Monday, July 15, 2013

Managing your online presence when your name is Bob Smith

When I was younger, I was none too impressed by having a surname like "Kendle" because people were constantly misspelling it. Usually Kendal or Kendall but if they actually half-listened to me spelling it out (as I always did) then I'd get Kendale.

And then the internet came along. Having a relatively unique name turned into a real blessing! If you google "Amanda Kendle" it is a long, long time before you come across any result that's referring to someone other than me. (There do seem to be a couple of Amanda Kendles in the United States - one who played basketball, the other a graphic designer - but their presence online is low. Phew.)

If your name is a little more common, then you might find that there's some competition in the Google search results. Take Perth author Natasha Lester, for example: there is, unfortunately for her, a p*rn star of the same name! These days it takes a good three pages of Google results to find this other Natasha Lester, but I do remember when I first met the author Natasha (I've never met the other one!) that the situation was more serious. Thankfully she's been smart enough to get lots of stuff all over the web (be it guest blog posts and interviews, reviews of her books, and so on) to push down the other results. Although it's not all good - even the name of her blog While the kids are sleeping has been causing trouble of late:

I had a laugh, and Natasha has a strong enough online presence that it's not really a drama, but it could be worse. What if your name is Bob Jones or Jane Smith? You will really struggle to create an online presence just based on your name that will enable people to find you if they're looking. Just look at the stats: if I google "Amanda Kendle" there are 84,000 results; if I google "Jane Smith" this leaps to 157,000,000.

So what are your options if you really are Jane Smith? Or even if there's just one other person out there with the same name as you who already has a substantial online presence?

What I advise my tricky-named clients is that there are really two options. The first one is (in all seriousness) to change their name - or at least change the name they use professionally. Whether that means using a middle name instead or perhaps using an initial from a middle name if that helps solve the problem (I'd say that's much more common in the States than here - but it could work) or if you feel up to it, actually inventing an entirely new one - a pseudonym of sorts. Or branding yourself entirely under a business name instead of your actual name, which will work for some industries but not others.

The other option is just to work really hard at associating your real name with the important key words which describe the business that you're in. For example, I have a client named Clare Harris, and as you'd guess, the general Google results for Clare Harris throw up a long list of different women named Clare Harris around the world. However, Clare is in the ESL industry and if you search for Clare Harris ESL then pretty much all the results are about her - and some of her important handles like Twitter and her Facebook page use ESL or ESL writer as part of her username. Sure, it's not quite as ideal as having a unique name that can't be confused with anyone else, but it's a close second, and just takes a judicious use of a keyword in your usernames and lots of uses of that keyword on your website and blog posts and you're all set.

And the one thing that kind of bugs me about names and the internet age? All those parents who've been giving their children really bizarre names, the ones who I admit to having scoffed at, well, they've got it right, because those kids won't have to compete with someone else for online space. I might have to retrospectively give my son a truly odd name, just for the sake of his Googlaability.

What kind of people do you find when you Google your name?


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