If our CEO’s recent deep dive wasn’t enough to convince you of the impact that Google search results have on reputational health, the Wall Street Journal is back again this week with another look at how Google might be redefining who you are. The Op-Ed, penned by James Paul Sterba, an accomplished author and lecturer, looks at his discovery that not only is there another James Paul Sterba in the world, but that his eponymous twin is also an accomplished author and lecturer, and the two were born only 48 days apart!

While I’m sure you can understand that the coincidence might lead to an existential crisis or two, both Jim Sterbas managed to coexist peacefully for years, each publishing and distributing their work without any confusion as to who was who. However, once Google came along, things began to go sideways. A Google search of their name reveals a mishmash of each other’s personal information that forms one “Frankenstein-ish” Jim Sterba.

The two are now mistaken for each other much more frequently, photos are misused, and they’re often incorrectly tagged on social media. While these stakes are relatively low for the two of them, you can only wonder how things might play out should a crisis or scandal come along. As with the subject of our earlier blog post, will the wrong friends and family be alerted when one eventually passes away? I’m sure these are scenarios neither of them wants to plan for, but are nonetheless possibilities they may face being in the public eye.

If you were to go and Google my name (Philip McMahon), Google will first ask if you meant Philip with two “l’s”, (no I did not, thank you very much), and once you confirm that you meant just one, you’ll find information on four different Philip McMahons on the first page. Lucky for me, the first result is my LinkedIn profile, but then the rest, including the knowledge panel is populated by other Philips, including a professional Irish soccer player who has his own Wikipedia page. Despite my illustrious middle school soccer career, most people searching for me will probably not confuse the two of us.

For the Jim Sterbas of the world, it’s obviously not so simple. Name disambiguation is an issue we face with a number of our clients. Here at Lumentus, we often refer to your Google search results as a billboard that you weren’t able to design. We all like to think that we’re the most important person having our name (and sometimes we are), but what happens when our fellow namesakes are unquestionably more famous?

One thing we like to discuss with each of our clients is how people are searching their names. Do they use a common nickname? Are people adding other keywords in their searches like your company or profession? Over 50% of Google search queries are three words or longer, so chances are a search for you is being done on more than your name alone. Once you understand how people are searching for you, you can get to work on making sure they find the content you want them to find.

The good news is that Google wants to get this right. There’s a reason that 93% of organic searches (and 96% of mobile searches) in the U.S. are done via Google. Google is heavily focused on understanding the intent of their searchers, and constantly tweaks its algorithm to make sure it’s delivering the results it thinks you’re looking for. Periscopix, a search engine management company in the UK, recently provided a great breakdown on how Google tailors its results to how it interprets the intent of the searcher:

Search engines populate the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) by interpreting each search term’s intent and serving the most relevant result in this order. Over time, this has meant that rich and visual results like quick answers, news articles etc. have appeared, as these are deemed the most relevant results to show for that search term.

For the two James Paul Sterbas, born 48 days apart, there may always be lingering issues related to their Google search results no matter how much SEO work they do to disambiguate themselves. But for the rest of us there are a number of tactics that can be implemented to make sure that we not only separate ourselves from the pack, but also tell the story we want to tell.

How will Google define your story?