You are who Google says you are

By Mike Fratantoro

Image of Google browser.For most businesses, the company name on the door lacks a personal connection to the people running it. But when you are an orthodontist, your name literally is your business, which can mean that there is no distinction between personal and professional identity.

That relationship is especially important to understand in today’s digital age, where Internet search engines can shine a light on the best attributes of a person or business, or, possibly, the worst attributes. While orthodontists and other doctors have abundant opportunity to market themselves and their businesses online and connect with patients, there are always potential hazards to online activity. One of the most potentially hazardous behaviors can be the abuse of social media.

“Doctors need to understand that anything posted on the Internet is a public statement of some type. And some statements can be problematic. They can be interpreted by others in different ways,” said Michael Zammuto, president of Reputation Changer, an online reputation management firm.

Zammuto’s company manages the online assets of individuals and businesses by directing Internet search traffic to positive content and by creating additional online assets that redirect traffic away from negative media and reviews. He tells clients to always be mindful of what they put on the Internet because search engines will find it.

“You are who Google says you are. What comes up can define you personally and professionally,” said Zammuto, who added that doctors face particular challenges as individuals and as businesses because “They are largely considered to be both.”

While social media content can often be intended as personal, the reach of Internet search engines can lift that content from an orthodontist’s Twitter or Facebook page and put it on display for the world, keeping it accessible long after the original posting date. This is especially important given that Internet search engine use is on the rise. In fact, in 2010, the average Internet user in the United States performed 1,500 searches, while over 1.6 trillion Internet searches a year are conducted globally, according to a 2011 report by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.1

In addition, a 2011 article from technology writer Myles Anderson reported that 67% of local consumers had read online reviews of local businesses and 69% trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations.2 With more and more patients turning to the Internet as a reference for their consumer habits, including their medical decisions, orthodontists and other physicians linked with negative reviews or unsavory social media activity can lose business.

“You are at risk of letting other people tell your story,” said Zammuto. “Managing your online content is about controlling your message.”

Many examples of social media abuse are obvious: advocating or engaging in illegal behavior, posting lewd or inappropriate photos, using inflammatory language, espousing controversial points of view (or even endorsing them via Facebook “Like” or Twitter “retweets”). However, not all potentially harmful content is clear-cut. Zammuto described the experience of one unnamed physician, who posted vacation photos of himself to a social media site that his patients had access to. Although the photos were not lewd, some patients perceived the physician showing off his private boat to be “ostentatious,” Zammuto said. “He was surprised at the reaction. It caused him some embarrassment because the photos were inconsistent with the image he was trying to present, professionally.” As a result, Zammuto recommends that doctors scrutinize the personal interests they engage in and to make sure these activities are consistent with their business image.

“Social media is a type of publishing. Doctors need to be careful about what they post,” said Zammuto, who noted that this issue is not exclusive to the medical field and that, by taking the right precautions, physicians like orthodontists can protect themselves from unwanted damage to their personal and professional image. “The Internet affects everyone,” he said. “Doctors aren’t alone in this. But they can do something about it.” 

 Tips for Managing Your Online Image

“Google” yourself. It’s important to search for your name and your practice regularly on Internet search engines like Google in order to monitor what your patients and prospective patients are seeing. The first page of search results contains between 10 and 12 links, which are the most significant online assets for your business. “The first page of online search results should be treated as a professional asset and should be managed like one,” said Zammuto, who noted that while users are less likely to read past the first page of results, subsequent pages can most often have links to images that appear on your social media sites, which must be monitored as well.

In addition to using the search feature, you can set up Google “alerts” for your name and your practice that will notify you if and when new content has been found by Google’s search engines. Zammuto’s company,, also has a free service that will monitor and send alerts as new content appears.

Zammuto also recommends monitoring the “auto-suggest” results that appear in the search box as you type your name or your practice’s name. “The auto-suggest results tend to be overlooked, and they shouldn’t be,” Zammuto added. These automated suggestions can influence where users click, which will have a spillover effect that could push unwanted content into more prominent positions in your practice’s search results.

Create other online assets. Most orthodontists have a business website, but when it comes to search engines like Google, “It’s not enough to simply have one website for your practice,” said Zammuto. He recommends creating additional online content that will fill the first page of search engine results. “Creating other online assets is a way to tell your story in your own words,” he said.

Some specific steps include purchasing and registering websites for the individual doctor (eg and the practice (eg An additional step would be to register the websites under all three major domain name extensions: “.com”, “.org”, and “.net”, which would provide six potential results for search engines.

In addition, orthodontists should register both their name and practice on major social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but also sites like Pinterest, which Zammuto said is a fantastic way to connect with people through images. Creating short video content for sites like YouTube is also advised, because Google ranks YouTube content highly due to the fact that it owns the company, Zammuto said.

Another content option is to start a blog feature for your website, which can serve as both an original news feed for your practice and a place for you to collect and comment professionally on orthodontic news.

Set stricter privacy settings on social media. Social media sites all have varying levels of privacy settings, tools that can help limit what content is accessible by the public and by search engines. On sites like Facebook, Zammuto recommends enabling the privacy feature that allows you to approve any photos tags you are linked to, prior to their being published. For networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, be mindful of who you follow and who you are linked to—all public connections should be consistent with the professional image you’re trying to present.

Contract a professional company. In addition to the above steps, an option for some orthodontists could be hiring the services of an online reputation management firm, like Reputation Changer. According to Zammuto, the company can work on your behalf to track your personal or professional Internet search results, proactively or reactively create content that will affect search results and auto-suggest results, and ensure that traffic is steered toward positive content and away from negative content.

Of course, the simplest rule of thumb for orthodontists and other physicians is to be sensible when participating on social media. Maintain a steady flow of positive, professionally-focused Internet content and prevent potentially damaging content from appearing online. “Put yourself in your patient’s shoes. How would they react to [the content]?” recommended Zammuto. “If you wouldn’t want your patients to see it, don’t put it on the Internet.” OP

Mike Fratantoro is associate editor for Orthodontic Products. For more information, contact [email protected]


  1. Bughin J, et al. The impact of Internet technologies. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company; July 2011. Available at: Accessed March 21, 2013.
  2. Anderson M. Harnessing the power of online customer reviews for local business growth. Search Engine Land. (2011, September 26). Available at: Accessed March 21, 2013.