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How do I get my name to the top of Google’s search results? Jack Schofield

Guardian Technology 20 Feb 2020 08:00
Topping Google’s rankings so that people find stories about you rather than a notorious namesake is possible, but might be a lot of work. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I’m a researcher at a major university. Unfortunately, I happen to share my name and middle initial with an unrelated drug dealer who has been in and out of prison. My name is sufficiently rare that I’m worried that confusion might arise, because a cursory Google search tends to give prominence to negative news stories that feature him.

The standard advice online seems to be to open as many social media accounts as possible. I also have my own domain, but none of these has displaced the negative news stories in the search rankings. What should I do? Name withheld

How to get the top spot in Google’s search engine results has been a hot topic for years. It’s still vitally important to all types of business, to consultants and other professionals, bands and musicians, authors and journalists, politicians and many others. For those who can justify the fees, personal branding and “reputation management” companies do it for a living.

It helps to have a distinctive name, so you are off to a good start. People with common names can use various techniques to distinguish themselves. These include varying their first name (Edward, Ed, Eddy, Eddie, Ted, Teddy, Ned, Neddy etc), adding or dropping a middle initial, or expanding and hyphenating their surnames. Some people have become known by their initials, including the American poet EE Cummings and the English author JRR Tolkien. Entertainers can invent stage names, which can be mononymous. Examples include Cher and Sting.

Google’s results are influenced by domain names so buying appropriate names is a good branding investment. Obviously, .com is the most powerful TLD (top-level domain), but most common names were snapped up ages ago. Alternatives include .co.uk, .org, .net, and .info.

Prof Brian Cox did not become a household name by publishing academic papers. You do not have to aim for that level of name recognition, but there are lots of things you can do to make your name more widely known. You are, after all, a recognised expert, and your field is more important to more people than particle physics.

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