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 Facebook.com/GabrielleDouglasUSA and the reason is simple, Facebook.com/Gabrielle.Douglas 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 Google.com/+GabbyDouglas or Google.com/+ 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 Facebook.com/DavidBergmanPhoto and one of his Web sites is DavidBergman.net.
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 Facebook.com/David.Bergman and also has the domain DavidBergman.com
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
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 BPUSAatheles.com (two As) that redirects to their main site BPusathletes.com (one A).
2) Send signals that the search engines can find
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 TeamUSA.org. 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
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.
- 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.
What about when Google goes after Oogle.com? According to ICANN, the organization that resolves these issues, Google did not prove that they should get Oogle.com. You can see the July 2012 decision here. But don't feel bad for the search giant. They usually win, like they did with GoogleService.com back in July of 2011.
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!
But you do not have to be an athlete to follow these recommendations!
In my case, I would love to have Fernandez.com, 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 Fernandez.com 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. Amazon.com has A.co and Overstock.com has O.co.
One feature that .CO has that other two letter country codes do not have is that Google will let you tell the engine that yourname.co 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 Gabby.com. 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 Gabby.org is available for $1,268, Gabby.us.com, Gabby.xxx, Gabby.in 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 Gabby.in/London and Gabby.in/Rio 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 GabbyUSA.com? 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:
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 Web-strategist.com or his Twitter handle since he has @jowyang. I had to replace a lot of links to @SocialJulio and I use about.me/SocialJulio to link to my different social accounts. I was also able to register Fernandez.co as a personal site and My Google+ profile understands the different with my work site and my personal site since I added the Schema.com 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.