By Marc Woodland on October 10, 2014

Pruning your SERPS: What does Google say about you?

We’ve all Googled ourselves at one point or another (don’t lie, of course you have). Whether it’s to find like-named people, simple vanity or to to discover what we look like online from the outside the temptation to ‘find ourselves’ is a natural impulse. Perhaps you discovered that you have the same name as a past celebrity, maybe a known academic. Or you could discover what I did: that no one online appears to have the same name as me.

This was quite a disappointment to me as a kid but over the years I’ve been able to hone my search engine results page (SERP) to portray exactly what I want. If you haven’t Googled yourself lately then I strongly recommend you do, and have a look at my top tips for getting the SERPS that you want attached to your name.

Step One: Non-Personalised Results

Back in 2009 Google began personalising results on their search engines. This means that Google tracks your behaviours online and is more likely to recommend websites that you’ve visited before. So if you’re website is ranking first for your name then this might be because Google knows you’ve been on it a great deal. There are many ways to really see what other people are seeing, including browsing the net via an incognito window in Chrome. This doesn’t create cookies when you’re browsing and also shouldn’t reference previous pages visited, nullifying custom results.

Moz also has a number of recommendations regarding switching off these personalisation features and compares how effective they are. If you’re looking to delete your browser history and work with a clean slate then you can delete your Google browsing history and request no further data collection. This action cannot be undone but can be desirable for those who want to dismiss customised results altogether. Let’s take a brief look at how you do it:

Within your Google account (accessible in the top right hand of the Google homepage) click on your “Account History”.

Within the “Things You Search For” option select Pause”. This will ensure that your web searching activity will not be tracked in the future to customise your results.


Account info


To remove the suggestions that have already been created, go into “Manage History” and select the cog for “Remove Items”. When you get the time limit option, choose “The beginning of time” to delete all search data Google has collected on you.

Account info 2





Step Two: Testing Keywords

Even if you’re name is Jane Doe or John Smith, there’s likely to be a combination of keyphrases that will bring up SERPS featuring you. Test your name + home city + business + anything else that you might be searched for regarding (i.e. are you a tech expert? Blogger?). Do the same thing with Google image search and you may be shocked at what people can easily find.

Step Three: Pruning Out Undesirable Websites

We’ve all created accounts on websites that we never really used, you might have even used a username rather than your actual name, but if you did list your name on your profile then it’s possible that it’s going to appear on SERPS for your name.

The most common unwanted level of internet intimacy is not having full control over your Facebook account. Facebook has a lot of answer for when it comes to embarrassing photographs and stories pasted all over the net but there are plenty of articles that explain how to protect your privacy. Twitter is also very likely to be bumped to the top of SERPS if you mention your real name on your profile.


Who exactly are you online? By honing you SERPS, you can be who you want to be (Picture Credit: LazyIRO via deviantart)

For old accounts that you don’t use it’s probably best if you delete them. This may require a long trail of chasing down old email accounts and sending numerous “forgotten password” requests but is a simple way to get rid of that annoying Livejournal account you had when you were 14.

Sometimes you’ll have web sites external that rank high for your name in a way that you don’t want. Whatever the reason is, your first step is to get in touch with the website owner and request that the information relating to you is taken down. If you don’t succeed in this then in some cases you may be able to utilise “right to be forgotten”. In some cases, where it is not in the public interest,  you may have a legal right to contact Google and request for pages to be removed from search engine results. This is not to be done lightly and must be viewed as the final port of call when trying to remove websites that could damage your reputation unnecessarily.

Step Four: Promote What You Want People to Find

There are some simple ways to promote desirable images and websites, such as your portfolio or headshots. Google already offers you the tools to get your content to rank for your name, in fact, you’re in the best position to succeed.

A domain featuring your name is always likely to rank well. Alternatively, opt for your name in the URL of a page describing yourself rather than “about”.

Put your name in a header, title or within the text of a page you want to rank well. Preferably all three.

If you have images you particularly want to rank high for your name (i.e. headshots) then you’ll want to title them relevantly. You can also use the alt tag in HTML to reinforce the relevance of the image by reusing your name or something similar.


Promote your personal sites and websites through social media channels so Google can detect it’s relevance. Same with blogs and articles that you write for other sites that you want to get attention.

By no means is this a perfect plan for your search results to be tailored exactly as you want. There are many elements that can bump results to the top without it making much sense as to why. My name in image search has started ranking images of strangers near the top, which links to a social media site I am not connected to. There’s nothing I can do about this except aim to replace those images with more relevant ones through blogging and naming specific pictures in a certain way.

Creating a SERPS profile that you’re happy with can take a log of work and will need to be in mind for much of your future consideration. Pinterest pins can very easily end up at the top of image results, which is only a problem if you’re sharing things you don’t want potential clients/ employers to see. The only advice I can offer is to check your keywords regularly and keep as clean a profile as you can manage. After putting in the good work, you’ll soon see some changes.


Published by Marc Woodland October 10, 2014