Five Tips for Athletes and Brands to Improve Their Online Profiles

Gabby Douglas is the American gymnast that won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Many social media tracking companies are covering the explosion of followers to Gabby's social accounts. The problem is we need to be able to find the official accounts before we can follow her.

Fans searching for Gabby Douglas on Facebook will find different profiles, community pages, even a "Support for Gabby Douglas' Hair" group. Searching for Gabrielle Douglas returns similar pages but the top one has a significant number of followers compared to the rest which makes us assume that is the "real" profile page for Gabby.

As we reach the page, we see that the URL is and the reason is simple, is Gabie Douglas, a different Facebook user, not the athlete.

Searching for Gabby Douglas on Twitter will give you a bunch of results, but Twitter has added a "verified" icon next to the "real" account for @GabrielleDoug. Again, she is not @GabbyDouglas as that is a different user.

If we switch over to Google+ to find an official Gabby Douglas profile, well, we were not able to find one. The good news is that Google announced after the Olympics that they are working on vanity URLs that are easy to remember. Hopefully Gabby can have or GabrielleDouglas.

But what do you do if you have a popular name and find yourself competing with a different person that also wants to protect their online brand? That is the problem my college friend and Sports Illustrated photographer David Bergman has. On Facebook he has and one of his Web sites is

When Facebook released their vanity URLs, Bergman -- the photographer -- was a few seconds late vs. David Bergman, a California real estate broker that was able to claim the Facebook URL and also has the domain

Here are five tips that athletes, brands and you should follow to improve your online profiles and dominate the search engine results page.

1) Claim your name if it is available

It looks like Gabby's family or agent were able to register
back in March of 2010 but the site needs some work and love! has a "site currently unavailable" message but was registered five months ago, on March 2012.

To avoid getting a second party to intercept traffic that should come to you, register nick names and typos, but have one central domain that you want the search engines to see as the official site and add to the other domains what we call in search engine optimization a "permanent redirect" taking users to the main domain. One of my former clients incorporated this strategy during the London 2012 Olympic Games with their site (two As) that redirects to their main site (one A).

2) Send signals that the search engines can find

If is the official Web site for Gabby, the site should link to her different social channels and her social channels should link back to the site. This way the search engines can validate that this is the real site and not a fan site since a fan site would be able to link to her official social channels but the official channels would not link back to the fan site.

A key account to have is a Google+ Profile. Answer all of the questions under the "about" tab and double check that you enter the proper URLs under the "other profiles" section like your Facebook and Twitter page, the "contributor to" section if you add content to other sites, and they have a bio page that links back to you and the "links" section where you should have your home page.

Make sure that you select that the links are "public" and that under "profile discovery" you have that your profile is visible in search.

Once you edit the pages that you control, reach out to authority sites and get them to link to your Google+ profile and your home page. An authority site for Gabby would be She has a page under their site but it only links to her Facebook page, not her official site. Gabby also has an authority page under the national governing body of the sports of gymnastics and they link to her Twitter and Facebook accounts, but not to her official web site.

If you are a business owner, ask your local chamber of commerce, the city, the local newspaper and industry associations to link to you.

3) Use the proper markup language

You might need the help of someone who is comfortable with HTML and making changes to your site for this step, but it is invaluable! There are many people with the same first and last name. You need to add the proper markup language to your web site and link back to your Google+ profile with code Google will give you in order to confirm that you are the person users are searching for. Some of our
guide you on how to keep up with the evolution of search engines, and to use
tags to add the right properties to your content. For example, Gabby has a birthday, a nationality, parents, siblings, awards, and performances that are different to other Gabby Douglas's out there who might also want a good online profile. All of these items need the right properties and signals for the search engines to find.

The Google Webmaster Tools page has a testing form where you enter your URL and Google will tell you if the engine can see the proper markup language. In Gabby's case, Google can't see it the authorship or rich snippet markup.

For additional information on how to help Google understand who you are, visit the "authorship information" page with the two options to link your content to your Google+ profile.

4) Negotiate!

We talked about claiming and protecting your domain, sending the right signals and adding the proper tags to your site. But what if someone already has the name you want? In some cases, a person could have registered a domain and they no longer want it. Reach out to them and see if you can get it. There is an entire industry that buys domains for the purpose of reselling them. But sometimes it happens by accident. Back in 2004, Kerry Edwards said on CNN that he was offered $150,000 for his
domain but the John Kerry campaign for President of the United States did not buy the domain and kept their content under
. This week we found out that
was purchased back in February of 2010 and the owner would like to sell it for $10,000.
Many of us do not have the budget to go after the perfect domain, but if there is a trademark issue, you might be able to get it if:
  • You can prove that the domain is confusing or similar to a trademark you have the right to,
  • And you can prove that the other person does not have the rights or legitimate interest in that domain,
  • And you have to prove that is has been used in bad faith.
Mr. Edwards has the right to the domain since his name is Kerry Edwards. The person who registered did it before we knew that Rep. Paul Ryan would be Mitt Romney's VP pick, but did he do it in good or bad faith?

