Affiliate Marketing Tips: Using Pen Names

@Kimmoy: I'd like to know if you create a new persona or alias as an affiliate. If so, why?

I often do, yes.

There are a number of reasons you might want to use pen names, or a different persona or personality on your niche affiliate sites...

Wikipedia: Pen Name
A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author. A pen name may be used to make the author's name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work. source

To get a better understanding of the use of pen names, I highly recommend you visit the WikiPedia page linked above and read the section on Western Literature. You can also see a list of notable pen names there.

Some of those same reasons can be applied to affiliate marketing, or to online business in general. For example, Michael Green (well known internet marketing expert) uses a pen name because he is involved in UK politics and also runs an established printing & publishing business offline.

There are a number of privacy issues to consider. For example, if your telephone is billed and listed under your name then anyone can pull up the address and Google map by doing a simple search on your name and state.

Remember when I had someone show up at my back door one night? :shock:

Using your real name could also affect your current or future job. Employers often search online during the hiring process. Let's not forget that Heather Armstrong (aka "Dooce") was outed and fired back in 2002 over her personal blog.

You may also choose a pen name that is more suited to your niche. Most men don't want to buy auto accessories from a woman, and most women don't want to buy lingerie from a man. The alias or pen name you choose for a certain niche should be part of your mission to properly serve that market.

There's also the case of different personalities for different topics. Some niches require an impersonal approach (focus on the product, not the person selling it), others require a very professional character, and some may require a more fun and personal interaction.

In the case of my own niche affiliate sites, each represent a very real side of me. There's very little "faking it" necessary as I choose niches that I have personal interest or experience in. I might be very competitive-natured on my sports site, the maternal side of me shows through on my parenting blog or site selling products for kids, and my personal blog might give you the wild crazy side of me.

But they are each true sides of the real me.

I have other reasons for using pen names as well. On some of my niche affiliate sites I outsource a lot of the writing and marketing. That one pen name is actually managed by multiple people, including myself - but without the collective work reflecting on any of my other reputations in any other markets. I don't personally catch heat for the opinions or writings of my ghost writers, for example.

Do you use pen names yourself, and if so - why?

I'd love to hear your experiences and examples...

Best,

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 15 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...more»

Discussion

  1. Lynn, I use a pen name similar to the reasons you use them. To separate niches. If my real name were searched (which is very uncommon), A collective bunch of junk shows up. I choose name that are more generic and harder to track. One thing I struggle with...How to establish a bio

  2. >>One thing I struggle with…How to establish a bio<<
    Never had a problem with my bio - am known all around the world and probably most kids know more about me than I do :-)

    Lynn, good series of articles again - thanks.

  3. When you say "how to establish a bio" are you referring to creating an About page on a site or blog, or something different? If the About page, I often use this for info about the site (what to expect) and include general contact info.

    Basically you just include what's relevant to that particular site. There's really no need for a long drawn out essay about the author unless the site depends on the author/personality for credibility & trust (not the case in every niche or model).

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for this article. This issue with pen names/personas has troubled me for a while. You said "There's really no need for a long drawn out essay about the author unless the site depends on the author/personality for credibility & trust (not the case in every niche or model)."

      But what if the market you enter DOES depend on the author/personality for credibility & trust. Do you "make up" a story behind your persona? Is this ethical? Would love to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks!

  4. I wished I had used a pen name for one of my niches.

    I suppose if I chose to pursue it, I'm stuck. :(

    Dan

  5. Great explanation.

    I have worked with people who struggle with this. But you hit the nail on the head when you state that your niches represent a real side of you. That works well for me.

    Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila. It works out great for me as I generally lose interest in niches I'm not personally invested in anyway. There's a lot more to life than money - mainly how we spend our time every day. I prefer work that I actually enjoy! ;)

  6. Susanne Myers says:

    I use pen names as well - usually one per niche, unless they are closely related. It also makes it simpler to keep track of the articles I've written for each niche and where they are published.

  7. I've used a pen name since day one. My readers get the real me in everything I do with the exception of my name, address and phone number. I have a business mailing address in a town that is in an acceptable driving distance that is a PO box.

    I started with a pen name for security reasons. I didn't want anyone showing up, calling, spamming my snail mail, stalking me or anything else that goes along with being in the public eye. I added my site name and pen name to both my bank account and my PO box without incident.

    As I find some success, I am planning to take my business to the next level and form an LLC to protect my personal assets and begin treating what I do not as just a job that I claim on my taxes but as a small business so that I can enjoy the tax breaks that are there for the taking.

    For anyone not using a pen name, I want to tell you that I find no problems using my real name and SSN when I am signing up with affiliate networks. I treat my pen name like a childhood nickname. It just becomes a part of who you are and you end up answering to both and signing both with ease.

