Adapted from a presentation to the Bluffton Area Chamber of Commerce on February 14, 2014.

Egosurfing may sound like a joke, but it is a serious subject for you, your business, and your business community.

If you’re wondering, egosurfing is looking for yourself on the Web. As an editorial services provider, I’m very interested in what happens to the Web content I’ve slaved over, whether it’s about my own business or for a client. Almost everyone has a Web identity to monitor, whether it is self-made or made by others.

A few sample searches show opportunities and pitfalls on the Web. A search for my business community, the village of Bluffton, Ohio, reveals some important points about who decides what’s on the Web.

Bluffton, Ohio

The top five hits for a recent Google search for Bluffton returned 1) The Village of Bluffton website, 2) a Wiikipedia page, 3) and 4) Bluffton University pages and 5) a Bluffton Icon page. So that’s great. Most of the top results came from inside Bluffton.

However, the Wikipedia page, a very popular resource, does not. I wanted to know, is the Wikipedia page about Bluffton authored by someone with personal knowledge of our area or did someone compile the information from virtual sources? Members at a recent chamber of commerce meeting did not reveal any local input. The page reflects that Bluffton has a new Wendy’s, but a long-departed company still dominates the Economy section.

First images

If you look at the images for Bluffton, Ohio, do you get an accurate picture? In the first screenful, I found maps, a local barbershop singing group, the newly renovated Town Hall, an old university post card, the high school football field scoreboard, Grob Systems Inc. from the air, our Comfort Inn, the 2007 flood, an old train wreck, and a so-called Bluffton, Ohio page that doesn’t reveal who the author is.

The results reflected quite a bit of nostalgia and a fair amount of business activity. My research suggests that most of these images come from inside Bluffton. The rest come from information aggregators like CityData.com, visiting bloggers, and what looks like a domain hogger, an anonymous-looking site with a great name, BlufftonOH.com. They’re probably interested in selling that name, not providing valuable content.

Who do you want to reach?

I asked my fellow chamber members, who do you want to reach on the Web? The village is a stone’s throw from I-75 and is a great destination as well as a convenient stop along the way. Our downtown is just a mile from the interstate and the Web can connect us to so many of those people traveling past our door.

Egosurfing through Google, Mapquest, Facebook and other popular avenues shows full contact information, reviews, and great “snippets” of information about Bluffton. I recommend testing what viewers get when they look for you or your business.

Can they find you?

My husband has a very common name, Robert Scott. When you search for him, what do you find? The top hits are for the Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. To find Robert F. Scott, ONU professor, you have to add quite a few words to narrow your search. While Rob hasn’t put himself on the Web, others have. He’s on Ratemyprofessor.com, where he has chili pepper to indicate that he is “hot.” He is also on LinkedIn because Ohio Northern University has put him there and on the ONU website. Both his customer and his employer have put him on the Web.

Another search, one for Bluffton restaurants, reveals something about Web accuracy. Mapquest shows that there are many places to stop for a meal, but the first ten restaurants includes two defunct establishments. This is potentially confusing to new visitors, who might drive by a great opportunity in search of a dead end.

So how do you respond to these kinds of issues? Begin with the most heavily used websites. Then claim, correct, and update information. Don’t do it once. Egosurf on a periodic basis.

A group effort

I would also suggest that we don’t go it alone. Bluffton area businesses and individuals need to make a group effort. Fortunately, there are many great examples to follow. Cross promotion on our websites is a smart move. The J. Bankert Bookkeeping website features a link to the Bluffton Area Chamber of Commerce. Click on the logo and you open a window to the Explore Bluffton website, which is a gateway to member businesses and organizations. Links like this take advantage of the viewer’s interest in the larger community and put the business in a context.

Of course, social media allows us to work together. I love the visual appeal of Pinterest, where you can create virtual bulletin boards. Images called “pins” can be shared and “pinners” can be followed. Pinterest is especially popular with Midwest moms and in 2013 had more adult users than Twitter.

Facebook is too popular to be ignored. The Main Street business Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn Company recently had 2400 likes on Facebook. That’s about half the population of Bluffton. A Facebook page can act as a Web page and give customers a voice. But many of our local businesses have few or no reviews on Facebook. This is a missed opportunity.

Reviews can also be posted on Google; on sites like Indeed.com where employers are evaluated; on LinkedIn, in the form of endorsements; on restaurant site Urbanspoon; and on the multi-faceted site TripAdvisor. When we provide feedback about area businesses, people looking for information about Bluffton will find what they need.

Continuing the conversation

There are many ways to boost our visibility and shape our Web image. It’s a great chance to connect with the world and those who drive by our door. Do you have suggestions for Bluffton egosurfing? I look forward to continuing the conversation.