This article is for the John Smiths and Ashley Johnsons of the world. It’s for professionals who want and need to stand out online to reach their career goals, but find that their common name makes it difficult for others to find and engage them through digital channels.
My parents were thrilled to find out they were having their first (and only) son, and so they chose the name Brian, an Old Celtic name meaning high or noble, in turn building the foundation of my personal brand as Brian Hart. My folks chose a fine name, but they also chose a very common name. It’s a name I share with a young NHL player, a late racecar driver, a British reality star and, according to HowManyOfMe.com, 581 others in the U.S.
During college, when I began focusing on building my professional brand online, my common name became an obstacle. Luckily, through research and many rounds of trial and error, I discovered ways to build a robust and effective online presence, out ranking hundreds of people who share my name the process – and so can you.
Should I Use My Middle Initial?
The traditional solution to the common name challenge is using a middle name or initial. Consider a few of the notable figures who have successfully employed this strategy:
- Samuel L. Jackson
- Michael J. Fox
- Sarah Jessica Parker
- Stephen A. Smith
- Mary Tyler Moore
These celebrities have so effectively incorporated their middle names or initials into their brands, that it would sound strange to drop it when referring to them. Consistency is key with this strategy. If you are going to use your middle initial, you need to include it in every public profile you own, your email signature and anywhere else your professional contacts may encounter your name. Dropping and adding the initial will hurt your brand by creating inconsistency. If you’re going to use it, you have to be all in.
Middle names aren’t for everyone. If you’re already established in your field, adding it might be confusing to others. Also, some people are stuck with embarrassing middle names, as some parents like to insert old family names in there. For those people, it’s easy to understand why they wouldn’t want to use it. For me, I just personally don’t like using it, so I don’t.
How Can I Show Up in Google Searches?
If you want to show up in Google searches, you’ll need a personal website. FirstLast.com has the best chance of ranking highly when people search for your name. The problem for people with common names is that if they don’t already own it, someone else certainly already does. It might be another person with your name, or it could be a domain squatter waiting for someone willing to cough up big bucks (likely in the tens of thousands, but quite possibly more) for the domain. If you’re unable to acquire the domain, there are likely other effective domains that are available.
Here’s what to do. Using GoDaddy or another domain purchasing service, search for FirstLast.com. If it’s not available, they’ll show you other similar domains that are available. Google also likes .NET and .ORG, so snatch those up if either or both are available. Google is less favorable towards .INFO, .BIZ, etc.; so you’re better off purchasing a different .COM at that point. You can try a hyphen between the first and last name. You can also add a word or words to the beginning or end of your name; just keep it as short as possible. Try TheFirstLast.com or FirstLastOnline.com. Play around with different domains until you find one you like that’s available. Since I’m a PR strategist, I went with brianhartpr.com.
Once you own the domain, the next step is building the site. If you don’t mind spending some cash, hire a web developer with a strong background in search engine optimization. Make sure they are aware of your goal to crack into Google searches. If you’d prefer to go with an inexpensive solution, there are a number of platforms out there that can help you build a good-looking site for cheap. I went with branded.me and was able to build my site in one sitting.
Simply having the site won’t necessarily make it achieve your desired search ranking; you’ll need to drive strong backlinks, traffic and engagement in order to help it climb up Google’s ladder. I recommend consulting with an SEO strategist to craft plan that will help you tactically pursue your goal.
How Do I Stand Out on Social Media?
After being on LinkedIn for a year or so, I realized that people who wanted to find my profile through their search function would have a very difficult time doing so. My profile was buried somewhere on the eighth page of results for “Brian Hart.”
To tackle this problem, I employed keyword strategies, which are often thought of in the context of Google searches, and found that they had a potent impact on my LinkedIn search results. Focus on using your full name in as many different sections of your profile as possible. With that said, using it multiple times in the same section adds little value. It may sound weird or even slightly ostentatious, but you’ll likely need to write your profile in the third-person to pull this off. Look for nonobvious sections, too. For example, in the contact section, LinkedIn allows you to write in the title of your website if you choose “Other,” so choose “Other” for your personal website and type in your full name. Also, it’s worth purchasing a premium membership, even for only one month, just so that you can create a custom URL with your full name. You can use a similar strategy for Facebook, Google+ and other sites, too.
You can also increase your visibility by building a large, engaged network or following. While your personal website might not crack the first page of Google results, by building the most relevant social media presence among people who share your name, Google will be more likely to feature your social media pages in results than those who are less relevant on those channels.
What Else Can I Do?
Beyond a website and social media, there are many other platforms to feature your personal brand. Consider starting a blog, or consider contributing to an industry publication or relevant blog. Many outlets will give you your own authors page, which could very well show up in search results, like the one I have set up on millennial lifestyle expert Chelsea Krost’s blog.
If you wrote a book, make sure you set up and optimize your Amazon Author Central page. If you manage a company website, make sure your profile is keyword optimized and that your name shows up in the URL of the profile page. Train yourself to look for opportunities to establish a digital presence on high authority sites.
Also, make sure your profiles link to one another. This will drive cross traffic and provide a nice SEO boost.
Most importantly, be proud of your common name. In my case, I know there are at least 581 other Brian Harts in the U.S., many of whom have gone through the same branding struggles I have. It’s a special fraternity, one that eludes the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Honeysuckle Weeks. Your name is the truly the foundation of your personal brand, so embrace it, own it and love it.
Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, a national public relations agency supporting the communications needs of registered investment advisors (RIAs) and other forward-thinking financial services firms. Learn more at www.flackable.com or www.brianhartpr.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianHartPR.