In an interview with BBC Capital, I was asked about the value for professionals of developing a website where they can manage their personal brands to support their career objectives. To me, it is surprising that this is still even an issue almost twenty years after we started exploring the World Wide Web. However, as I often encounter confusion regarding both what owning your own domain implies and its value, I find it necessary to further (also wrote a related post on “Good Domain Parenting” earlier) articulate why I believe this is important and outline the first action steps.
Claim Your Domain Name
By “owning your own domain name,” I am referring to the purchase of a website address or URL that ideally identifies you such as in the following format: FirstnameLastname.com. While it used to be even more valuable to have your name part of the URL from an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standpoint, it still allows your brand to stand out more succinctly. If you are really lucky, you can still find your Lastname.com available and some of my students have indeed been delighted to discover this opportunity. However, this typically only works with unusual names. For common names or whenever you find that your FirstnameLastname.com has been taken, I typically tell students and other professionals to work with variations thereof. For example, you may find the name with your middle initial still available, or you can go with other common top-level domain names such as .net, .org, .biz, or .info. Go and check yourself to see how lucky you are! My preferred choice that I am using these days is Namecheap.com but you will find numerous registrars offering domain names for sale by simply googling “buy domain name” or the like.
Yes, you could also consider using a domain name that doesn't include your name but rather is built around your blog name, company name, book title, slogan you identify with, etc. However, the risk with this strategy is that you may not be as strongly married to that name as you are to your own name. Thus, the risk would be that you would have to begin anew and develop your online presence from scratch as you shift your professional focus years from now.
Protect Your Personal Brand
The most obvious benefit of owning your own domain name is to prevent anyone else from using it. If you do not do this, someone else with your name could develop an online presence using your name which could be bad for several reasons. If this other person does a poor job portraying him or herself online, a prospective employer may think that it is you and as a consequence, you will look bad, too, however innocent you may feel. You will likely not even know this happened but it could very well be the reason you didn't get a callback for an interview. Conversely, if your namesake does an excellent job portraying themselves on their website using your name, prospective employers may be impressed, too, but may go ahead and hire that other person… That is, even if you do not develop a website to go with the domain name you have acquired, it can still be beneficial to you.
Myself, I had myhr.com, myhr.net, and myhr.org registered during the 1990s. However, I forgot to renew these domain registrations and later discovered that a human resources outsourcing firm had acquired it as they saw the commercial potential of my last name as in My Human Resource or MyHR.com and now I probably couldn't buy it back for a million dollars. You can also ask some celebrities if they wish they had bought their domain names early on. Bruce Springsteen, for example, who had to settle for the less than ideal .net top-level domain because a young “fan” in New Jersey had acquired BruceSpringsteen.com (no longer active). The Boss is probably doing okay as his fans are able to find him anyway but more and more people can benefit from being findable online as it is very common that prospective employers, investors, or other suitors check you out online before taking a relationship to the next level.
Website versus Social Media Platforms
So, why wouldn't it be sufficient to simply manage your professional brand via a social network such as LinkedIn? While I strongly encourage students and professionals to develop a strong presence on such networks, those networks are still to be considered rented land where the terms of service can change at anytime and the popularity of the platform can ebb and flow. Also, by having a presence on your own website allows you to link to and interface with your presence on various social media platforms and networks as they come and go and you can consider your domain as your owned land on which you determine the rules. Another benefit of having a presence on multiple platforms, including your own website, is that this could enable you to be listed in multiple places on the ever-important first search engine results page (SERP) which increases the chances that people looking for you will find you and nobody else.
Protecting your personal brand by claiming your domain name is just a starting point for a personal branding strategy and perhaps I will develop my thoughts on how to further develop and grow your personal brand over time in a later blog post. But first, go and claim your name before someone else does!