    A special thanks to Lynn for hanging with us, sharing experiences, tutoring, mentoring and being so kind and so willing to share. Lynn is one of the very few people on the planet that I have trust in when it comes to marketing. Lynn, I met you at Blissdom '08 and you were so inspiring. I am so glad we got a chance to talk for a few minutes. I do think of you and know that you have forged the way for women like me. :) I am growing my site daily and just moved from free to FREEDOM over the weekend and now I'm on a hosted WP blog. It is so empowering to watch my site grow! Thanks for all you do.

    Happy holidays everyone!

    Ginger

    • Thank you Ginger! Very kind words :D

      I actually looked into forming an LLC recently, and it turns out there were very few actual benefits unless I took on partners and/or employees. Definitely do your homework on that and see what your options are.

      The DBA works out well for me too. I get mail & checks in a variety of names - never been an issue.

      • Do you have multiple DBA bank accounts? How do you funnel payments to your account with multiple names?

        And, you haven't LLC'ed yet? What about S-corp or something? Anything? I would have thought that you had by now.

        I'm loving these posts. Thank you so much!!

        • Big topic for another post - we've actually discussed this at length in my private group. The perfect solution is going to be different for everyone. Liability Insurance is a must in my book...

          You can set up DBA's with your business checking. Just talk to your banker - it's a breeze. Plus most of my payments come in via PayPal which just get funneled into my business account.

  8. Thanks for answering my question Lynn, it's one of the things I really like about you. This is really intriguing, so I guess in order to pull this off, you might need to use a fake photo too? and then what about registering your domains and such under a pen name? Hehe, this is actually sounds kinda fun. Didn't know about the guy who showed up at your house - creepy!

    • Creepy indeed :P

      I use private registration for my pen names, a PO Box for the address, etc. As for photos some sites don't really require one (again, not personality based but focused more on the product or topic). On those that I do use one, I sometimes use a stock photo that I purchase - or an older more obscure photo of myself even.

      Most of my niche affiliate sites just don't require one, so it's not a huge issue.

  9. I use pen names as well, for 2 of my niche sites. One of them, as you said, is in a niche where male customers are prevalent, and probably wouldn't buy from a woman (or be less inclined to do so), and the other niche is a niche I am trying out.

  10. Laurie Neumann says:

    This is a great discussion, as I have struggled with pen names for a long time. I do use them now on Ezine articles, but I have always wondered "how far" to take it.

    Do you use your pen name when leaving blog comments and opening a twitter account? Or do you just use the name of the business?

    How about email signatures - pen name?

    Of course, you have to remember to tell everyone in your house about your pen names. My husband answered the phone last week and they asked for one of my pen names (first name only) and my husband told them they had the wrong #. Maybe cost me a sale:-) Oh well...

    • Ahh that's funny, Laurie! I'm the only one that answers the landline at my house so it hasn't been an issue. I don't actually offer a phone number on my niche affiliate sites anyway, as the goal is to send them straight to the merchant for any type of sale, service or support.

      Yes I use the pen name to tweet, comment and reply to emails for that particular niche/site. Everything related to that site. Sometimes I'll set up accounts under the site name if it's short and catchy, just depends on the objective.

  11. I've been using LoneWolf (and LoneWolfMuskoka) as an online name/pen name for most of my posting. My real name is stuffy sounding (at least to me).

    I've also written some (currently unpublished) children's literature and I've settled on a pen name that is more fun than my real name -- Joe King. I'm actually planning to publish some stories online, so watch for Only Joe King in the near future!

    • It's common for print publishers to use pen names. I use one for my fiction work as well. Mainly because the name is a better fit for the book than my own, plus it's a private project.

  12. Thanks for the reply Lynn,
    As far as bio, I mean a short blurb and or even a pic of the "author" on the article sites and even the website. Bios typically outline experience to give credibility to the subject. How do you establish experience in a bio without misrepresenting?

    • I'm usually not misrepresenting in any way. The bio actually describes me as it fits in that niche: "an experienced __" or "a __ enthusiast" or "your source for the best deals on ___ on the internet" or just whatever fits. Get creative with it! ;)

  13. How do you handle domain registration info in the WHOIS database? Can't someone just search there for your site name and get your true name, or can you register the site with your pen name as well?

    Thanks.

    • Private registration.

      But yes, you can set up things so that you can actually register in your pen name. I get mail for my pen names, have DBA accounts, etc.

  14. I am too interested if you are supposed to use a fake picture! lol Too funny!

    Kristina

  15. Anita Hampl (or is it . . . .?) says:

    I use a pen name for a website that concerns children/sports. That way I can talk about my children and their peers without risking their embarrassment (or weirdos showing up at their swim meets, for example)!

