Rebranding can be such an overwhelming process for businesses that many avoid it altogether due solely to the headaches it creates for their CMO and SEO departments.
Related: The Ultimate Rebranding Checklist for Entrepreneurs
Despite the issues you may have with your own SEO, however, rebranding can be an effective way to increase your long-term brand value. Even if your SEO rankings do suffer temporarily, this is still a worthwhile endeavor for many businesses. Rest assured that it is possible to protect your hard-earned rankings while going through the rebranding effort.
Here are some tips to make sure that while you're rebranding, you stay at the top of the SERPs (search engine research pages) for your most valuable keywords.
1. Try to keep the same domain name.
Andrew Shotland wrote a great piece on Search Engine Land a few years ago that strongly urged brands not to change their name during a rebranding process due to the risk of losing organic search rankings. While this sounds like great advice, it's not always practical. Brands that participate in mergers often phase-out their old trademarks and share an entirely new name. This obviously means they have to move their site to a new domain.
If you must change your domain name, here are several things you can do to avoid having your rankings fall:
Try to preserve your original content. Even if you are setting up an entirely new domain and website, try to replicate your old content as best as possible. If the search engines have been crawling your website for a long time, you'll have earned a lot of authority for your content and will notice a sharp drop in rankings if you don’t keep it on your new site.
You don't want to lose this authority, so try to match your content as closely as possible. It’s also best to keep the entire structure, as well as the fonts and headers, the same to avoid confusing the search engines.
Related: Rebranding? Don't Forget Your Mobile Strategy
Use redirects properly. Once you have recreated your content, make sure the crawlers can easily access it. Start by creating a list of your old URLs and redirecting them to the new content pages.
If you have never done a 303 redirect before, you can find the steps here. It’s pretty easy to do as long as your pages are .php documents. The simplest approach is to use the following code in your header:
Header( “HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently” );
Header( “Location: http://www.new-url.com” );
Keep Your Old Site Up for a Few Days. Your actions may still create confusion for the search engine crawlers even if you set up your redirects properly. It may take a few days for the search engines to realize they are visiting a site on your new IP address.
In 2005, blogger Matt Cutts recommended keeping your old website up for at least 24 hours after setting up redirects to your new domain. However, the crawlers may take longer than that to recognize the new IP address, especially since Google is crawling infinitely more web pages than it did a decade ago. Keep the old site up for at least a week, just to be safe.
2. Make sure your contact information is up-to-date.
Co-citations are very important for SEO, especially for local businesses. Google bots crawl the web and scrutinize contact information to determine rankings, so your contact information on other sites such as Google Plus should closely match your website's.
If you’re changing your physical location as part of your branding strategy, you need to update that information on your directory listings, your Google "My Business" page and all other off-site profiles.
3. Try to maintain the same URL structure.
Preserving your URL structure isn't that important if you’re using redirects properly. However, it can reduce the headaches involved if you’re trying to manually change internal links that you might otherwise forget to redirect. Preserving your structure can reduce the risk of human error and result in fewer broken links.
4. Update your authorship.
Authorship doesn't have the same level of importance as it did when it was first introduced. However, it's still part of the ranking algorithm, despite any rumors to the contrary. Therefore, you need to make sure that your authorship is updated.
Reach out to your contributors and ask them to update your website domain in their contributor links. This is very easy to do as long as you’re still in touch with your contributors. It may be a good idea to reach out to previous writers and request they make the change, as well.
5. Start promoting your new name.
A substantial amount of organic search traffic comes from visitors searching for brand-name keywords. Unless your new name is a slight variation of your old brand, you are probably going to lose a large share of your brand-name traffic.
Make sure you inform your existing customers and new contacts about your new company name, and update your business cards to reflect the name change. You'll also want to make sure your employees get in the habit of introducing themselves under your new brand name as soon as possible, so that their new contacts know what company to search for.
Aim for publicity as much as possible. Reach out to any media contacts you have and use PRWeb to spread the word.
As long as you redirect your old domain’s URLs and make sure your content closely resembles that of your previous website, you should be able to preserve your SEO rankings. However, there is always a possibility that your rankings may still slip.
Related: 7 Stupid Branding Mistakes Your Small Business is Making
Check out this case study of nuts.com as an example of a brand that did everything right when redirecting its domain, but still suffered a precipitous drop in its rankings. Even so, its rankings did eventually rebound.
Have you ever noticed an effect on your SEO during a rebranding effort? Please feel free to share your experiences below: