Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cleaning Out the Skeletons from My Online Profile

It's a fact - people check us out online. So imagine my horror today when I discovered that the "first hit" when I googled "Ryan Edel" was the neutered web page I haven't updated in over two years.

That first hit was the old website that I set up back in 2005-2006 as a way to "save my name," so-to-speak. Worse, the homepage to that site wasn't even a true index page - it was an old blog article that I put there as a placeholder. Yes, I was so embarrassed by the old site that I didn't want people to read it.  And yet I was too attached to the site to pull it down.  In the archives of the site I had posted an article from my 2005 Lost in Europe Tour, my holiday video for Christmas in Afghanistan, and some tries at Online Artwork with Adobe Photoshop.

Part of the reason I left up these links was for the page rank on Google.  All of these pages, I knew, had been scraped by Google - they appeared in the search engines, if you knew which keywords to type in.  I figured that pages like this would keep my website alive, so to speak.  And they did.  Kept it at the top of the Google Search for my name.

And that's a problem, now.  Having a website up just to hold down a piece of online real estate is okay - sometimes, you just don't have time to maintain what's there.  But at the very least, you need to leave up a good placeholder - something that won't embarrass you when people Google your name.  Especially when you're at my level - not established, but working on it.

So, here are the main things to keep in mind for your placeholder:

1. Keep It Simple
My biggest mistake with the old site was trying to make to do everything.  I wanted beauty and organization and access to everything I'd ever posted.  It was a great idea, but I didn't have time to do it all.  When I grew frustrated, I dropped the project completely.  Two years later, I'm horrified by what people may have found while looking for me online.

2. Start With Something Reliable and Versatile

My first website, ryanedel.net, was going to be my marketing page for my first book.  I didn't know much about websites, so I went with a name I trusted: Yahoo.  You can get all kinds of business website solutions from them through smallbusiness.yahoo.com.  But you shouldn't.  They charge me $12 a month for an e-mail address that I simply cannot give up right now.  Last time I checked, their small business web hosting package doesn't support PHP and MySQL.  I pounded my head against the keyboard trying to put a simple Contact Me! page on the website - it worked for about three days, and then it stopped working forever.  Compare that to this Contact Me! page I have on 1-2-Writing.  You fill in the form, it sends me an e-mail, and I can reply back.  It's simple, courtesy of free code provided by TheSiteWizard.com.  But it's no good unless your web host supports PHP.
Ideally, you want to research things like this beforehand. Currently, I use Hostmonster.com for 1-2-Writing Home, and I've been very happy with their service.  They provide full PHP and MySQL support, you can instantly install a full suite of SimpleScripts programs (WordPress, BuddyPress, Moodle, etc.), and it's only like seven bucks a month.  I here that the user support is fantastic, but I haven't had to use it - which, in a way, is even better.  (Now, if I had started with Hostmonster in the beginning, that would have saved me the $150 a year I now pay Yahoo for my personal e-mail...)

3. Focus on Content, Look, and Links
Most important: if you are worried about how people see you, make sure you don't post anything which would discredit you.  Don't go blasting away at former employers or start threatening violence to people you don't like.  Photos from that wild night in Vegas probably shouldn't go up there, either.

What you should post doesn't need to be fancy, as I've said.  A few quick words about your current occupation, your goals, and your hobbies will provide all the information that most curiosity seekers will need.  Chances are that your best friends won't be googling you - and if they are, it's more because they want to figure out where the heck you've been the past ten years so they can get in touch again.  Potential employers and business contacts don't necessarily need much information, either - they just need to know that you're serious about life and work.  Think of your "holding page" as kind of like a voice mail greeting - short and to-the-point might not impress, but it will allow someone to leave a message.

Finally, make sure your holding page has links to the other aspects of your life.  Set up a way for visitors to contact you - the PHP code from TheSiteWizard.com is perfect.  (And yes, I've had a friend contact me through my online form - he didn't have my current e-mail, and I wasn't on Facebook).

Speaking of Facebook, here's a list of links you need on your holding page:

Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn
You want to keep in touch with people, and these are the easiest ways to do so online.

Your Other Webpages
If you have a creative writing website, then you'll want the first links on your page to take visitors there.  Besides directing traffic to your site, it also helps your page rank.

Your Organizations
If you're a member of an organization, let people know.  Give them a link to visit you on that page.  It shows that you take an interest in the world.

Photos
Yes, your website should have photos.  It personalizes the site and gives people a better idea of who you are.

Your Resume or CV
I don't have this posted, and I'm not sure that I plan to.  But it's a good idea to post a PDF if you have time.  If, on the other hand, you don't have time to maintain your website, it might be better to leave this off.  Resumes go out-of-date rather quickly - my qualifications now are much different than my qualifications from a year ago, let alone back when I last worked on ryanedel.net.  In addition, you don't know what jobs you may seek in the future.  If you post a resume weighted heavily toward one field, a potential employer in another field might have second thoughts about what you really want to do with your life.  Ideally, it's better to post your job qualifications on a site like LinkedIn and then keep them up-to-date.

Wrapping Up
It's hard to believe, but I've spent more time working on this blog article today than I'd spent working on ryanedel.net over the past two years.  My old homepage became one of those abandoned projects - very much like how writers might start work on a novel, get stuck, and then move on to something else.

The difference, though, is that unfinished manuscripts rarely see the light of day.  They remain stuffed in drawers until the aging sons and daughters bring in the grandkids to help clean up the old house before the estate sale.  Websites, on the other hand, are seen.  They become billboards for our lives, subtle ads for those visitors racing past on the information superhighway.  So make sure you're sending the right message.  Give your visitors a good glimpse of you - a glimpse of your good side, the part of you that woke up feeling refreshed enough to put on clean socks and a new shirt.



3 comments:

Justin said...

I'm sort of going through this kind of project right now. I started by breaking a Wordpress theme and turning it into a website. I feature my own blogs/bio/resume/writing on the site.

I'd appreciate any input: http://justinwestbrook.wordpress.com

Also, if you've got anything to add about page rank optimizing, that would be super, but I realize it might be a little outside the context of this project here.

Just looking for some advice.

Ryan Edel said...

Hey Justin,
Thanks for inviting me over to take a look at your site - very nice work you're doing. I especially like the layout and the choice of picture - it's balanced well.

When it comes to page rank and optimizing, I've found that there's always something new to learn. The two main things are content and back-links, and those tend to be a matter of time spent and people contacted. If you have a chance, take a look at this site - it's the one that really gave me the help I needed when I first started the writing website:

http://www.stormthecastle.com/mainpages/for_webmasters.htm

In my next post, I'll have a bit more with resources on page rank and optimization. Definitely keep doing what you're doing - it looks good.

Ryan

Justin said...

Thanks for the input, Ryan!

You've pointed me in a lot of neat new directions. I'll be busy again for some time checking out this new stuff.

Wrote about you in today's post, even. :)

+links, natch.

-JW