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Calling In Pros to Refine Your Google Image

Nino Kader founded International Reputation Management, a public-relations firm that helps improve clients' Google results by creating new links and burying negative ones.
Nino Kader founded International Reputation Management, a public-relations firm that helps improve clients' Google results by creating new links and burying negative ones. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

Like Scheff, she realized that the items that made her cringe came up high on the Google results page and stayed there, month after month. Her firm depended on her reputation. The lobbyist would speak only on condition of anonymity because she did not want the attacks to resume.

"There's no policing, no rules, no standards," she said. Bloggers are "cowboys," she said. "It's the wild, wild West."

Then one day she heard a talk by Nino Kader, founder of International Reputation Management (IRM) in Washington. His new company, he said, could reshape a person's online image.

She signed up.

IRM aims to get lots of information out there about clients, in various places, so that a search gives a more complete and nuanced profile of who they are. Kader started with a printout of the top 100 hits on a Google search and went through them one by one, asking whether individual results -- such as her campaign contributions -- were good, bad or neutral.

He asked what she wanted the world to know about her. Then he started digging for good things, like an op-ed piece she had written and television interviews she had given that he could post on YouTube. He pitched stories about her to various publications. And he created links from popular sites to those online stories to entice the search engine.

Now her firm's Web site is the first result and other good ones follow.

Still, a story she hates remains on the first page.

"I'm in the early stages," she said. "I've already seen progress."

Companies like IRM try to outthink Google. Search engines comb the Web with complex and ever-shifting algorithms, evaluating relevance and authority by looking at many factors: Is this a government Web site? How many people have linked to it? And so on.

The point is, said ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik, "Google's not in business to give you the truth, it's in business to give what you think is relevant."

The goal is to get Google and other search engines to seize on relevant sites that contain positive information on their clients and to downplay the rest.


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