recommends setting up three: Google Alerts, which sends an email anytime your name (or any selected search topic) appears online; Newsle.com, which sends email alerts when your name (or anyone else’s you choose) is published in news articles or online blog posts; and Mention.net, which covers the “nooks and crannies,” such as social media mentions.

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Mystic Maggie

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