Personal branding isn’t just for celebrities. It applies to you, too!

Consider this: More than one-quarter of Americans now believe that they are more likely to make a first impression online than at a party or social engagement. That’s according to a survey by Domain.ME, the provider of the .ME domain extension, and Wakefield Research.​

Your brand is made up of your online and offline reputations, based on the words and actions you use. Despite that, 79 percent of Americans have not tried to manage information about themselves online, according to the survey.

You already have a reputation among the people know you. Ask trusted friends what words they would use to describe you. If your reputation is good, all you need to do is to reiterate and reinforce these words and concepts in your status updates, LinkedIn profile, resume and online conversations.

Don’t ignore your online reputation or dismiss social media altogether. In fact, 51 percent of hiring managers use search engines to research candidates, according to a CareerBuilder survey.​ Furthermore, 35 percent of employers said they were less likely to interview a candidate they couldn’t find online. ​

1. Google yourself. It isn’t hard. You use Google every day. Just search for your name by enclosing your first and last name inside quotes like this: “Your Name.” Most people will not venture past the information on the first page, so pay special attention to the results you find there.

Is the first page the best information about you? In other words, if someone were researching you professionally, is this what you would want them to find? “Carefully study the first five to ten pages of search results,” writes Susan P. Joyce, an online job search expert, on Job-Hunt.org. “Look for anything negative that an employer would see associated with your name (even if it is NOT about you).” Joyce calls this “defensive Googling.” It helps you identify and remove any digital dirt mentioned about you. ​

Only 22 percent – or about one out of five – of those surveyed report that the information that appears in an online search ​is exactly what they want people to know about them, according to the Domain.ME survey. Oftentimes, when people search for their names online, they find inaccurate or outdated information, share their name with someone else or discover embarrassing or reputation-damaging information about themselves. Of the survey respondents, 93 percent did not have an alert set up for their name. Don’t become the victim of negative digital dirt.

2. Create alerts. Google makes it easy to set up alerts. Go to google.com/alerts and type in your name inside quotes. That tells Google to search for those exact words. Once you set up your alert, you’ll receive an email whenever your name is mentioned online.

3. Buy your domain name. This is a really easy way to stand out because only 6 percent of Americans have purchased a domain address that includes their name, according to Domain.ME’s research. Having a website under your name improves where you rank in online search results and lets you control the content on your site. It typically costs less than $20 per year.

Visit a domain registry, such as Namecheap.com, Name.com or Hover.com, to see if your name is available. Years ago, “.com” was the only extension to use, but you have many more options today.

4. Push good content online. One of the best career-building strategies is to regularly push out good content either written by you or shared from the people you know. Sadly, only 8 percent have created online content to improve search results or reputation, according to Domain.ME.

The easy way to do this is to write blog posts and share professional work-related status updates on all of your social media channels. The real takeaway here is to be aware that anything you put online can be used against you.

5. Build a website. Once you own your domain, you want to put something there. Website building has become easier today. You can use one of many tools, such as WordPress, to set up a personal website. Create your own from scratch if you know how to do it. Consider your website a primary online resume and update it every six months or so. Include the link to your website in your email signature, within your LinkedIn profile and in any bio you create across social media. Having one spot you control is one of the best long-term strategies active careerists can maintain.

A standout statistic from the Domain.ME survey is that 93 percent of respondents hadn’t created online content, such as a personal website, to improve search results or their reputation. Begin today and you’ll be in the small minority of standout candidates.

Source: U.S. News & World Report