Have you ever thought about how much of the first impression others have of you is formed without any of your direct interaction?

The answer might surprise you.

In today’s media environment the first place most people will interact with you and your brand won’t be in person or even over the phone – it will be online, likely beginning with Google search results and then continuing (if you are lucky) at your website and social media channels.

This is true even when you’re meeting someone in person!

Think about it. What do you do before you head into that coffee shop to shake hands with the CEO you set a meeting with?

You Google her in your car 5 minutes before the meeting, scrolling through the first page to get info about her background. Whatever you find in that quick scan forms your first impression, positive or negative, and it’s an impression that will be very hard for her to change in that meeting.

By the way, she’s done the same for you.

Understanding how important that first impression is, have you ever thought about being more intentional about owning it?

Here’s a quick exercise – open up a new tab in your browser and head to Google and search for your name.

What comes up?

We know from a HubSpot study that 75% of clicks on Google results happen in the first five results (above the fold), so let’s focus on results that land in those first five spots.

If you have a website – awesome – but is it the first result?

If so, congratulations, you’re ahead of me in fully owning your first impression. I built my entire online brand around my business (Shelton Interactive) and gave it a 5-year head start on my personal website, which is currently outside the top 5 (it’s gaining though – currently at #6).

I’m going to assume that your website is well-designed and puts your best foot forward in terms of establishing a clear brand and overall credibility for you. If not, you are worse-off than someone who can’t be found at all, as the poor design, decaying blog or bad messaging will leave that CEO with a worse first impression of you than of someone they didn’t find at all.

For those who don’t have a website, you likely fall into one of two camps:

  • you aren’t discoverable at all in the first five results. Depending on your line of work and/or goals moving forward, that may not be an issue for you, but for those who want to build an audience or grow a brand this is a HUGE problem.
  • at least one of the first five results connects back to you but you don’t own it – it’s either rented or earned media. In other words, the result is either a social media channel (probably LinkedIn or Twitter) or it’s a bio page on your employer website, an online review website or an old media hit.

If you don’t show up at all, your first order of business is to consider why. It’s likely because you:

  • share a name with someone well-known or you have a common name that you share with thousands of others
  • haven’t been active at all online and are oblivious to the opportunity sitting right in front of you

If #1, the first step is to change your name.

No, really – change it today.

Consider an alternate way to “brand” yourself online that you can fully own. For example, using a middle initial or middle name and buy the corresponding URL. If you don’t claim a name (and build everything around it), you’re going to have trouble with discoverability forever.

If #2, the first step is to head to GoDaddy and see if your name is available as a URL (ex: RustyShelton.com). If it’s available buy it today. While you’re at it, buy the URLs for each of your kids and your spouse. This may seem silly but consider how valuable those URLs are today – their value is only going up in the future.

Once you’re through this step, you have two options. The ideal way forward is to build a website for yourself on your new URL right away. This should allow you to quickly begin owning discoverability for your name.

For those who aren’t yet ready to build a website, I typically see people’s LinkedIn profile become their very first impression, which is why you must make sure it’s fully updated and optimized.

Think about it – if the first impression the vast majority of people have of you is a LinkedIn profile you haven’t updated since 2012, what kind of impression are you making?

I encourage you to do regular “Online Brand Audits” for yourself and/or your business and keep a steady eye on results that are coming up.

After all, it’s very hard to change a first impression.

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