What Really Happens to Your SEO Rankings When You Change Your Name

Three months ago, I married my best friend. There was no doubt I’d personally take his last name, but as I blogged about this summer, I was less sure about changing my byline to take his name professionally as well.

For a myriad of reasons, I did in fact change over my byline and every account I could think to change. That’s why my byline where I could change it now says Meranda Adams. My Google+, My Twitter, My Facebook, My LinkedIn, My Pinterest, etc. etc. etc. They all dropped Watling and gained Adams.

I Googled myself to see how I’m doing in gaining traction on the other Meranda Adamses of the Internet (the top one happens to live in my same metro area, which is unfortunate). When I search, my Twitter handle pops up first. Half of the links on the first page of results are ME. I felt pretty good about how the transition was going, confident I’d quickly regained my prime rankings.

But then a colleague and I were playing around with some of the Google Webmaster tools, and I saw a graph that literally made my jaw drop. All I could say was “Wow.” His immediate reaction? “What the hell happened on Sept. 16?”

So basically, the chart showed search statistics for pages that I am the verified author on (basically I’ve linked my Google+ account to outlets I actively write for, which seems helps boost search rankings for these pages). In my case, this is basically limited to blog posts here on 10,000 Words and articles I’ve written for my day job in the Angie’s List Newsroom.

So what did happen on Sept. 16?

That’s about three days after I changed my name on the Internet, including changing the byline on previous articles at both 10,000 Words and Angie’s List. On Sept. 12, I changed my name with Social Security and on my social media accounts. On the 13th, I changed my byline. By Sept. 16, my search rankings for my articles literally fell off a cliff.

So even though I’ve been able to regain the top spot on Google when you search for “Meranda Adams,” that’s not really a true picture of what happens. By looking at my author stats in Google, the chart showed in startling clarity that changing my byline has hurt my publications’ search rankings, at least for topics I’ve covered. (Another potential factor is in the meantime I got a promotion, and I’m no longer writing articles at my day job, so there’s less fresh content going out under my name.)

I have some theories about why this might have happened and what I can do to help improve it. But I honestly think the remedy is just more time. Part of it, I’m sure, was that even though I can change my byline in the CMS and have it applied to older posts, I can’t go out on the Web and correct every link saying “Meranda Watling writes…” or “as Meranda Watling wrote” or whatever.

Those references, obviously, tell Google that I’m an authority on that topic and it ought to surface my writing higher in the results. It took a decade of writing professionally to build that authority, and as smart as Google is, it doesn’t pass every search through a filter that says “Meranda Watling = Meranda Adams” (though it does seem to know that connection based on what results do surface). It will take time to climb back up. Good thing I’m young!

The author stats only allows me to look back three months, which gives us an equal amount of time before my name change and after. And as the graph so strikingly displays, there was an amazing free fall after I changed it.

I still think I would have changed my name and byline, even knowing this. But I felt like it was important to share this information as a caution and case study, given how many other women related to my dilemma when I first wrote about this in August. From that intense discussion, it was clear my situation is a common worry from female writers who marry. Ultimately, for rankings, you’re not just better off keeping your original byline, but you’re significantly better off. Now we know.

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