In all of my preparations for my recent wedding, I didn’t plan for this one question that still lingers over me unsettled more than a week after the pastor pronounced me a wife in late July. How will changing my last name affect my SEO and search engine placement? Is it even OK to change my name professionally in the age of SEO?
I’ve always known I would take my husband’s name, even before I met my now-husband. I’m neither particularly fond of nor particularly attached to my own maiden name. Hyphens and long names annoy me. And being a W meant I was often the last in the queue for everything from desk assignments to license plate renewals. Trading up, to the A’s, would eliminate the always last problem, and also, it just makes sense for me because I want to be a cohesive family unit with my husband. Plus, I don’t want to spend my life correcting people who assume my last name matches his. (I’ve done enough of that in the past few years as we bought a house, adopted a dog, etc. together prior to marriage.) I understand why many women opt to keep their own last name after marriage, but that’s just never been what I wanted or planned. The legal name change is already in process.
However, as a professional whose name is stamped on top of everything I write, there was the added consideration of my byline. It’s my brand, and today, your personal brand is everything. I know several women who have changed their names but continued to write or work professionally under their maiden names. But as a 20-something with more of my career ahead than behind, it made sense to go ahead and change my byline as well for simplicity’s sake.
The Internet, however, has exposed a wrinkle in my plan. Certainly, I’m not the first person to run into this problem. But it’s a big deal when your name is your professional identity. Will changing my name make it harder for people who only know me online by my maiden name to find or follow me? Will search engines downgrade my content because it can’t connect the dots of my marriage? Google knows a lot about me, but I don’t think it’s yet smart enough to know instinctively that the Meranda Watling I was for so long is the same person as the Meranda Adams I am now.
As a reporter, I’ve been writing professionally under my maiden name for about a decade. Thanks to an unusual spelling of my first name and a not-unheard-of-but-not-quite-common last name, when you google Meranda Watling you’ll find items by or about me. Between my posts here, my magazine and newspaper articles, my blog, my Twitter and other social media pages, there are 10,300 results for my maiden name, and on a cursory glance of the first pages it’s all related to me. But when you search for my new married name, there are already 518,000 results — and that’s before I add any to the list. And annoyingly, the first one is for a Realtor in my geographic area. If only I’d fallen for a guy with a more original last name.
Fortunately, my usernames for most things are not connected to my last name, so that’s a non-concern. My username for most social media is meranduh and my domain is merandawrites.com. I could update my website, this blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. fairly quickly without anyone but Google noticing or breaking any links. (Take that as a lesson young’ns just establishing your online presence: Try, if you can, to create a brand that doesn’t rely on your last name, unless you never plan to change it.) And I’m sure, eventually, as I update sites and social media accounts, and push over new stories and posts under a different name, I will garner a large enough collection of links to push me first in the search results. But is it worth the temporary hit and possible confusion?
I’ve been searching online for what others have done and come across a range of ideas and experiences. Some suggest listing “Meranda Adams (formerly Watling)” everywhere, which seems cumbersome, others suggest picking a camp: keep the professional name intact or just going ahead cold turkey with the new one. I also found some good advice on the name change and flipping the switch, which I’m still leaning toward.
But before I switch over everything and give up my plum Google ranking, I wanted to share my uniquely 21st-Century name change challenge with the 10,000 Words followers to get your advice and experience before I take the plunge. The honeymoon is over, and I’m back to work writing my first articles as a married woman, I’m running out of time to decide which name to put at the top of my work.
YOUR TURN: What would you do?