    One thing I had trouble with was not opening a separate bank account and Paypal account with that name. I can attach several emails (gmail rocks for this) to Paypal but sometimes my own name shows up on the sales receipt pages.

    Two bits of advice: get a Federal EIN # to use in place of your own Social Security number, and keep your banking separate.

    Sincerely,
    (doesn't matter how I sign this, it may or may NOT be me . . . )

    • LOL - love the way you signed off ;)

      Good point. I've noticed some people have a business name on their PayPal account and the actual "name" doesn't show up on the payment page.

      That said, I usually only receive affiliate payments to the paypal account, so it's not really an issue. You can easily set up a separate banking and paypal account though. Definitely worth it if you're doing well in that niche and want to maintain privacy. Low investment for that security.

  16. Very common for folks to do with with selling items to differentiate between niches. Obviously not to be done when trying to develop an online presence and identity as an expert.

    Dr. Dave Hale
    The Internet Marketing Professor

    • Why not?

      How do I know your real birth-given name is Dave Hale, or how do you know mine is Lynn Terry? And why would it matter either way?

      Think Michael Green. It hasn't affected his reputation any.

  17. I personally don't use a pen name since I am trying to build up credibility in one particular niche. I suppose I would if I were marketing in multiple niches.

  18. As far as privacy issues, I just don't post my address online and I use a google voice number for my phone number. Ultimately I plan to get a po box or a virtual office, but that's a few years away.

    • You have to post an address, PO Box at least, in order to do any type of email marketing. That's something I've had for years. Why a few years away - no email marketing in the near future?

  19. The Mysterious Marketer says:

    Yes, I use a pen name... If you could consider this a pen name... LOL ;) Well, one of the reasons being that I feel privacy is something very important to me, something that I value and cherish. It's often one of those things that, once you lose it, it can be hard to get it back again, like in the case of Hollywood celebrities. I've had internet marketers talk about liking privacy as if it were a sickness, but I feel that it's something important and I'm adamant about not mixing business with my personal life, like Dr. Seuss :P

    Oh... protecting my niches and presenting an appropriate online character is a secondary reason... He he :)

  20. Pen names are also commonly used in direct response ads and in Web site copy to track response to marketing efforts. Each name used becomes a code to track results. Increasingly, we are also embedding the pen names in Web site source code and in URLs so it can also be tracked online.

  21. Yes, I use pen names and I set up a matching email account for each one. It serves as a kind of tracking channel.

  22. How does using a pen name work when purchasing a domain?

    • I often just use private registration. You could use your pen name to register too, but other information might be searchable - such as your same PO Box across multiple registrations, so private is best in most cases.

  23. I've considered using pen names, just haven't actually tried it yet. Sometimes I just stick with a first name. After all, there are an awful lot of "Stephanie's" out there.

    And I love using private registration and a P.O. Box. A P.O. Box doesn't cost that much.

  24. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for this post. I would have never thought about this, but now that you bring it up I probably should do some looking into it and see if using a pen name for my niches would be a wise idea. If nothing else it has stimulated some thought on the subject.

    • Definitely give it some thought. I share a couple of pen names with my daughter, who works for me on some of my niche sites. It makes it easy for either of us to write for the site, or answer email, and just take on the personality for that particular site.

      It's actually fun on some of my sites, because as I mentioned I work in niches where I have personal interests so it gives me an opportunity to be 'that side of me' 100%. It's kind of like the difference between the guy you are at the office - and the guy you are on league night with the bowling team. Know what I mean?

  25. Anita Hampl says:

    After NAMS2 I was telling my daughter about the conference and about my niche site. I told her what my pen name was, and she looked at me strangely, asking "You have a secret life!?"

    • LOL That's funny! My daughter really loves the concept. We are working on a new niche affiliate site together and she is doing most of the writing for that site. We're in the process of creating her name, bio and choosing a picture to use.

      She really wants to "be herself" so we're selecting the nickname and details that ARE her, but still obscure enough for privacy purposes.

  26. I've got a question about using PayPal. To the best of my knowledge they only allow one business account. I'm currently using a generic biz name but don't like it and it looks frivolous for some of my more serious products...like my book on grief. Curious how others are solving this problem.

    Thanks

    • See if you can change the name to something even more generic? If not, see if you can have another business account if you have another bank account to tie it to. Should be able to if they use different names and account numbers.

  27. Interesting, I'd never thought about using a proper pen name and creating a new identity for myself online, with a first name and last name.

  28. Thanks for this information. I have always wondered about using pen names and this is the first time someone has written about it (that I have found) and has explained why to use a pen name. Thanks for clearing this up.
    Tina

  29. I'm wondering, while using pen names, what will you do when submitting articles to places that does not allow multiple names? How do you keep track of every pen name when things starts go grow bigger?

