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Reclaim Your Good Name on the Web

Searches can churn up hits that make you blush -- or cost you a job.

A careless comment in your blog (or in someone else's). An embarrassing incident recounted in your local newspaper. A racy photo on MySpace. Any of these can sully your virtual reputation.

A recent survey by ExecuNet, a networking organization for business leaders, found that 83% of executives and corporate recruiters research job candidates online, and 43% have eliminated a candidate based on search results. Even if you're not in the market for a new job, it's a good idea to take the opportunity to clean skeletons out of your digital closet.

Do it yourself. First, search for yourself on Google to pinpoint any negative hits you'd like to remove. You may not be able to destroy them, but you can at least bump them down the list. Check other search engines.

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Your goal is to highlight positives about yourself. Set up accounts at networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Linked-In, or create a blog in which you write about something uplifting -- say, your exotic-bird-watching hobby. On each site you create, include links to the others. That will push them higher on Google's results list. "To Google, links are like votes," says Ben Padnos, of Done SEO, which helps clients optimize for search engines. "It's a popularity contest."

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Still stuck in the virtual muck? To dig yourself out, you may have to get a pro to create new Web pages that accentuate your positives. Figure that it will cost at least $1,000 to bump all the negative hits off your first three search-results pages. But prices vary according to the number of hits and how difficult they are to move, so shop aggressively. Start your search at DefendMyName.com and Internet-Reputation-Management.com.

Keep tabs on your reputation by setting up a Google alert for your name. You'll receive an e-mail with a link whenever your name pops up on a new page.

For a more powerful search, Reputation Defender offers a $10-per-month service that captures pages on sites that don't get picked up by Google, such as Facebook and tiny, low-traffic sites. Founder Michael Fertik says the service is a hit. "People consider it their new credit report."

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