Thumbnail: Claim Your Space Online: The Power Of A Middle Name For Branding

Published on Forbes (Jason Barnard)

If you have a popular name, dominating search results for it can be challenging. And it can be equally frustrating for potential clients who can’t find you when they search your name.

The problem is that search engines like Google and Bing, and assistive engines like ChatGPT, Perplexity and Microsoft Copilot are struggling to distinguish you from others who share your name.

My name, Jason Barnard, doesn’t appear that common, but more than 300 Jason Barnards are active online, including a professional football player, an ice hockey player, a podcaster, the CEO of a publicly listed company, a professor, several digital marketers and a circus clown.

Expanding on my previous writing about creating your brand, I’ve found that incorporating your middle name or middle initial into your personal brand can transform your online identity, help you dominate search results and set you apart from others with your namesake.

The Problem With Ambiguous Names

Every online reference to your full name can refer to one of hundreds or even thousands of other people. Google (and other AI engines) can often guess from the search context you are looking for, but this is not guaranteed.

For example, if a social media profile talks about the circus, then it is obvious the searcher is looking for Jason Barnard, the circus clown. However, there may be no clear way to know which version it is when the profile talks about something more common, like digital marketing.

The Problem Of Ambiguity In Search

When someone searches for a name, a search engine like Google has no direct clues as to which of the people with that name the person is researching. Is the person looking for the podcaster, the ice hockey player or the marketer?

Google often hedges its bets and shows a mix of results for the one to three most notable or famous people. The most famous person will dominate, with more results higher up the page and a knowledge panel, which is the information box on the right-hand side of the search results.

ChatGPT and other assistive, conversational engines will use the same criteria as above and generally give a summary about the dominant person and suggestions for research on others that are relevant.

Dominating The Search Engine Results Page For Your Name Is Difficult

If you share your name with others (and you probably do), to dominate that page of search results or the answer from ChatGPT and other assistive engines, you must become (and remain) more famous than the others.

That is often not possible, and it is nearly impossible if you share your name with a truly famous person such as Robert Smith, Julia Roberts or Richard Branson.

The Solution Is A Personal Rebrand

Adding your middle initial to your personal branding is a great way to reduce your competition twenty-fold or more. It also reduces any ambiguity. The process is simple: Change all online references to yourself to include your middle initial or name.

When you do this, search engines like Google will understand you better, your audience will naturally start to refer to you using this extended name, and you will dominate the search results when people search for you.

Everyone Gets Used To It Quickly

Many people are reluctant to change their names. You probably are, too. I understand why. It instinctively feels like a huge transformation.

Experience tells me, though, that you, your audience and the various search engines will get used to the new name in a few months. When “Mark Preston” rebrands to “Mark A Preston,” three things usually happen.

1. The audience will embrace and start using his new name, and the number of people searching for Mark A Preston will increase.

2. He will dominate the search results for Mark A Preston with higher rankings than previous Mark Preston search results.

3. He even starts to feel strange when people refer to him only as Mark Preston.

To Stand Out, Everyone Will Need To Rebrand Sooner Or Later

From my company’s dataset of 14 million entries from Google’s Knowledge Graph, including those of 50,000 U.S.-based CEOs and founders, I estimate that the AI algorithms only understand around 12.77% of those leaders whose revenues are between $2 million and $20 million well enough to award a Knowledge Panel and compete for domination of a personal brand search results for a name (SERP).

Google only comprehends a handful of people who share your name, which is good news. For now, you are only competing with a tiny percentage of your namesakes. For example, of the 300-plus people named Jason Barnard, I have only four serious competitors: the CEO of a public company, the ice hockey player, the university professor and the clown.

But time is of the essence when getting in front of your namesakes. According to the same data from my company and confirmed by others, the number of people Google understands grew almost fourfold between March 2022 and March 2024. In a few years, you’ll likely be competing with tens, hundreds or even thousands of other people who share your name.

Unless you’re a super famous person, we will all have to rebrand if we want to dominate the search results. Unlike major celebrities like Robert Smith, Julia Roberts and Richard Branson, who don’t need to worry as much about their personal brand (brand SERP), most of us don’t have that luxury.

I believe that a rebrand with a middle name or initial can give you control of your name’s search results and help accelerate your personal brand’s growth so you land more clients and control how you’re presented online. I encourage you to do it now, while it is still a simple process.

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