WSJ Startup Journal: How to stand out online

Some people are born with great names and others have great names thrust upon them. In the 1960s when I was given the name “Paul Allen” it was an ordinary name. But thanks to the dynamic duo of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the name is now famous.

But what do you do if you want to be found online, but you can’t possibly stand out like the rich and famous person with the same name? Or what do you do if you have a name like “John Smith” that is so common that it can’t possibly stand out?

The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs published an article today by Elva Ramirez that may give entrepreneurs a few ideas about how to stand out in the search engines and how to elevate your search engine rankings. One key is blogging. Another is giving yourself a unique online persona, like Phil Burns did.

I was interviewed for the article as was Phil Burns, aka Phil801, founder of TagJungle.com.

I mentioned in the interview that it’s hard to compete in search engine rankings with the Microsoft Paul Allen. He used to have the first fifty or so search results in Google. But since I’ve been blogging fairly consistently for more than three years, and have posted about 800-900 times, I’ve attracted hundreds of incoming links that have given my paulallen.net web site a decent ranking on the search phrase “paul allen.”

I’m still known as Paul Allen the Lesser, and will likely stay that way forever both in reputation and in Google rank, unless I outlive the Greater and do something so marvelous (like bring about world peace through blogging) that my web page someday outranks his Wikipedia article. Not likely, I know. I’ll settle for third or fifth and be happy as a clam.

But when you name your company, or purchase your domain name, or name your product or service, do something to make it unique and easy to find, or do something to attract so much attention that you get the search engine rankings that you need to be found.

It often takes a ton of quality content (either company published or user generated) to generate enough incoming links to get high rankings on various keywords. But I’ve seen in done over and over and over again by SEO savvy entrepeneurs and internet marketers.

It pays great dividends to generate content that is worth linking to, because search engine rankings can make the difference between success and failure of an online business. I tried to calculate the value of high search engine rankings in an article published in December 2004 by Connect Magazine last year.

In the mid 90s, it mattered a great deal that your company name started with an “A” or better yet a number like “10x” since so many directories were alphabetically sorted. As better sorting algorithms were developed, that became less important. (But even now, in Google Book Search, the book vendors are listed in alphabetically order, meaning that Abe Books and Alibris show up ahead of Amazon.com whenever you want to purchase a book.)

How do you think names will affect the 2008 Presidential Campaign?

I think Hilary or is it Hillary Clinton has a pretty big problem. People don’t know how to spell her name. About 1/4th or 1/3rd seem to spell it wrong according to a Google Trends Report on both spellings. Her first name has two l’s.

I think Rudy Giuliani has an even bigger problem. It’s hard to find someone online when you can’t spell their name correctly. It’s taken me several searches for me to become comfortable with the spelling of his last name. The first few times I got it wrong.

Barack Hussein Obama will have the problem of getting people to spell his first name correctly (I think I typed two “r”s initially), but worse still, the Hussein might bring up all kinds of search engine results that may turn people off. Good thing for him that his last name has a “b” in it rather than an “s.”

People may wonder if you spell Mitt Romney with one or two t’s, so I think John Edwards and John McCane have the edge here in “ease of use.” Just kidding, I know it’s McCain, but I wonder if everyone else knows that as well. So may Edwards actually has the advantage.

At least I thought he did, until I did a search on Google for “John Edwards” and after the first three hits came up I saw something I’ve never seen before, a line separating the first three results from the next set of results, followed by a message:

“See results for John Edward”

Then below that were a bunch of websites dealing with a musician named John Edward.

I have never before seen Google take a plural word query (Edwards) and offer search results for a singular version of the name (Edward) partway down the page.

Can someone tell me what’s going on here? Does someone at Google not like John Edwards?

(Just kidding, I totally believe what happens at Google is algorithmically based. But John Edwards just happens to be caught in a bad spot with regards to this particular algorithm. Instead of “hanging chads” determining the outcome of the 2008 Election, maybe it will be a tweaked google algorithm.)

I wonder how many of the campaigns will try to purchase domains or build sites that include the misspelled versions of their opponents names. Would that be a base tactic in politics?

I typed in familsearch.com the other day (accidentally missed the “y”) and I found that I got redirected to the Ancestry.com web site presumably because an affiliate bought that typo version of a popular domain name and took advantage of the typo. In internet marketing this happens all the time. Some companies own thousands of domains with misspellings and typos that can redirect traffic from their competitors’ sites.

So what do you do to stand out online? And why do you think it matters?

And what advice would you give the 2008 Presidential Campaigns as they try to stand out online? Who has an inherent advantage because of his/her name, and who has a disadvantage? Which tactics should they embrace, and which should they avoid, because they might backfire? Which candidate will write the blog with the best content (hopefully not ghost-written, but genuine) and attract the most incoming links in order to get more incoming traffic and higher search engine rankings.

For a lot of reasons, including the impact of names on a candidate’s ability to be found online, it will be an interesting race to watch.

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One Comment

  1. It gets even worse for John Edwards. The once-popular medium, John Edward hosted a syndicated daytime show where he claimed to contact the dead relatives of his audience members. I’m sure more than a few people have confused the two.

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