Your Starbucks Name Versus Your SEO Name

My name is great for SEO purposes: if you type my name into any of the major search engines, everything that comes up on the first page of results refers only to me. I thoroughly dominate the first several pages of results, too.

It’s unusual, though. I spend quite a bit of time searching for specific people (not in a creepy way, I promise) and there are fewer unique names than you’d expect. Even those people who have fairly unique names often get caught up in strange search results. There used to be a lot of results for my name that involved things like book clubs reading something by Bram Stoker next Thursday.

But while we’re all looking for unique names that can ensure that we’ll get found online, going with something too unique doesn’t work in many offline situations. I have plenty of friends who have what we call ‘Starbucks names’: rather than giving a name that the typical kid behind the Starbucks counter can’t handle, they give something very simple. ‘Vasily’ becomes ‘Bob,’ at least long enough to get his coffee. Starbucks names are usually consistent, since you need to remember what name you’re listening for to make sure you get your drink.

The Identity of the Moment

The concept that we each only have one identity is new. Of course, it’s not out of the question to have different nick names at home and at work. But it can go further. In many cultures, there are situations in which a person will take on a new name. Even if you’re based in a Western culture and managed to never encounter diversity, you’ve almost certainly seen a woman take a new last name when she married. In my family, marriage has even occasionally necessitated a change in first names: women who marry in and share a first name with another family member wind up with a nickname almost immediately.

But computers don’t particularly do well with the concept that someone who is named “Michael” today might be named “Mike” tomorrow — let alone that he might suddenly be named “Henry” next week. Computers like immutable, unique indentifiers. That’s one of the reasons that social media has forced many of us into using unique handles that may not make perfect sense. We often wind up defaulting to the same user name across multiple sites, making ourselves easier to use. A Starbucks name doesn’t work with computers.

It is no small matter to change over all your online accounts to a new name, but there are people who do exactly that. There are even those who do so on a fairly regular basis. If your goal is to be known online, however, the process of building a following is more difficult if you’re constantly changing your actual name or your business name. And if you finally get that break, you may very well wind up answering to a name that is far different than what is on your legal paperwork. Consider Penelope Trunk, who started out life as Adrienne Roston and has gone through several names in between.

I Don’t Know Real Names

If you’ve been active in social media or online businesses for a while, you may have noticed a certain phenomenon. When you’re talking shop, and someone mentions a name, you need a little more context: “Do you know John Doe? @doe?” You get a Twitter handle or a domain name. And that works: those online identifiers are a part of our larger identities.

I’ve actually ran into problems because I interact with some people much more online than off. I don’t always know everyone’s real name. I’ve been known to make introductions with folks’ Twitter handles, rather than their name. I don’t feel too bad about doing so, though, since I’ve had the same done to me.

The only reason I care about ‘real’ identities these days is when I’m doing business. I don’t necessarily need a person’s name, as long as I’ve got her LLC down on the paperwork. But I do need some real, legal identity to make a contract and take care of my business. Beyond that, I’ll call you whatever you ask me to.

The Right to Your Identity

The internet hasn’t quite caught up to the realities of identity. We need better tools for handling the question of identity, especially when there are reasons to keep parts of an identity away from each other.

Currently, there are plenty of people who maintain separate email accounts, separate Facebook accounts and other divisions in their identity, often for nothing more than to protect their privacy. Most of the terms of service for such sites require you to only have one account, by the way. If you have 5,000 ‘friends’ on social media, it’s not unreasonable to have a more private space to connect with the people who you really know. Taking it a step further, there are plenty of people online who I would rather not know certain details of my identity — like my home address.

And that’s assuming the best: there have been plenty of stories about online sites accidentally exposing information about women to their abusive exes, because a site wanted to make sure it was dealing with real people. A failure to protect an individual’s identity can have long-term ramifications.

But protection is not necessarily enough. We should have a right to be who we are: many websites have difficulties dealing with the most basic elements of names, like if there is a space or a hyphen in someone’s last name. It’s rude to ask millions of people to change how they represent themselves because a busy programmer hasn’t handled things correctly. In addition, those details create inconsistent identities across the web, making SEO that much harder.

Handling Identity in a Practical Manner

Many of us already hold unique identifiers on the web: they’re called domain names. I spend a huge chunk of my time convincing friends and family members that they need their own domains, even if those URLs just redirect to a social media account.

But domain names make identity easier: if you’re dealing with two Jane Smiths and each has her own domain name, the computer can use that as a unique identifier and let each person use whatever name she wants. If a person needs to use different names in different spots, but wants a place to tell everyone all those elements of her identity, a website on her own domain name makes that pretty easy. If, however, she wants to keep all those elements of her identity separate, setting up separate domain names isn’t an impossible task. It’s a bit of a pie-in-the-sky approach currently, but it’s a good idea to go ahead and nail down a domain name now.

Image by Flickr user Erik Charlton

Day 21: Improve Your SEO

People are looking for you online, both by name and as they generally search for freelance writers. It’s important to make yourself easy to find online, which means making sure you show up in the search results on Google and on other search engines. The ways of doing just that are known as ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO).

There are some debates on just what SEO techniques really work, especially because search engines don’t share how they rank search results. However, some approaches have been shown to work particularly well.

Link Building

One of the best ways to rank in a search engine, especially in Google, is to have as many links to your site from other sites as possible, preferably with anchor text (the text of the link) set as your name or any term you want to rank for, like ‘Maryland freelance writer’ or ‘real estate writer.’ You may not have a lot of control over what other sites link to you, but a couple of the marketing steps we’ve already discussed can give you a head start.

If you’ve got a blog, you’re actually well ahead of the game. Even some fairly basic promotions for your blog, like sharing posts with your friends on different social networks or submitting your links to blog carnivals can help you quickly build up some great links. As long as you’ve got interesting posts, people have an incentive to pass them along and link to them from other sites. Oth methods of promoting your blog can also help improve your search rankings. By writing guest posts or posting to other sites and including a link or two back to your own site, you create relevant links back to your own site.

Any resources you pass along can also help build links for you. Even if only a few sites link to your resource, they’ll improve your search results, especially since they’ll probably link using anchor text that describes your resource and the niche it is meant for.

A presence on social networks can also give you a couple of automatic boosts to your links. Because Google and other search engines know how big sites like LinkedIn or Facebook are, they’ll rank your profiles on those sites high in the search results for your name.


If you look at the information a lot of SEO experts provide, they encourage you to have high keyword density of your website — that is, you should use keywords that relate to your niche as much as possible. While this used to be true, most search engines do not seem to take keywords into account nearly as much as they used to. You should still make a point of using keywords, but only to the point that you would normally use them in writing about just what it is you do.

  • Write about what you do, and why it works. Try to use language that a potential client would use while searching for you.
  • Write about the projects you’ve completed and post testimonials. From an SEO point of view, the absolute best testimonials will clearly state what you did.
  • Actually mention your name once or twice on your site. You’d be surprised how few people do that.

Don’t stress keywords. Write for your potential clients and you’ll probably hit an ideal level of keywords without even trying.

What sites link to you? What text do they use in the links?

Just joining us? Check out where we started with Setting Your Goals!