By Steve Mazzucch
Imagine you’ve met an amazing girl. You enthusiastically exchange numbers with her, but when you call a few days later, she doesn’t pick up or call you back. What happened? She probably did what every modern woman does: she googled you. Thanks to debauched Flickr photos, a boofheaded blog remark or racy posts on your Facebook wall, she’s concluded that you’re bad news.
Don’t think women won’t try to find the good, the bad and the ugly about you online. A 2006 survey by the US-based Pew Research Centre found that more than half of adult internet users employ search engines to check up on one another. “I think these numbers would be significantly higher today, especially with romantic relationships,” says Dr Harry Lewis, a professor of computer science at Harvard and co-author of Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion.
Use these technological and psychological moves to look great online and you’ll have a much better chance of scoring offline.Take out the trash
Your first step is to erase as much unsavoury content as you can from sites around the web that you may appear on – crude blog entries from the past, embarrassing bucks night photos and the like.
If it’s content owned by you or a friend, either pull it down or hide it from searches, says Lewis. If you’re reasonably web savvy, it’s actually pretty simple to hide pages. Just create a file called “robots.txt” in your website’s root directory, and then place the following two lines of code into it: “User-agent: *” and “Disallow: /”. Most search engines will now skip right over your site.
If the junk sits on other people’s sites, contact them and politely ask that they remove the material. If there are no contact details on the site, try to find the site’s web master at mywebname.com.au or whois.com and send them an e-mail requesting they remove the material, advises internet privacy expert Kevin McDonald. It helps if there’s a legal issue, such as copyright problems or defamatory content.
“In my nearly 15 years of experience, I’ve found that the odds of taking content back are a little less than 25 per cent,” says McDonald. He also advises that you sign up for Google and Yahoo alerts with your name as keywords. This will help track any new garbage that may surface.Secure your good name
The second step in your online image rehab is to control the pages women see when they search for you. If you aren’t already using social or business networking sites, sign up for Facebook and LinkedIn. Both are popular and always appear high in search results, says McDonald. At the same time, visit rapleaf.com, a site that helps users track their online presence, to sort out where your name pops up (in accounts and registrations, for example). Then drop Friendster, which makes you look 45, and MySpace, which makes you look 13.
If you need to “de-emphasise” unsavoury search results that continue to pop up, sign up for additional accounts under your targeted search term (probably your name) at trusted sites such as YouTube, Flickr and Blogger, says search-engine marketing account manager Wade Meredith.
The more new stuff you post and the more quality links you have heading to and away from your sites, the higher up those pages will appear in searches. “This content will be hoovered up by the Google bots and should at least clean your first page or two of results,” explains Meredith. As a final security measure, register your name through a domain name registration company (for more information about domain names, visit auda.org.au), if only to keep some idiot from nabbing it and posting photos of his bong collection.Sharpen your profile
Your mates may not care about Facebook, but she very likely will, so populate your page with strong, positive content. “Talk about things you’re passionate about,” suggests Emmi Sorokin, who runs It’s a Man’s World, a US image-consulting firm. “Talk about your friends, your family and your favourite activities, to present yourself as someone who is generally happy and contributes to the people around him.”
Any posted photos should support that message – so fewer party shots and pics of your souped-up hatchback, more friends, family, kids and pets. Note: if someone else attaches your name to a dicey photo, click “Remove Tag” under the shot and it’ll disappear from the “Photos of You” section of your page.
Facebook’s default is to broadcast just about every minor change you make to your profile without you really being aware of it. Fix this on your main page by mousing over “Account” in the upper-right corner. Click on “Privacy Settings”, then click on “Customise Settings”. From this page, you can control your profile so your friends aren’t notified about every hot new friend or flirty wall post.Keep it together
Even if you take all these steps and the two of you reach couplehood, there’s still the potential for problems.
First, a blog that mentions both of you could raise her eyebrows. Not only is there the chance she’ll misinterpret a remark, but it also creates a forum where others can comment on your relationship in ways that she may also misinterpret. So focus on fun things you do together – weekend trips, restaurants you’ve tried – without going into detail. Basically, “you can blog about your relationship if you write about how great your girl is”, says psychologist Dr Tina Tessina, the author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.
Second, old images may pop up and attractive women you know will “friend” you on Facebook and Twitter.
Head off suspicion with forthright honesty. “Make it clear that those goofy photos are part of your past – that was then, this is now,” says clinical psychiatrist Dr Mark Goulston, the author of The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship. When it comes to new friends, just explain how you know them. “That way she doesn’t have to go through that nauseating ‘Who are these people?’ feeling,” says relationship expert Debra Burrell. If she can’t deal with that, well, try not to lose any sleep over it. “You want a woman who can accept who you are,” says Tessina.Or at least a meticulously scrubbed-up and heavily filtered version of who you are.