How to Audit Your Digital Footprint and Online Identity

Digital identities are more important than ever. You should have a sound understanding of your digital footprint and maintain complete control over your online reputation. The first step to mastering your online identity involves running a thorough audit of your presence on the internet. This guide will help you discover and analyze your present online presence and determine what actions will be necessary to turn it into a powerful asset.

Taking Stock of Your Digital Footprint Using Google Search

Google Search Results for John DoeMost people who search for information about you will start with Google Search; you should, too.

  1. Type various iterations of your name into Google Search
  2. Take screenshots of at least the first three pages of results for each query

Whether you choose to review results beyond three pages is up to you. You can be as thorough or as cursory with your audit as you like. Should you not have much of an online presence to start with, chances are anything beyond a review of the first three pages of results will not be necessary.

Documenting the Present State of Your Online Identity

After taking screenshots of the top search results related to various versions of your name, click through to view results that are directly related to you (there is no need to look at the profiles of other people who share your name at this point; your mission now is to understand your online presence).

  1. Take screenshots of every page featuring a profile you have made, content you have created, or content referencing you
  2. Upload those screenshots to a private online album (or save them on your computer)
  3. Name or add a caption to each screenshot

Analyzing Your Digital Identity

Once you have created a scrapbook of sorts summarizing your online presence, it is time to review it and take note of:

  • Strong points (profiles and references to you that offer a good reflection of your personal and professional self)
  • Weak points (profiles, posts, and references to you that reflect poorly on your online reputation)
  • Details that need to be updated
  • Profiles that require deletion
  • Posts or articles that require deletion
  • Missing profiles that ought to be created to round out your online presence

Consider sharing your album with a trusted friend, mentor, colleague, or family member and asking him or her for an honest overview of the impression your present digital identity leaves. Also ask yourself what you would think of the you-from-the-internet if you did not know the you-from-the-physical-world. Do you come across as smart? Passionate? Irresponsible? Particularly good at something? Irritable? Whiny?

There will be some pieces of content about you online over which you will have no control. It is important to be aware of them and the impact they may have on your online reputation. You may wish to make certain pieces of content disappear. We recommend doing so by flooding top search results with content you created and control. We do not recommend goading, threatening, bribing, or otherwise compelling other people to take down content related to you; this can lead to an undesirable Streisand effect.

Developing a Plan

Once you have a good idea of who you are online, it is time to clearly establish who you want to be.

Carefully consider:

  • Your mission in life
  • Your core values
  • Your brand promise (what value do you provide to others?)
  • How you would want people to describe you in one sentence
  • What associations people should have with your personal brand
  • How you want your personal background to be presented

With these details in mind, you will have a clear idea of what your digital identity should be. By reconciling that ideal digital identity with the digital identity you presently have, you can establish some additional tasks and tweaks that will need to accompany basic fixes and updates.

These tasks may include:

  • Adopting a different primary username
  • Presenting different profile photos
  • Deleting (or making private) certain types of posts
  • Changing your bio and information about your background (though stay honest!)

Running Competitive Analysis

In addition to establishing what you need to do to overtake your own (potentially lackluster) online reputation, you should determine what action would be necessary to be the top person online with your name. While this may not be feasible, it is still worth investigation.

  1. Take note of the number of results in the first three pages related to your name that are not associated with you
  2. Take note of the diversity of unique people who take up high ranking slots in search results

If one, very famous person dominates search results for your name, you are unlikely to be able to overtake him or her. If it is still essential that you are easy to find in searches related to your name, consider adopting a slightly different name (e.g. a pen name or specific online handle), incorporate your middle name or initial into your "official" online name, adopt a spouse's last name (should you have a spouse), or revert to your maiden name.

If your digital identity contends with a somewhat diverse set of different, non-famous people who also share your name, you have much better odds of overtaking them.

Particular tactics that work include:

  • Making a point of using your real name in social media profiles
  • Regularly updating your social media profiles
  • Regularly publishing high quality content across several platforms under your real name
  • Publishing articles with high-ranking and well-known blogs and publications
  • Creating a wide diversity of social media profiles using your real name

Implementing Your Plan

Having done a complete analysis, you are free to get to work.

  1. Resolve weak points in your profiles
  2. Update out-of-date information
  3. Delete unnecessary or unflattering accounts
  4. Delete unflattering or off-brand posts
  5. Create profiles on platforms where you feel you should be present
  6. Implement tweaks to your messaging and presentation online that will more adequately reflect your ideal digital identity
  7. Position and maintain your content and profiles in a manner that increases their odds of overtaking content and profiles created by other people who possess your name (as discussed above)
  8. Publish fresh content that reinforces your brand, widens your digital footprint, strengthens your reputation, and moves you closer to your desired position online

Maintaining Your Digital Identity

Though many of the changes you will make to your online profiles will take place immediately, a valuable online reputation requires constant upkeep. In addition to working towards creating the ideal digital persona and overtaking competition in search results for your name (such goals may take years to achieve), keep tabs on what others may be saying about you. This can be easily managed by the occasional fresh search for your name combined with automatically-issued Google Alerts.