Emily Taffel, a 39-year-old professional in Coral Springs, Florida, has been in the public relations business for over a decade. In that time, she’s built a strong foundation for her career, but she’s also had to deal with two name changes. In both cases, she says, her ranking on Google took a hit.
Anybody who owns a business will tell you how their SEO — or “search engine optimization,” to the lucky few who don’t know — can make or break a business. If people Google “plumber Chicago” and your business doesn’t come up, chances are you’re not going to be a plumber in Chicago much longer.
While a name change after a wedding isn’t new, its implications have evolved. Our individual “branding” and online identities are carrying more weight than ever. So do you follow tradition, or keep your SEO strong? Is there a way to do both? (Actually, yes! We’ll get to that.) Moreover, what happens when the pedigree and clout you’ve built around your professional and online persona gets reset after tying the knot? And how do you even bring up this very new (and unfairly gendered) predicament in your wedding planning?
More importantly, how do real couples navigate the choppy waters where centuries of tradition can clash with the realities of building a career in 2019?
‘The support has to be selfless.’
Pratibha Vuppuluri, former investment banker and purveyor of She Started It!, an online resource for working moms: This whole conundrum heavily revolves on the need to build a personal brand that can be leveraged for work in several ways: recruiting for a job, launching a business, working as a freelancer and more.
[Before the modern internet], the older generation’s approach to professional and personal life was much more local to their community in a physical location, as well as through word of mouth. And in those cases, tradition that focused on family values and collectivism trumped individuality.
I am very fortunate to have no pressures from both sides of family around changing my last name. I discussed the need to keep my last name with my husband as it is very much part of my professional identity and needs to be consistent for SEO purposes. It was a no-brainer for him, as he has always been supportive of my goals.
We decided to keep our names as it is. After all, changing my surname to his does not define our marriage or our relationship as a whole. Marriage is about two people coming together and supporting each other in their life pursuit. The support has to be selfless and focused on “leaning in” to understand each other’s goals and how it helps the two of them as a team.
‘Even with the hyphen, I was losing SEO on my name. It was a big plunge.’
Emily Taffel, Mugsy PR, Florida: When I got married the first time, I had about 10 pages of Google [results] under my maiden name, Emily Taffel. Then I got married, changed it to Taffel-Schaper. Got divorced a few years later. Started Mugsy PR two years after that, and got remarried about seven years later — when my name legally became Emily Taffel-Cohen.
The truth is, in both cases, even with the hyphen, I was losing SEO on my name. It was a big plunge. After seeing that, I started using just my maiden name professionally. My “new” [hyphenated] name doesn’t do as well SEO-wise, as “Cohen” is so common. So I stick to Taffel for any bylines, articles, etc.
And socially, the way our names fit together, we just call our family the TaCos!
‘You don’t want to feel like all of that work is now for nothing, and you’re starting over.’
Carolyn Gasbarra, PR executive, Chicago: As a public relations exec, my maiden name, Carolyn Blackman, was tied to much of my work (press releases, etc.) and how the reporters in my network identified me. I worked at a boutique public relations agency there and was vice president there, so I started building up my awareness in the community with my maiden name.
But when it was time to the knot, my husband was adamant that I take his name. So there were of course some hesitations about how I was going to bridge the gap between my former identity and my new identity. I didn’t want to have the work experience that I had accomplished to date getting lost in the cracks because it was tied to a different name. I certainly didn’t want to feel like I was starting from scratch.
With my maiden name, I had good SEO rank because I’d been quoted and referenced in articles and press releases. You get to the point where you’ve built up this track record professionally, but once you take on this new last name you don’t want to feel like all of that work is now for nothing, and you’re starting over.
When I first got married, I tried to make the dual-last-name route work. There was probably a two-to-three-year period where I had one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock, so to speak. I felt that was a way to bridge my former name and my new name.
As you can imagine, Carolyn Blackman-Gasbarra is a mouthful, and SEO-wise it hurt more than helped. But it kind of naturally worked out a few years later when I took a new role at another company where I don’t rely so much on SEO and people finding me from an individual standpoint.
I decided it was finally time to drop the maiden name and stick with Carolyn Gasbarra. I guess time is the best healer. If you’re in an industry where you know your name has visibility, and you’re worried that by changing your name you may lose that, take your time to sync the two identities. So when you’re ready to let go of that maiden name or your former self, the two are in sync.
