You may be too proud to admit it, but you've probably Googled yourself at one point or another. And why not? Prospective employers certainly are hunting you down online.
And who knows? Those would-be bosses might inadvertently make their first impressions of you based on a convicted felon who shares your name. Sound far-fetched? It happened to Pete Kistler, who co-founded Brandyourself in part to make sure no one goes through what he did. His foray into the billion-dollar search engine optimization (SEO) and reputation management industry might have been unique, but what he found there wasn't: Cleaning up, or even just spicing up, your online profile can be costly, with firms and so-called SEO experts charging thousands of dollars to bury unfavorable results, only to have them resurface months later.
Kistler and his partners think the dangers inherent in the sharing era have also come with a new kind of technical common sense. What's missing is a guide to best practices or advice on where to start.
That's why Brandyourself, which last year received 1.2 million in VC funding, is looking to democratize and demystify SEO. And while their tactics may seem a bit crude to CEOs and politicians who may spend big bucks trying to keep their online identities sparkling, it's the perfect free tool for everyday people with a DIY streak.
"Search Engine Optimization isn't as complicated as its made out to be," says Patrick Ambron, Brandyourself's 24-year-old CEO who started the company with Kistler and Evan Watson.
Back when Kistler first found out a con was ruining his chances at an internship, he did what many do and sought out the experts at Reputation.com, who said they'd be happy to help--for $5,000.
"It's terrible that this model doesn't work for average people," Ambron said. "It's too expensive. It's unsustainable. If Pete's thing pops up again, he's going to have to pay another $5,000 because he can't change it himself. So we kind of became obsessed with creating a product that made it easy, and even fun, for anybody to do themselves without having any price or technical barriers."
Here's how Brandyourself works: Users submit up to three flattering (or at the very least, not unflattering) links about themselves. These could include a LinkedIn profile or personal web site. Brandyourself then evaluates the SEO of each link and suggests ways to make these pages appear higher in search results through tactics like customized URLs or frequent content updates.
To the SEO-savvy, these tips may sound a bit elementary. But Brandyourself doesn't claim to possess any hidden secrets of search. Instead, they seek to teach users of all backgrounds and experience levels how to improve their online visibility without breaking the bank.
"We demystify the process," says Patrick. "We try to make it as transparent as possible so you're not feeling like you're forced to pay 'Search Engine Scientists' as they call them."
Granted, some things are just too big to bury (just ask Rick Santorum).
"We can't guarantee results," Ambron says, but adds that nobody else can either. "That's not how search engines work. But we can guarantee that if you follow our steps, your positive content will be as optimized as humanly possible."
And why should be believe Ambron is any different than some SEO snake-oil salesman? Well, it helps that he isn't asking for money, outside of the paid account which, at $79.99 a year, is still far cheaper than your average SEO doctor.
"It's just a different mentality. We want to empower you, not charge you."
[Image: Flickr user Philipp Daun]