I received the following question from Jan O’Hara:
I have a dilemma to sort out about author names. These are the issues:
1. Depending upon the blogging platform I’m using, it variously codes my name as OHara, O’Hara, O\Hara, or Hara.
2. Twitter does not recognize apostrophes. To cope, I’m using the handle @jan_ohara. In essence, I’m training my Twitter followers to use the wrong search criteria. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except for these next two points.
3. While some search engines or bookselling sites prompt the reader to find the correct spelling, this is not consistent. I cannot be guaranteed a reader who searches for “ohara” will be sent on to “O’Hara.”
4. I’ve checked search results within Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Goodreads for published authors who use names with apostrophes. There’s a vast difference in the quantity and quality of data that emerge for “O’Name” versus “Oname.” In some cases, the latter misses out on more than 50% of the search information. (For example, a search under John Oname yields half the results of John O’Name, and the John Oname page will not necessarily prompt the reader to look for the correct spelling.)
In other words, as online searchability and metadata become ever more crucial, I think I’ve given myself a handicap. Do you agree? In your opinion, is this a sufficiently big enough reason to change my online name?
If you agree it’s an issue, when should I make the change? (While soonest seems best, I’m concerned about the probability of making a shift now, then regretting it if/when a publisher dislikes my choice. This has happened to several authors I know.)
Any tips on the mechanics of change, other than purchasing my domain name and spreading out from there? Is it better to make the leap and change everything, or call oneself “Jan O’Hara, writing under the name _____” ?
Thanks for any and all help you’re able to provide!
First, I do think you’re right to be thinking about this issue. Online search is becoming critical for discoverability of all media. It’s not a stretch to say that if people can’t find you via Google, you don’t exist. Every author should anticipate what keywords their readers will use when running a search, and pay attention to what results come up with those search terms. Are you easy to find or does someone have to really dig?
Well, let’s use you as an example to get started! Here’s what happened when I looked for you on Google. On the top, I searched for “Jan O’Hara.” On the bottom, I searched for “Jan OHara.”
In both instances, I’m getting the same results. Also, when I omit the apostrophe from your name, Google automatically attempts to correct the spelling. This is exactly what you want—as you’ve noted above.
I probably don’t have to tell you that whatever Google does should be your guiding star. Even if various blog platforms, Twitter, or other social networking sites don’t use the apostrophe, or don’t prompt for one, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as important as what the No. 1 search engine does. Why? Because people least familiar with you will likely start with Google. And you catch more fish with that net because most people start a search that way.
If you went to the trouble to change your name due to search/discoverability concerns, I believe there’d need to be a far more serious impediment, such as:
- Someone else who is very established—whether a celebrity or well-known author—has the exact same name as you. (This usually means that you don’t have the online domain names or handles associated with the celebrity name, which is a disadvantage and annoyance.)
- You have a very common name that makes it next to impossible for someone to search for you specifically.
- Your name is exceptionally difficult to pronounce, spell, or otherwise remember for search purposes.
- People may remember your book title along with your name, which greatly narrows results.
- If you have a moniker, e.g., “The Writer Mama,” that can also help direct people to the right place. In your case, it’s “Tartitude”!
- Often people will find you through a referral, rather than a direct search.
As you can see, the bulk of my traffic comes from social networks, primarily Twitter (that’s the t.co referral at the top). About 10% of my traffic currently comes from organic search.
Anyone who’s concerned about whether they’re being easily found via search should check their Google Analytics to see what keywords are bringing people to the site. Here’s a snapshot of mine:
The No. 1 keyword bringing people to my site are those searching for “Jane Friedman.” It helps that my domain is, in fact, JaneFriedman.com.
A few final tips:
- If you don’t already own a domain name, choose one that will be relevant over the course of your career, beyond any specific project or book. Hopefully the domain you buy is similar to your name, but if that’s not possible, it’s not the end of the world. Your site has all kinds of metadata associated with it that will be indexed by Google and tie it to the name you specify. That’s why Jan’s blog, Tartitude, comes up first in Google search results, even though her name is not in the URL or in the official blog name.
- Claim your Facebook vanity URL. Instructions here.
- No matter what name you choose, be as consistent as possible across all social networks and profiles. (Don’t use your real name in one place, then switch to Cupcake87 on the next one.) Don’t make people guess what name you’ll be going by next!
- Be very clear on your website, and all social networks, where else you are active or might be found. Cross-linking and promoting is not annoying; it’s a service to those who’d like to connect with you on other sites.
So, Jan: I don’t think you need to change a thing at this point. Your presence is consistent and solid.
But I’d like to open up this issue to all of you! Please share your advice and your experiences—either good or bad—in figuring out what your “official” author name is and how you optimize it for search. Are there secrets or warnings you have that I’ve missed? I know I haven’t covered it all! Do jump in.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.