It dawned on me after connecting a new domain and email account to MailChimp and having my first test email come back with a "we're not sure who sent this email" error message that identity is the new currency in the digital world.
This isn't a hard sell, I'm sure. Look in your junk mail folder. We are inundated with spoofing attacks, phishing attempts, spam, and more, some of it misguided and most of it nefarious. Being sure that the person emailing you--or calling you, for that matter--is who they say they are is no longer something we can take for granted.
In the 2019 Culture & Technology Intersection study conducted by my company, we saw continued concern for digital privacy, digital security, and verifying digital authenticity. When we asked about deep fakes, for example, 80 percent of the 1,500 interviewees agreed that knowing the real from the fake would be impossible in the near future. When it comes to email, a full 66 percent of respondents say if they don't already know the person or the company, the email is deleted without a look, and only 12 percent say they open them. Throw in the general level of distrust over spoofing and you can quickly see why email open rates are so low.
So how can you take more control so you and your company are seen as "real" in the eyes of the world? One emergent trend is claiming your digital entity on Google via its "knowledge panel."
What is a knowledge panel? Quick, go Google the name of your company. You see the box that pops up on the right side of the screen with all the relevant information and maybe a photo? That's a knowledge panel. You may have one already populated. If you do, you need to claim it so you can further influence it.
Think of your company's knowledge panel as Google's version of LinkedIn, just written by the universe, with all the online history relevant to your business as seen through Google's eyes and algorithms. If someone Googles your name or company name, they will see this new digital entity prominently displayed on the first page, not just a random assortment of people with names like yours. When you need more visibility, this can be a big boost.
"We're working with several professional women looking for board seats," Andreas Mueller, chief strategist of Santa Cruz, California-based SEO agency Bloofusion, told me in a recent conversation. "It's hard to get a paid board seat, and for many women, it's particularly difficult because the selection committee is often a bunch of white-haired men who will start with a Google search. So, getting this right can have a massive positive impact."
What Do You Need to Do?
First, Google your name, or your business's name, and go through the process of claiming your digital entity. Don't see the box pop up on the right side of the page? That means you need to get to work sending the right signals to Google that you're an entity. Make sure you've got your own website and that you're posting relevant content often on your site and other reputable sites. You also want to stay active on social networks. Are you cross-posting to other sites? Make sure you're tagging these with canonical URLs or Google will penalize you for duplicate content. Are you using YouTube (which is owned by Google, not for nothing) to embed videos in your posts? Do you have a YouTube channel?
Next, once you're verified (this took a few days for me), suggest what changes are available to you to make, like photos or additional social profiles. Hit the "feedback" link on the lower right-hand side of your panel and suggest new social networks and other content, where possible.
Lastly, keep sending the signals Google wants to help bulk up your knowledge panels. When you search for your name on Wikipedia.org, do you come up? If you do, can you find a way to get a bio page written (you can't do this yourself--so think about how to do this). Can you cross-post on Medium? (Note the canonical tag mention above!) Can you write more on your own website and post frequently on social networks, particularly on LinkedIn? Those are all good signals to send.
Think of your knowledge panel as a peek behind the Google curtain: a way the internet describes you, separate from your own words or biases and based on the search results Google sees as most important about you or your company. Against a backdrop of increasing digital fakery, the ability to prove who you are and highlight what you've done sets you--and your company--apart from everyone else.