Many moons ago when I started out, no one ever would have considered blogging under their real names. We all chose to blog anonymously. Who knew what sort of criminals and weirdos might be reading, after all?
So you blogged anonymously – unless you were already famous under your real name – and your only real source of traffic was Google. And Google was more interested in the name of your site than of its author.
Facebook Ruins Everything
Then 2008 came, and Facebook happened. Social media before that had been as anonymous as blogging, but suddenly Facebook required your real name and took steps to enforce that (badly).
The other thing that happened in 2008 was that smartphones hit the market. Before smartphones, the internet was mainly the playground of nerds who owned computers. But now, suddenly, most anyone was going online and setting up their social media accounts.
And what was a very new thing – social media requiring a real, legal name – seemed to them like a norm. I don’t think they all understood just how public putting your name on the internet was.
People I talked to around 2010 were startled to learn that just by putting your real name online and then doing things under that name, you made it possible for, say, a criminal in Belarus to now track down everything he needed to start a bank account under your identity.
Look, transparency is nice. But go to Google and type in your first name, last name, city and state/region. Most of you will be able to find your home address and your family’s names within a couple of minute (unless you already use a service like ReputationDefender.com, which I recommend highly – and no, that’s not an affiliate link, I just like the service).
Your first response may be to shrug and think, “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But I’ve talked to several webmasters and small business owners over the years who had someone track them down and show up on their doorstep. Just imagine how badly that could go.
The Safety Issue
Thanks to search and public records – and our states spraying our public record information all over the internet like a firehose – your home address can be found by any criminal, stalker, or unstable person who can spell your name and has figured out where you live. And if your name is unusual enough, they may not need to know where you live.
As recently as 20 years ago, at least someone had to come to your local courthouse to get a look at your house deed and other public records linking your name to your home address. That’s all changed, thanks to state governments deciding everything should be online, for free, and indexable by Google.
Sure, the odds that a nut is going to track you down and show up at your home or start stalking you are slim. But like I said: I’ve talked to several webmasters and small business people who had it happen. Those aren’t odds I want to play.
And it’s not just about your safety. It’s the safety of your family, your kids. I’ve seen bloggers publish under their real names and then, in chatting about their families, describe their kids’ daily schedules well enough for someone to track down their kids at school.
So at the very least, I suggest if you blog about your families like this, you should shift some things around or be vague about times. You can be truthful and transparent without actually sharing all the details.
And remember: what happens online, stays online. Forever. For all to see.
The Truth Factor
If you’re blogging under your real name, everyone who knows you will connect your words – and choice of topic, and choice of images, and choice of domain name, and choice of things to share on your business’ social media channels – with you. And judge you for it.
Not using your real name frees you up to be more honest and forthright, especially about sensitive of controversial subjects. Using a pseudonym or business name means no one has to connect your blog writing with you personally.
When no one knows who you are, you can talk about all sorts of things without concern. Deeply personal experiences, controversial opinions, etc. Of course, you can’t guarantee no one will ever figure out who you are, so keep that in mind.
Anonymity makes it easier to tell personal stories without worrying your co-workers or dates will find them. Sometimes you can build more trust on sensitive topics by going anonymous.
Keeping Your Sites Separate
If you run multiple websites that aren’t really connected, you want to keep them separate so you’re not always having to answer, “Why do you have a blog on auto parts, another one on photography, and a third one about politics?”
In my experience, most people won’t believe you’re an expert on every subject you might want to tackle. And you’re not, and you shouldn’t claim to be, and you don’t need to be. If you’re good at research, you can blog with authority on most any topic.
But your audience may find it strange if they Google your name and find you’re writing about so many different topics. And your competitors may choose to point it out and use it against you.
And it can also hamper the sale of one of your site. If your site about auto parts is intrinsically connected to you, the controversial blogger who elsewhere makes upsetting arguments on sensitive issues, a buyer may be put off by that connection.
How to Blog Anonymously
You have three basic choices for how to identify yourself on your blog.
1. Use your real name. This could make sense if you’re already well-known locally or worldwide and your name is your brand. And assuming you have plenty of money to protect yourself from stalkers and weirdos.
2. Use a pseudonym: that’s a name that sounds like a real name, but just isn’t yours. Some people use a variation on their real name that isn’t as easy to track down in real life. You may want to stick with something common
3. In a business name: that’s when you don’t even attempt to use a human sounding name. On this site, for example, I don’t put an author’s name on the posts, and in comments, my name just shows up as BlogALiving.
There are advantages and disadvantages to all three approaches.
Why blog under your real name?
First of all, let’s talk about why people blog under their real names, and when it’s a good idea.
They were told you had to for “trust”
If you learned blogging during the “lifestyle” blogging era, in which your blog was all about you, your family, and your lifestyle, you may have gotten (bad) advice that you should use your real name to develop trust with the audience.
But it’s not true. The audience didn’t know the names of either of the women behind Hints from Heloise’s, and they don’t need to know yours.
You’re an expert offline
If you’ve made your real name well known off-line, then you’re already exposed and it probably makes sense to use your real name online.
You anticipate becoming an expert
Now, you can still do this with a pseudonym – plenty of experts don’t use their real names. But if you really want your legal birth name out there and associated with expertise, go for it.
You want to get famous
Again, you could still use a pseudonym for this. And also, blogging may not be the route to fame that you think it is. But if you want to get famous under your real legal name, then you might as well be blogging under it.
Why Blog Under a Pseudonym?
Because you want to build brand around yourself, but not expose your real name to the whole world. Authors have long used pseudonyms to avoid stalkers, or because they write about sensitive subjects, or because they have a day job and don’t feel their employers would get it.
Bloggers should absolutely feel free to do the same. If your brand needs the personal touch, but you don’t want to expose your off-line life or family details to trolls, potential stalkers or criminals, using a pseudonym adds an extra layer of security.
Why I Blog Anonymously
My websites are businesses
While a lot of people blog to support an existing business, my blogs are my business. Therefore, it’s the business name I want to promote, not my name. Just as Amazon’s website doesn’t try to promote Jeff Bezos, my websites don’t need to promote me.
I have diverse, unrelated websites
If people connect your websites through your name, then any of your websites can damage the “brand” of all your other websites. The way I do things, I only link my websites to each other when it’s relevant and appropriate.
My websites aren’t personal
My websites are very topical. I’m not talking about my parenting experiences, or the results of my personal finance choices. My readers don’t need to know who I am in order to evaluate what my posts are worth to them.
I want to be able to sell my websites
Because my websites are topical and don’t rely on my head shots or my name, a buyer could take over, change nothing and just watch the affiliate and ad revenue roll in. That’s a valuable business which I could sell if I ever needed to or wanted to.
This is not to say a website that’s got your name all over it can’t be sold. But I’ve been told by both website brokers and people looking to buy websites that they prefer websites that are not connected with a beloved person who’s not going to be there anymore. What if they buy the website, but all the fans leave because the old owner is gone?
I’ve had a former landlord sell my credit card numbers to criminals. I’ve had a couple of brushes with identity theft. And yes, I had a scare with a potential stalker. There are so many ways we’re forced to expose our personal information in order to do business and function. I don’t take any chances I don’t have to.
One final thing to consider
There’s no one right answer for everybody. You may even find you want to use your real name on some of your blogs, and blog anonymously on others. You should feel free and empowered to do what you need to do, whatever that is.
The important takeaway here: no matter what anyone has told you, you do not need to blog under your real legal name. Hiding your legal name is not a betrayal of your audience’s trust. It doesn’t make your writing less truthful – it can even make it more truthful.