In today’s world, everything we do online can leave a footprint, whether or not we realize it. From posts on social media to message board replies from years ago, things done online tend to stay there forever.
Understanding your digital footprint and knowing how to control it can protect your tech business reputation and build trust for your company.
But first, you need to know how to find it, where it comes from, and what you can do to manage footprints you might not want to have public.
Where Does a Digital Footprint Come From?
Your digital footprint is a collection of all types of online activities that you do every day. Some of them are more visible than others, but all can contribute to your tech business reputation.
As a business owner, you’ll have both a personal digital footprint and one for your company.
Owners of small businesses are uniquely attached to their companies, which means their personal online footprint can impact the perception of their company by potential and current customers.
Why should you worry about your digital footprint?
Approximately 50% of U.S. consumers state they’ve Googled someone before doing business with them, and what they found mattered.
- 45% said they found something online that made them decide NOT to do business with someone
- 56% said they found something online that strengthened their decision to do business with someone
Types of Digital Footprints
There are two main types of digital footprints, those we leave intentionally and those that are unintentional.
An intentional digital trail includes:
- Publishing a blog
- Social media posts
- Images that you share online
- Comments on message boards
- Emails that you send to people
- Press releases you’re quoted in
- Forms you fill out online
An unintentional digital trail includes:
- Use of apps/websites that use geolocation
- Browsing activities that are tracked by advertising cookies
- Web directories you didn’t sign up for
- Public social posts that you’re tagged in
- Reviews that others have posted online about you or your company
How a Digital Footprint Can Help or Hurt You
Did you have a few too many and posted an embarrassing pool party picture five years ago? But you’re okay if you later deleted it, right? Maybe not.
If one of your Facebook friends decided to copy and post that photo on their own public timeline and tag you in it, it could still be found by customers wondering how trustworthy your business is before hiring you for a networking job.
On the other hand, if your volunteer work is highlighted in an online newsletter by a charity, that’s a digital footprint that can make a potential client decide that you’re the kind of person they want to work with.
What people find about you or your business online can either help you or hurt you in a number of ways.
Risks of a Negative Digital Footprint:
- You can look untrustworthy (i.e. a photo of you partying)
- Mugshot from a youthful mistake
- Evidence of you oversharing client information
- Use of profanity or off-color humor
- Political posts that turn a customer off
- Poor grammar or spelling that make you look unreliable
Benefits of a Positive Digital Footprint:
- You appear as an expert (i.e. videos of you giving presentations)
- Positive and inspirational social posts
- Awards you or your company have earned
- Online mentions of your community participation
- Customers more likely to work with you due to praise from others
- News stories highlighting you as an entrepreneurial business owner
- Local citations that improve your overall online presence
How to Get Your Digital Footprint to Work For and Not Against You
One thing about your digital footprint is that it’s not completely within your control. The internet is always watching you – it’s like the old Police song, but with an online twist: “Every post you make, every click you take, I’ll be tracking you!”
That said, your digital footprint isn’t completely outside your control either. There are things you can do to both ensure it’s a positive one and to improve it if there are some negative search results that you’d rather customers not see on the first page of Google.
Start by Googling Yourself & Your Business
Before you can put your digital footprint strategy in action, you need to know where you stand. Do a Google search of your name and your business name separately to see what comes up in the results.
Make sure to check ALL results, i.e. also check image results, video results, etc. in addition to the main web results.
You may be surprised to find some old social posts you made from your 20-something days or listings for your company that you didn’t even know where out there.
Remember, what you’re seeing is going to be what a potential customer sees when they are doing pre-purchase research.
Identify the Negatives That You Want to Address
Research the negative results that are coming up on page 1 and page 2. While 75% of people never go past the first page of a Google search result, something on page two could move up in the near future, which makes it important to address too.
There are a few different ways you can address these to try to either remove them or at least move them back further in the search results, so people are less likely to see them.
Here are some potential scenarios:
- Someone has created a high-ranking blog post about a bad experience with you and your company: Try reaching out to remedy the situation and request the post be taken down or edited.
- On a public company list site like Bloomberg, your name is still associated with a company you left several years back because of their bad reputation. Try contacting the site and asking them to your name down.
- One of your old embarrassing “college frat days” photos is coming up in an image search. Carefully review all your social photos and delete or make private those you don’t want public.
Sometimes, simply reaching out to request a reference to you be taken down is enough. Other times you may get no answer. In that case, your goal will be to try to create more SEO-optimized positive digital footprints that push the negative ones off the front page of Google.
Drill Down into the Positive Footprint Results
When searching yourself on Google, you may also find plenty of great results. Ones that will help you earn more trust and more business from people who are researching you and your company.
For these, go back several pages – maybe up to five. Because if you can improve their SEO, they could be just what you need to move negative results farther back in Google’s search result pages.
Take time to explore these positive digital footprints to see if you can tweak them a little to improve their SEO or learn from them and make more.
For example: You may see a business listing for your company on a site like Manta that was autogenerated. Claim the listing and add more details about your company to boost that page’s SEO.
You may also notice that a helpful Reddit post you made on a tech support subreddit makes you and your company look good. Spending a little more time on the forum helping people with questions could generate more high-ranking positive digital footprints.
Take Steps to Protect Your Privacy
Every time you’re interacting online or sending email, digital footprints are being generated, so be intentional about the things you put out there.
It also helps to protect your privacy because you are only human. You should be able to share fun, innocent pictures with friends and family on social media without them being judged by potential customers and used as a decision factor for whether to do business with you.
Privacy on social media isn’t foolproof, but if you at least take steps to protect your data, you can help prevent more digital footprints from being generated that you don’t want out there publicly on Google.
Here are some tips for protecting your privacy and being aware of the footprints you’re making every day:
- Write every email to a customer or vendor as if they were going to share it with all your clients
- Use social privacy settings to keep posts, photos, & videos private
- Use a different email for work and personal online accounts, forms, etc.
- Train employees on what can and can’t be shared (i.e. photos of a client’s job without permission)
- Remind yourself that this could be out there forever before you post something online
- Use private browsing settings to reduce cookie tracking
- Set up internal communication (i.e. through Teams) that creates a private sharing outlet for your employees
Create More Positive Footprints
The power of a Google search on you or your business can definitely be used in your favor to gain you more business. The key is to use SEO in everything you do and regularly generate positive content about you and your company.
51% of consumers say they use Google to research an offline product or service purchase before they make it.
Content marketing powered by regular tech blog posts are a great way to do this. Strategically managing your reviews can also keep positive footprints on top of Google. If you need help in this area, Tech Reputation makes it easy to gather more reviews that can help.
Here are some ways that you can keep positive digital footprints going out:
- Blogs that mention both your name and your company’s name
- Optimize your About Us page and use your name as one of the keywords
- Create a presence on local sites like (Google My Business, Bing Places, etc.)
- Positive posts on high-ranking forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.)
- Have a tech marketing strategy that keeps multi-content going out regularly (blogs, videos, social posts)
Where Do Your Digital Footprints Lead?
You’re not powerless when it comes to your digital footprint. Start taking control of your online presence and you’ll see the benefits in customer trust and ongoing business revenue.
Have you ever been shocked by what came up when Googling yourself? Share your story in the comments!