How to Get Found Online When You Have a Common Name
When you’re looking for a job, you know recruiters are going to search for you online and see what comes up. And for this reason, you’ve probably heard again and again how important your online presence is. But, what if you, like me, suffer from having an exceptionally common name? Is there any way to overcome the scourge of having a name like John Smith or Kevin Chen?
Yes! Take it from a woman who shares a name with a U.S. Olympic ping-pong player. (Go Lily!) It is absolutely still possible to show up fairly high in online searches if you take certain steps. Here are a few ideas to start you off on your quest to take back at least some of that first page of Google search results.
1. Find Your Story or Expertise
The first step isn’t as tangible as the rest, but it’s probably the most important. You need to figure out what it is that you want to be known for. What is your area of expertise? What do you care about? What’s your story? While this alone won’t help your search results, it will definitely inform the your next steps and make everything easier. So, take the time to figure this out before you move on. If you need some help, check out this helpful guide on personal branding.
2. Be a LinkedIn All-Star
Your best bet for reclaiming page one of Google will likely be your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is one of the social media platforms that ranks most highly in search engines. To take full advantage of this, make sure you have a completed LinkedIn profile that maximizes LinkedIn’s features and reflects your personal brand. For example, create a customizable headline, join industry-specific groups, or attach work samples to your summary or experience sections. Fill this all out and your “Profile Strength” gauge will show that you’re an “All-Star.”
The key, of course, to any of this mattering is making it abundantly and immediately clear to your viewer that he or she has found the right person. That’s where your personal brand comes in. Make sure it shines through in both your headline and summary to ensure your story is easily found. For more tips on how to build a LinkedIn profile that gets results, read this.
3. Publish in Your Area of Expertise
Now, if your name is really, really common, LinkedIn alone won’t solve your problems. You can’t rely on people searching for your name—you’re going to have to get your name out there for people by publishing content. There are a few ways to do this. If you don’t have your own personal website to publish on, consider publishing on LinkedIn or Medium. To get even greater reach, find an online publication that focuses on your particular industry and try to write a guest post or become a contributing writer. Not sure what to write about? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Again, just make sure your posts are on-brand. Otherwise, it won’t help.
4. Create, But Also Curate
Nothing is going to beat creating your own content, but let’s not pretend it isn’t extremely time consuming and labor intensive. Curating content, on the other hand, is much more manageable. Social media accounts that show up in online searches are ones that are actively managed. This means posting relevant content—your own or not—to LinkedIn, Twitter, or other professional social media platforms and getting others to interact with and respond to your posts. This could mean anything from posting an article and then posing a question or simply asking to be retweeted. Just know that your goal is get engagement.
5. Pick Your Platform
We can agree that it’s not the most feasible idea to be a social media power user on every platform. Think about your personal brand, and then find out which platforms industry thought leaders are on to help you decide where you want to focus your efforts. A photographer, for instance, will probably favor a different platform than an engineer. Another component you’ll want to consider is how highly the platform ranks on search engines in general. We already talked about LinkedIn being king, but other social media platforms such as Facebook, Zerply, Twitter, and BrandYourself also frequently come up on page one of search results.
6. Be Consistent
There are many different ways to be consistent that will ultimately help you distinguish yourself. Decide whether or not using your middle initial or a keyword in all your usernames (e.g., @johnsmithhealthcare) makes sense for you. Attempt to use the same username (KnowEm can help with this) and photo across all platforms so people know they’re looking at the same person. And consider pointing your email signature, resume, and social media profiles back to your website or LinkedIn profile (so that no one has to go searching through those Google results in the first place). These are all clever ways to circumvent that fact that you have a popular name—and the trick that makes them all work is consistency. Make up your mind about a strategy, and don’t waver.
In the end, it may not be possible to own page one of your Google search results, but with a coherent brand and some savvy social media efforts, you can own page one of the results for your name plus your expertise. I’ll probably never dominate the first page of results for “Lily Zhang,” but I feel pretty good about what comes up for “Lily Zhang career advice.”
It won’t happen overnight, but keep these six steps in mind and gradually you’ll dig your way out of the backwaters of Google results—that is, assuming you don’t have a name like Britney Spears or Michael Jackson. If that’s the case, then at least no one will ever find any of your embarrassing high school LiveJournal and Xanga posts.
Photo of name listings courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author