Google Liked It, But They Wouldn’t Put a Ring on It

Honestly, I knew almost immediately upon meeting my husband that I was going to end up married to him. When he proposed to me during a game of poker, I immediately said yes. Then I went and registered domains and twitter handles with different variations of what would soon be my new name.

What? Isn’t that what everyone does nowadays? ;-)

I’ve had the last name “Hoffman” since about two weeks after I turned 19 years old. Every legal aspect of my life has been with that name. And I spent over a decade building a brand in the SEO and affiliate marketing industry with that name. I knew “changing it” when I got married would be hard to do.

Our Wedding Rings

My original theory was to go from “Rae Hoffman” to “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” and then finally to “Rae Dolan” once the industry (and Google) wrapped their heads around me changing my name. I expected this transition to take about 6 months to a year. I was utterly wrong.

So much of our lives and reputation are wrapped up in the web today. It amazes me that we have such standard and official processes (that work) for changing a company brand or a domain name, but nothing laid out for an individual changing their name via marriage (or divorce for that matter). I’d imagine 20 years ago, I’d have changed the name plate on my desk, my name in the company directory, gotten an updated drivers license and ordered a new set of business cards and POOF, I’d have been Rae Dolan. But that’s now how it works in an Internet based professional world.

In doing a search for “Rae Hoffman” you’d find that I nearly dominate the SERPs returned. There are universal results and tons of articles that show my (long) history in the industry.

But despite updating my name on every official social and business profile I have, despite having speaker bios and contributing bylines updated, despite putting out new content under that name, Google never figured out that “Rae Hoffman” and “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” were one in the same in the SERPs. They showed everything new that came out and everything I was able to update, but the ten years that I existed in this industry prior to getting remarried essentially didn’t exist in a search for my new name. In short, it looked like “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” only came into existence – and into the industry – two years ago. It took over 18 months for universal SERPs to begin appearing for the latter name.

Not helping matters, many people still referred to me solely as Rae Hoffman. People would do write ups of sessions I did at conferences, or reference me in an article – only using “Rae Hoffman” – and I understood why, but it meant that those mentions and articles didn’t appear in searches for my new name. Searches for “Rae Hoffman” showed everything – Dolan and not. Searches for “Rae Hoffman-Dolan” only showed results with the latter name attached.

Google simply refused to “put a ring on it” so to speak. About six weeks ago, I made the decision to drop the “Dolan” from my name and return to using “Rae Hoffman” as a result.

This got me to thinking – as the web continually becomes the point of reference and history for an individual’s life, how do women in this new era handle getting married and changing their names? It seems we’re left with a choice if we don’t get married before we have a history and reputation we value – keep our former name or lose our history on the web. I’m not sure why this dilemma isn’t talked about more. I’m not sure why it isn’t (or doesn’t appear to be) on Google’s radar.

Google authorship markup is definitely a step in a helpful direction. But even though Google is moving in the direction of allowing us to build trust attached to a single Google profile that we could update the name of, it would only help in regards to the content we’ve personally authored – not the content that has been authored ABOUT us. And even then, we don’t know if authorship will help the issue of combining results for both names in the reputation SERPs.

Women could hire an ORM agency to help update their names, but even that can only help the issue so much. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that getting a publication like USA Today to update your name in a 3 year old article because you got married (or divorced) simply isn’t going to happen. I could have spent time or money building out links to the more important older articles with the new name, but that acts merely as a (time or money consuming) band-aid to a larger issue.

This is a not heavily talked about, but very real problem that will only become larger the more dependence we as a world have on the Internet to showcase our reputation and career history or let us research someone else’s. It’s uncharted territory in a new age. How do we handle – and find a solution for – the problem?

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

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  1. Tema Frank says:

    Simple solution: don’t change your name when you marry. I don’t understand why so many young women DO change their names now. I thought we’d got over that in the 70s or 80s.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      I don’t take any issue with anyone who doesn’t want to change their name upon getting married, but I wouldn’t label it as an “archaic” process for those who do. Some women actually want to take their husband’s name and/or to have the same last name as their children. Women shouldn’t be backed into NOT taking their husband’s name any more than they should be backed INTO taking it, IMO.

    • Alex Aguilar says:

      Yeah, I’m with Frank on this one – I don’t see the need for women to take on their husband’s surnames after they get married. There aren’t any real upsides for professional working women to change their last name and plenty of downsides, as Rae’s experience shows. As far as the kids are concerned they can have both surnames of their parents.

  2. Carol Montgomery Adams says:

    I’ve been divorced many years – I took a hyphenated name and ended up keeping it as I discovered that I had far less competition with it for SERPs than without it. I think of it as my “professional” name and “a rose by any other name…” is still me.

  3. Mike Stewart says:

    After marrying a fella like Sean, who can blame you for wanting to share it and live it. It is as if women marketers are naturally somewhat disenfranchised.

    I guess it forces you to keep your personal and professional surnames separate. Men do not have to make such a sacrifice, but in a world where authorship, branding, and citations matter, a gals gotta do what a gals gotta do, right?

  4. Tricia Meyer says:

    This is disappointing and more than a little bit unfair. As the mother of two daughters, I don’t want them to work for years to develop an online reputation and then have to start all over just because they want to take their husband’s name. I don’t think anyone would call me old-fashioned, but I appreciate the fact that I was able to take my husband’s name and it is our “family name.” Apparently even hyphenating doesn’t help that. Maybe my best friend had the right idea when she married a guy with the same last name as her.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve told people that I kept my maiden name solely because I don’t know how to change my work email address ( to my married name ( A few people have been sympathetic to that silly reason. :P

    Not that that was my only reason, frankly the thought of changing all the certificates, licences, registrations…. Yeah, I’m happy to stick with my maiden name.

  6. I think women have been dealing with the issue of whether or not to take their husband’s name and how it will affect their professional lives for generations. My aunt, now in her 60’s and married for over 30 years, never changed her name because she felt it would adversely affect her professional life. Yet she’s happily married. Ok they live in Southern California so it’s a bit more modern than the rest of the world perhaps but this is not a new issue and certainly not confined to online reputations.

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      Yes, I definitely feel professional women have struggled with it before, I just think the web takes it to a new and more severe level. I wasn’t in the professional world when I first got married, so I thought nothing of taking his last name (Hoffman).

  7. Lea de Groot says:

    I changed my name both times – but if I were doing it all over, I would keep my maiden name. You could call me ‘Mrs de Groot’, but not Lea de Groot. I think of it like the English nobility – Jane Smith is referred to as Lady Oxford (I’m making these up, obviously) but calling her Jane Oxford would just be wrong.

    Now, don’t get me started on what surname the kids should take, because I have an opinion on that, too :)

  8. My online reputation has only been developed since I’ve been married (with my husband’s last name), so I guess I’ll have to stay that way!

    I took his name for some of the reasons listed above – so we’d have a “family” name which we share with our child. I also can never figure out where to put the rolodex cards for married friends with separate last names! (does anyone still use rolodexs?)

  9. Graham Nixon says:

    Not something I’d thought of (changing name) but it got me thinking. My online presence i.e. website name, twitter, facebook, google author is Graham Nixon. My business name is Graham Nixon Photography and I use that as “my” name too. Is this pretty much the same problem?

  10. wella maria says:

    Coming from Philippines, it’s pretty common to have two first names so I adopted that for my online identity, primarily to separate my virtual self from the real one who wants to just be unplugged and off the grid on weekends. I don’t have to worry then about this then, although here in Paris, it’s comon for women to keep their names even after many a marriage :)

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