Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series that tackles the basics of reputation management. In our Reputation Management 101 series, you’ll learn about basic (but important) concepts, tasks, and tips for reputation management. Each post will include actionable advice and realistic ideas that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation. Join us as we explore reputation management resources that everyone should know!
Do you own your domain? It was once thought that owning a personal domain name was only for celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and other high profile individuals. And while it is especially important for people with a large following to own their domain names, they’re not the only ones these days. In today’s age of reputation searches, personal branding, and extensive online presence, personal domain names are for everyone, not just for CEOs and gurus.
There are a number of reasons why you need to own your domain. We’ll share them all, plus explain how you can register your domain — and what to do with it once you’ve got it. Read on to learn why you can’t live without your own domain, and what you need to do to make it truly yours.
Why You Need to Own Your Domain
Not convinced you need your own domain? Take these points into consideration:
- Someday, someone else will: There’s a domain name gold rush these days. It’s been happening for years, and there’s no sign of slowing down now, either. If you don’t claim your domain name, chances are good that eventually, someone else will, if they haven’t done so already. That person could be a criminal, low level celebrity, business guru — anything. And if they control the domain name of your name, you can bet that they’ll have a strong influence on your online reputation, even though they’re not you.
- You can own your identity: Owning your domain name gives you a chance to own your identity. With yourname.com, anyone who searches for you online can easily find your website and find the real you. But if you rely on services like social media or blog platforms, you may not be as easy to find — and your findability will be subject to the whims of the service owner.
- It’s the easiest way to control search results: While a number of factors play in to how Google ranks search engine results, exact match domain names tend to do very well. That means a Google search for John Doe will probably have results from johndoe.com at the top, or at least prominently ranked. If you own the domain, you can control what appears in the top results that show up when someone searches for your name — and that’s as good as it gets for online reputation management and personal branding.
- You can influence image search results as well: Remember when we discussed how to remove a photo from Google Image search results? The easiest way to effectively “remove” a photo from Google is to bury it with good ones. When properly named and tagged, images you feature on your domain name should be prominent in Google Image search results — and potentially drown out any other images you’d prefer to not see associated with your name.
- It costs almost nothing: Domain names are notoriously cheap, provided you can snap up your name before anyone else does. GoDaddy, Namecheap, and other domain registration sites typically offer domains for less than $10 per year. Sometimes, you can even find sales for cheaper.
- Owning your domain name now is preventive medicine: While it’s best to actively use your domain, there’s nothing wrong with registering it simply so that you can reserve it and make sure that no one else can use it. While it’s rare that an individual or an organization might want to hijack your reputation by registering a domain with your name on it, it certainly is possible. And if someone else with your name decides to snatch it up before you do, you’re probably out of luck. Even if you have no time or desire to develop a domain name today, it’s best to go ahead and get it registered, if only for the ability to simply keep someone else from doing so.
- Your domain name commands professionalism and credibility: Let’s talk professionalism. Hand over your business card with [email protected], and it’s impressive. It tells others that you take yourself seriously, and that you understand the value of personal branding. Employers will be impressed if you let them know they can learn more about you and your work by visiting yourname.com. Having your own domain name allows you to differentiate yourself and have a more polished online presence — and offline, too.
- A personal domain name (and associated email) is easy to remember: Want to be easy to find? An email that’s basically your name is easy to remember, and a yourname.com domain is tough to forget, too. Having these tools makes it easy for people to remember how to get ahold of you when they have a need or referral you can take care of. Plus, every email you send out with your [email protected] email is a branding opportunity.
- Nothing is stronger than your own website: It’s great to use social media and other tools to establish a presence online, but nothing permeates quite like your own website. You may have an extensive presence on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but remember one important thing: the corporation behind that website or service owns your page, not you. Your page and content is at the mercy of the website, and the service can be discontinued or changed without your consent. It’s hard to imagine that Facebook might some day shut down, though it is possible. Only you can decide what happens on your website, and you can use it for whatever you want for as long as you want.
- You’ll have to pay more for it later: In these Gold Rush days, squatters realize that plenty of people want to own their domain name — or at least, they may decide they want to in a few years. Nothing is stopping a competitor or squatter from buying yourname.com and holding on to it until someone shows interest. At that point, they can ask you to pay whatever price they name — or even in extreme situations, use it against you.
- You can tell people to “just Google me”: There’s nothing quite like being able to tell someone to simply Google you. But if you own your domain name, you’re easy to find, and Google will likely point them in the right direction.
Registering Your Domain Name
Getting the right name for your domain is essential. It’s the name you’ll use online for years to come, and the domain that will project your identity online. Make sure you’re choosing the right one.