    • I use different email addresses, domain names and names for most niche sites so it's easy to sign up for various accounts and services - and to keep things organized by email address as they can be filtered directly into their own sub-inboxes.

  30. Your response above to Dr. Dave Hale might amuse Samuel Langhorne Clemens. "Think (Mark Twain), (use of this name) hasn't affected his repuation any." For myself, can't see how his "presence and identity as an expert" has suffered any.

  31. So, I'm wondering how you would go about adding a pen name to your business banking account?

    • It's called DBA "doing business as" - ask your bank about it. You may need a business checking account, but I'm not sure. And you only need that if you're actually getting checks in that name, vs paypal payments. Or you can get checks to one company name and use that as your DBA.

  32. Marya Miller says:

    Lynn, I thought it was actually illegal to use a stock photo and represent it as yourself?

    Famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie, wrote romance novels under a pen name: A good move, since they have apparently died a dismal death.

    • I wasn't aware of that, something to look into. I have actually only done that on one occasion and have since changed that blog to run without a photo. The blog itself is a rich visual and simply doesn't require it. I have some older, obscure pictures of myself (from my late 20's) that I may actually use on that blog at some point.

  33. I'm SO glad I read this today. I can't tell you how much this helps me. Thanks so much, Lynn, for being open about this. It feels like I finally have "permission" to pursue a big dream. I no longer feel trapped by my name and current career. Beyond it just being a niche tactic, I've always struggled with the fact that people don't understand how much your own name/primary career can confine you. People talk about privacy being impossible because anyone can dig and find out who you really are. That was never my concern. My concern was simply being Googled and confusing the heck out of people who know me from my established career. Now I can finally have some fun and make some extra money.

  34. Just wondering if anyone has tried to set up a PO Box or Virtual PO Box under a pen name in another country? Address needed for email marketing but persona of pen name is based in a country, not my own! Any thoughts?

  35. I also use aliases or pen names to keep my identity as a secret. Through my aliases, I can express more my opinions in the internet without worrying. Like for example, I talk about politics and government in my blog, how much disappointed I am; with this, I can freely express my thoughts because my identity remains a secret.

  36. I noticed I never answered your question. I am still thinking that a virtual office is something for the future because of the cost involved. Right now everything I make is going to household bills until some personal matters get settled.

  37. Hey Lynn,

    The mental roadblock I have is the ethics behind using a penname. For example, what if you're a guy and you're promoting an affiliate product in a "woman's market" say 'how to get pregnant'.

    One solution could be to try and find someone who is in this target market, has gone through the whole process i.e. searched for a solution and found/used the affiliate product and gotten results, gotten pregnant, etc. (and use her as the persona in your promotions)

    BUT what if this 'someone' is not readily available? In this case another solution could be to use a pen name, let's say Susie.

    But HERE'S my question: Since I would be a man using a female pen name (Susie), what would the story behind this female penname be? Do I just make it up? Is this ethical?

    Like I understand I can take all my research and market analysis to create a story behind Susie that would accurately represent an average person in the target market BUT at the end of the day, the story would be completely made up (albeit based on research) and I would be talking, emailing and basically pretending to be this other person when interacting with my marketplace. Is this ethical?

    Let's say I do decide to use this made up person, do I pretend I got results with the product when in fact I didn't?

    Please answer this me/help me get past this mental roadblock.

    Thank you!

    P.S. I'm not in the "how to get pregnant" market lol

    • Hi Larry,

      Here's what I said in the original post:

      "In the case of my own niche affiliate sites, each represent a very real side of me. There's very little "faking it" necessary as I choose niches that I have personal interest or experience in. I might be very competitive-natured on my sports site, the maternal side of me shows through on my parenting blog or site selling products for kids, and my personal blog might give you the wild crazy side of me. But they are each true sides of the real me."

      I rarely ever work in a niche I don't have a personal interest or passion in - or where I am not the target market myself. ;-)

      Your thoughts?
      Lynn Terry recently posted..How Much Money Is Hiding On Your Hard Drive?My Profile

  38. Hello Lynn,

    Thanks for such a useful post. I learned as much from the comments as from the post itself.

    I am a bit uncertain about the ethics too.

    So say I choose a niche that I love, and also choose a name. Do I need to mention that I am using an alias? Some names are obviously aliases like 'yellow ninja' for example. But a name like 'Derek Lawson' ( totally randomly chosen now) sounds real. Which of these kind do you prefer, and which do you think will give better results?

    I don't understand the connection between a PO Box and email marketing, but I haven't really researched that topic yet.

    Looking forward to your response..thanks again.

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