What about when Google goes after According to ICANN, the organization that resolves these issues, Google did not prove that they should get You can see the July 2012 decision here. But don't feel bad for the search giant. They usually win, like they did with back in July of 2011.

Next Steps:

After you register the perfect domain, or buy it from a 3rd party, or get ICANN to let you have the one you really want, you should
use the same easy to remember name for your other social accounts and vanity URLs
. Twitter accounts can have up to 15 characters and it is probably the reason why Gabby went with @GabrielleDoug (13 characters) instead of @GabrielleDouglas (16 characters).

Stay away from underscores and numbers for your Twitter handle. I found a lot of athletes with accounts that are hard to type on mobile devices and hard to remember. Be consistent throughout your social channels including using the same profile photo if possible.

If the Twitter handle you want was registered by a different person but not in use, or if there is a trademark violation, you can work with Twitter to get the account back. About four years ago I was able to get back 24 different product names and trademarks for my client Adobe Systems, who at the time did not have control of some account like @Adobe or @Photoshop. It took several months of paperwork but at the end, Adobe was able to reclaim the accounts. On the other hand, when BP wanted to use @BP, they were not able to get it since there was no violation by the current user, a person with the initial B and P. The @BP user had a difficult time with his account since many people were sending him messages thinking he was associated with the company. BP also had the problem that a parody account was created and since more users were following the parody account and linking to it, for a while, the parody account was ranking higher than the real account BP has for their USA audience @BP_America. The lesson: protect your accounts now!

If you need to report a trademark violation or want to get a dormant Twitter account, visit the Twitter help Center page but remember that Twitter will not stop a parody account as long as the user can understand that it is a parody.

5) Don't Panic!

As athletes gets ready for
Olympics, there are a few things their family and agents can do to help them with their online profiles, even if they were not able to claim their given name as a domain name.

But you do not have to be an athlete to follow these recommendations!

In my case, I would love to have, and as a geek who was playing with the Netscape Navigator 1.1 browser when it was release in 1995, I should have registered a bunch of domains back then, but I didn't and was created in 1994 by a different person.

You should always try to get a .com domain if your audience is in the United States but there are two letter country codes that are becoming popular like .CO from Colombia. has and has

One feature that .CO has that other two letter country codes do not have is that Google will let you tell the engine that has a target audience in the United States and not Colombia. But you can't do the same with other two letter country code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

A site I like to use to find available ccTLDs is Network Solutions where I can see the top domain extensions first, but then I can click the "view all extensions" and see a grid with all of the variations of the domains I want, and if they are available or not.

Let's say that Gabby wanted According to Network Solution, it is not available and other variations like .net and .co are also gone. If we view all extensions, we see that is available for $1,268,,, and a few other extensions are available. Personally, I like the ccTLD for India, .IN. I have several domains under .IN that I will develop later, but someone like Gabby could use the domain as and but many search experts like to stay away from ccTLDs and I agree that a .com should be the first choice.

So back to our Network Solutions tool. How about It looks like someone in Illinois registered the domain this week. If Gabby can get this short and easy to remember domain, she can then create vanity URLs under the same short GabbyUSA "brand" and the Twitter handle @GabbyUSA (available as I write this blog post)

From there, have the Google+ profile link to the different GabbyUSA accounts and Google will learn that when people are searching for Gabby or Gabrielle Douglas, they are probably looking for Olympian @GabbyUSA.

Last piece of advice:

Remember that things will change, the company you work for, your current city or the number on the back of your team jersey. Rick Sanchez' handle used to be @RickSanchezCNN when he was with CNN, but now he is @RickSanchezTV. I made this mistake too. When Twitter was first released I was @OracleJulio since I wanted to combine my work responsibilities as a global marketing manager for Oracle Corporation with my personal Twitter account.

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang saw the potential problem back in Aug of 2008 and wrote:

Hybrid brands of personal and corporate won't last.
In the case of both Oracle and Dell (and others I'm sure) many of their employees straddle both their personal sharing, as well as representing their brand (rather well actually). They choose names like @OracleJulio or @RichardatDELL and really add to the conversation, both being personal, and promoting the attributes of the company. Unfortunately for @OracleJulio's situation, he moved on to greener pastures, and had to somehow get a name change, he's now @SocialJulio.

Owyang is now with Altimeter Group but he did not have to worry about his domain name since it was or his Twitter handle since he has @jowyang. I had to replace a lot of links to @SocialJulio and I use to link to my different social accounts. I was also able to register as a personal site and My Google+ profile understands the different with my work site and my personal site since I added the tags I mentioned above.

I still have to "compete" with other Julio Fernandez who have more inbound links from authority sites since they have a Wikipedia page and are leaders in their own industry, but if you search for my name in relationship with my work, there is a good chance that the search engines will understand that you are looking for the Julio that works in search and social media and not the professor from Columbia University or the guitar player from Spyro Gyra.

This "short" blog post is now over 2,500 words and if you made it to this paragraph, I would love to hear from you! Feel free to share examples and ask questions via the comments below or reach out via @SocialJulio if our agency can help you dominate your social shelf space.