Still, old habits die hard. I still have my full name for social networks like LinkedIn, just in case I feel the need to “name-drop” my former self.
‘In my mind, we’re growing our business together.’
Lisamarie Monaco, life insurance, Florida: My fiancée and I are about to enter our second marriage, and honestly we haven’t fully discussed how this would impact the business SEO.
On one hand, I want his last name. We have seven kids combined, and our story is kind of interesting: We grew up together but in completely different circles in school. He had a crush on me from second to sixth grade. Eventually we were both divorced, and he and I always wondered about each other through the years, even though we never connected in high school. Then one day he wrote on Facebook he was coming to NY to visit his momma. Welllll, I pounced on that!
We had lunch together and I sat across from him and when he went back to Florida and I felt strange, like a part of me was missing. Fast forward to today: We both live together in St. Augustine, Florida. At this stage, this is our second half of life together. So taking his last name makes me happy.
He founded his own company in 2017. And I do a lot of the SEO optimizing for it, so my name is everywhere now. Which is funny, because my name is about to change! But in my mind, we’re growing our business together, and it took me over 20 years to find the love of my life. So why not?
My name is getting more and more recognized as we are building our business daily — from clients to fellow agents at conferences. Preserving my SEO name is the best practice. So… actually, this just helped me with the decision! I will take my love’s last name in life, but keep Monaco for SEO purposes.
“It felt like a sci-fi novel… Here we were, considering not changing her last name on the basis of maintaining algorithmic relevance.”
Max Pond, SEO and marketing specialist: My wife is a high-end boutique florist. Occasionally, she’ll get featured or mentioned in authoritative wedding or floral publications and over the years, she’s made a bit of a name for herself in those communities, both online and off. While if only tangentially, some local influencers recognize her name, or refer her services by name.
Both of us coming from rather traditional backgrounds, we both, I suppose, had some sort of unspoken expectation that she would be changing her last name.
Right around the time we were talking more seriously about getting this done, Google released its 2018 August Core Algorithm Update. I, having done SEO consulting for about five years now, saw that the influence of entities (for instance, a person’s name) is deeply tied into how Google’s algorithm measures relevance. I explained all this to my wife, and it felt like we were in a strange sci-fi novel. Here we were, considering not changing her last name on the basis of maintaining algorithmic relevance… Today, she still goes by her own last name, and I can’t help but think we dodged some sort of bullet.
How to Change Your Name and Keep Your SEO Ranking
Now, if you’ve changed your name or plan on changing your name despite the strong SEO your name has garnered, all is not totally lost. Jason Martinez, an expert in SEO and online marketing, says, “speaking on behalf of the SEO community,” it’s not a bad idea for contemporary couples to consider their SEO before changing names.
For those who’ve made the jump already, though, he says there are a few things a newly married couple can do to “maintain their SEO equity.” (“I don’t know if I’ve just coined a term,” he wonders.)
Martinez explains: “I think the most important thing to remember, especially if a couple is changing domain names as well, is to 301-redirect all the old URLs to the new URLs.” In layman’s terms, this means if you have a website where the URL is your name, simply compile a list of your old URLs, and redirect them to your new website, with your new name. “You aren’t necessarily closing your old sites down because you want to keep the domain live,” he says. This way, “your servers know to send all that old domain traffic to your new domain.”
“This will allow a newly married couple to maintain all SEO rankings they’ve acquired, hold all link equity and basically communicate to Google they’ve changed names,” he says.
Martinez also advises the person who’s recently changed their name to write a blog post or a formal press release about the name change. “You are going to want to communicate this to customers and allow Google to begin associating the new name with your site,” he explains. “If you have any content on your site that mentions your previous name, you are going to want to do a little ‘find and replace’ with your new name. The same applies to any page titles and meta-descriptions that may contain your previous name. And people who use Google’s My Business should also change their name and update any pertinent information to match that of the new name.”
If done correctly, he says, “you should see no negative impact take place in terms of organic rankings.”
So you’ve got the online aspect of the name change taken care of. But what about the social side? For the men who traditionally don’t need to worry about a name-change, they can take a page from Taffel’s husband, Ryan Cohen.
“[Emily keeping her maiden name professionally] doesn’t bother me at all,” he tells MEL. “She had a career before we met and is a successful and strong woman. I wouldn’t take an ounce of that away from her. I love that we share the same last name legally and personally — the mail comes to Mr. & Mrs. Cohen — but I also love that she kept such a big part of herself as well.”