- Register yourname.com: Go with the gold standard in personal branding and select yourname.com if it is available. It’s easy to remember, doesn’t need to be explained, and can be used for anything you choose today, tomorrow, and ten years from now — unlike a catchy domain such as mikethesalesninja.com. Your domain should be memorable and timeless, and you if it’s available, you can’t get anything more memorable and timeless than your very own name.
- If your name is already taken: If yourname.com has already been claimed, that’s too bad. But you do have options. Consider using a different domain extension such as .net or .me, add a middle initial, or add your middle or maiden name. You can also shorten or lengthen your name by using initials for your first name, or just use a nickname. If you modify your name to register a domain, remember to use this modified name in your professional life, including on your resume, LinkedIn, and other places you might share with a potential employer, colleagues, and other professional contacts. You can also try keeping the .com, but just adding a hyphen. Of course, you can always try to contact the website owner directly to see if they’ll sell it to you, but don’t be surprised if they say no.
- Avoid anything that may change in the future: It’s tempting to register your domain with your job title, company, or favorite hobby, but let’s be honest: jobs and people change. You may have the same job or company 10 years from now that you have today, but you may not. Make your domain something that will never change.
- If you’re planning to get married or divorced: Is there a name change in your future? Consider just sticking with your first and middle names, or register for the name you have now, as well as the name you plan to have in the future.
- Register for multiple years: Buying your domain name now will start you on a path to purchasing domain name rewewals presumably for the rest of your life. Any once you’ve got it, you don’t want to lose it. Set up your registration for multiple years at a time so it will be easy to hold on to it, and be sure to enable auto renewing so that you can keep your domain name when it comes up for renewal. Purchasing multiple years at once may be cheaper in the long run as well.
What You Can Do With Your Own Domain
You’ve got a domain! Now what? See how you can put your domain to use to support and protect your online reputation.
- Do what you can: While some may have the inclination to post daily blogs or updates, others just can’t make that kind of commitment. Simply do what you’re comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with simply posting static pages that aren’t designed to be updated frequently and then walking away. Even just registering it, paying to renew every year, and letting it sit is better than not having your domain at all. Of course, the more you do with your domain, the more you’ll get out of it.
- Make your domain your online home: Use your domain name to put all of your content in one place. Link to social media, your blog, places where you contribute, where you work, and more. It should be easy for anyone visiting your website to quickly be able to find you elsewhere online. Plus, linking to these properties leaves a convenient trail for Google and other search engines to find links to websites and services that are genuinely associated with your name.
- Tell people about yourself: Anyone who Googles you and finds your personal domain name certainly wants to learn more about you. Give them what they want on your website. Write an About Me page, develop a biography, and use your website as a chance to tell the world who you are, what you do, and what you’re interested in.
- Use it as an online resume: Knock the socks off of potential employers by developing a website that shows off your professional life. Highlight your past work, share links to projects, your education history, and more. This is a great way to make your resume more interactive and really make a good impression with the work you’ve done.
- Showcase your talents in a portfolio: Have something special to show off? Link to your design work, upload photos you’ve taken, share writing pieces, and more on your website.
- Upload professional photos: Let others see your head shot, plus influence Google Image search results by adding professional photos to your website.
- Write a blog: There’s no better way to show off your professionalism and authority than by writing a blog. And there’s no better way to control your blog and make it truly professional than to host it on your own blog. You can use WordPress.org to self host your blog, or simply set up an easy to use WordPress.com blog and have WordPress point your blog to your domain. Write weekly, monthly, or even daily, and share your expertise to build trust and signal your reputation as a professional.
- Get a professional email address: You may be set in your ways with a third party Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account, but [email protected] really stands out. Consider moving your email activities over to your own domain for a address that lasts forever and is truly yours.
- Optimize your website for your name: Be sure that you have your full name in page titles and in content throughout the website. This will help ensure that Google and other search engines understand that they should prominently rank your website in search results for your name.
- Order business cards with your domain: Don’t depend on the company you work for to provide cards for you, as you may not work for them forever. Make the business cards you want for yourself, and be sure to add your personal domain name to them.
- Forward your domain: If you do nothing else with your domain, simply forward it to a web property that you want associated with your identity online. It can be your blog, a contributor account, or even your Twitter account. You can always change it later if you decide to build a website in the future.
- Don’t stop with a single domain: Buying yourname.com is a great idea, but consider buying alternative domains including .net/.org/.info and other extensions, as well as variations including yournamesucks.com and similar. This is especially important for executives, public figures, and businesses to consider. For example, Taylor Swift recently bought .porn domain names to block others from using them. So have Microsoft, Harvard University, and other organizations. Bank of America registered negative domain names for its CEO Brian Moynihan including BrianMoynihanBlows.com and BrianMoynihanSucks.com. Trackur offers a good guide to a number of the domain iterations you may want to have registered.