You straighten your apartment before she comes over, right? Do the same with your virtual home, and she just might stick around.
Imagine you've met an amazing woman. You enthusiastically exchange info with her, but when you call a few days later, she doesn't pick up or call you back. What happened? She probably did what every modern woman does: She googled you. Thanks to debauched Flickr photos, a boneheaded blog remark, or racy posts on your Facebook wall, she's concluded that you're a cad.
Don't think women won't try to find the good, the bad, and the ugly about you online. A 2006 Pew Research Center survey found that more than half of adult Internet users employ search engines to check up on one another. "I think these numbers would be significantly higher today, especially with romantic relationships," says Harvard computer-science professor Harry Lewis, Ph.D., coauthor of Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion. Use these technological and psychological moves to look great online, and you'll have a much better chance of scoring offline.
Take out the trash
Your first step is to erase as much unsavory content as you can from sites around the Web that you may appear on -- crude blog entries from the past, embarrassing spring-break photos. If it's content owned by you or a friend, either pull it down or hide it from searches, says Lewis. It's actually pretty simple to do that, if you're reasonably Web savvy. Just create a file called "robots.txt" in your site's root directory, and then place the following two lines of code into it: "User-agent: *" and "Disallow: /". Most search engines will now skip right over your site.
If the junk sits on other people's sites, try to find their Web masters at whois.com and send each a polite e-mail request to remove the material, advises Internet privacy expert Kevin B. McDonald of IT security firm Alvaka Networks. It helps if there's a legal issue, such as copyright or slander. "In my nearly 15 years of experience, I've found that the odds of taking content back are a little less than 25 percent," says McDonald, who adds that men should sign up for Google and Yahoo alerts with their names as keywords. This will help track new garbage that may surface.
Secure your good name
The second step in your online image rehab is to control the pages women see when they search for you. If you aren't already using social or business networking sites, sign up for Facebook and LinkedIn. Both are popular and always appear high in search results, says McDonald. At the same time, visit rapleaf.com, a site that helps users track their online presence, to sort out where your name pops up (in accounts and registrations, for example). Then drop Friendster, which makes you look 45, and MySpace, which makes you look 13.
If you need to "de-emphasize" unsavory search results, sign up for additional accounts under your targeted search term (probably your name) at trusted sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and Blogger, says Wade Meredith, a search-engine marketing account manager at Kansas City's Voltage Creative. The more new stuff you post and the more quality links you have heading to and away from your sites, the higher up those pages will appear in searches. "This content will be hoovered up by the Google bots and should at least clean your first page or two of results," Meredith explains. As a final security measure, buy your name at godaddy.com for about $10 a year, if only to keep some fool from nabbing it and posting photos of his beer bong collection.
Sharpen your profile
Your buddies may not give a crap about Facebook, but she very likely will, so populate your page with strong, positive content. "Talk about things you're passionate about," suggests Emmi Sorokin, who runs It's a Man's World, a Boston image-consulting firm. "Talk about your friends, your family, and your favorite activities, to present yourself as someone who is generally happy and contributes to the people around him."
Any posted photos should support that message -- so fewer party shots and bungee cords, more friends, family, kids, and dogs. Note: If someone else attaches your name to a dicey photo, click "remove tag" under the shot, and it'll disappear from the "Photos of You" section of your page.
Facebook's default is to broadcast just about every minor change you make to your profile without your really being aware of it. Fix this on your main page by mousing over "Settings" in the upper-right corner. Click on "Privacy Settings," then click on "News Feed and Wall." From this page, you can uncheck boxes so your friends aren't notified about every hot new friend or flirty wall post.
Keep it together
Even if you take all these steps and the two of you reach couplehood, there's still the potential for problems. First, a blog that mentions both of you could raise her eyebrows. Not only is there the chance she'll misinterpret a remark, but it also creates a forum where others can comment on your relationship in ways that she may also misinterpret. So focus on fun things you do together -- weekend trips, restaurants you've tried -- without going into detail. Basically, "you can blog about your relationship if you write about how great your girl is," says psychologist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.
Second, old images may pop up, and attractive women you know will "friend" you. Head off suspicion with forthright honesty. "Make it clear that those goofy photos are part of your past -- that was then, this is now," says clinical psychiatrist Mark Goulston, M.D., author of The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship. When it comes to new friends, just explain how you know them. "That way she doesn't have to go through that nauseating 'Who are these people?' feeling," says relationship expert Debra Burrell, C.S.W. If she can't deal, well, try not to lose any sleep over it. "You want a woman who can accept who you are," says Tessina.
Or at least a meticulously scrubbed-up and filtered version of who you are.