Protecting Rankings and Traffic When Rebranding: SEO Expert Tips
What SEO considerations should you factor into your rebrand planning process?
This question comes from Tyler, who attended a recent SEJ webinar and asked,
“Recently we had a client name change and changed their brand name and URL. We saw an absolutely massive drop in rankings and traffics.
Could you explain why the specific brand name/URL change would affect all those pages that have essentially not been changed in terms of content and have the appropriate redirects in place? »
Laying the groundwork for a successful site rebrand
“Changing URLs/domains means a whole new page or website for Google. This is a classic challenge in a website migration,” says Ludwig Makhyan, co-founder of Mazeless – Enterprise SEO .
He suggests, “There are some crucial steps you need to take to ensure your migration process goes smoothly. If you do everything right, you will avoid losing your ranking and save a lot of income.
“First of all, there’s a ton of prep work to do,” Makhyan says.
“The easiest way to play this will be to follow a good website SEO migration checklist. In general, the whole process will be broken down into the following main steps: pre-migration, launch and post-migration. »
Some of the most important things you need to do when pre-migrating are:
“After that, you need to run a bunch of tests on the staging environment. You need to make sure that all redirects are set up correctly. Some important mistakes to avoid are broken redirects, redirect chains, and loops. In a perfect world, you want to make sure that every 301 redirect doesn’t have more than one hop,” Makhyan recalls.
“To recap, after the migration, you have a brand new page for Google. Now you want to transfer all pre-existing page values here. To do this, you need to let Google know that this new URL is the logical new version of the page. ‘Ancient.
Check out Mahkyan’s “Site Migration Issues: 11 Potential Reasons for Dropping Traffic” to learn more.
Resist the urge to run all the changes at once
Harpreet Munjal, founder of LoudGrowth, says the biggest mistake many companies make is not a technical error, but a process error: running all the changes at once.
“It can make things complex and reduce efficiency, especially if you have a large website,” he adds.
To avoid this, Munjal advises marketers to “break your rebranding and domain switching process into different stages.”
“For example, start by addressing website design changes without changing your content, web hosting or anything else. Then give it some time to see the effects. If everything looks right, move on to other changes,” he says.
Be sure to keep a backup of your old website, he adds. In case of serious problems on the site, you can always go back.
“If you need to recover using your backup, figure out what issues were affecting rankings and traffic. Then start over by planning the right strategy and implementing changes one by one. Track the changes and give everyone plenty of time to evaluate the results,” says Munjal.
Get your redirects in order
Adam Riemer, CEO of Adam Riemer Marketing, recommends that when rebranding and changing a URL, “you should always set up all redirects correctly.”
In this case, Tyler is certain that his redirects were done correctly – but it never hurts to double-check.
Riemer points out that “all pages – especially those with quality backlinks and receiving traffic from social media – need 301 redirects”.
Additionally, he notes that “it’s also important to update your sitemaps and point all canonical links from the old URL to the new URL, so Google will crawl it will see the new URL and where the page exists now.”
“Then contact all the connections you have backlinks with and ask them to replace the old link with the new one. Then email customers to let them know about the new brand and start building buzz” , suggests Riemer.
Keep optimizing and monitoring traffic changes
Himani Kankaria, Founder of Missive Digital, shares her thoughts on why their specific brand name/URL change would affect these pages.
“Usually authority is attached to each domain name, so even if the redirect is done well, with all canonical and internal links in place, the site may lose traffic due to lost domain authority,” she advises.
What can be done in this case? Kankaria recommends the following:
- Make sure you’ve waited a month or two to see the real impact before making any changes.
- Do public relations activities or link building campaigns for the new name.
- Do content optimization for the top-ranking pages each month.
- Make sure you don’t link to pages with old URLs.
- Explore your website in Screaming Frog or Sitebulb to see if there are any major technical issues that need to be resolved.
- Continuously monitor the evolution of traffic for each important URL.
- If a well-known company is involved, you can contact Google for assistance.
Takeaways and backtracking after rebranding
For Tyler, it’s too late to go back to planning. But the above considerations provide a framework; if any of the steps above were missed, this is a good place to start.
Check your redirects, making sure you haven’t inadvertently created any redirects, redirect chains, or broken loops.
Reassess web design and content changes which were executed at the same time. See if you can identify the most visited high-value pages that were hit the hardest. What changed? What can you change now and test to recover this traffic?
Do a technical SEO audit to identify major issues that could negatively impact rankings.
Evaluate your link building and content activities. Have you put other SEO tactics on hold to focus on rebranding? If so, turn it back on and rebuild it.
Here are some other potential issues and questions that come to mind:
Has the site architecture changed?
Is it possible that PageRank is not distributed as optimally as it was? Has your site hierarchy become more difficult for users or bots? Are important pages now more clicks away from the homepage?
How long has it been since the name change?
There may have been some initial confusion for search engines, especially when the domain name changed. If the rankings and traffic drops are site-wide, that’s a possibility. Sometimes these things settle and bounce back.
Did they change something on the backend?
…such as removing/improperly configuring a CDN, or design change that introduced code overhead, reduced mobile friendliness, or impacted page speed?
Did you explicitly notify Google of the domain change?
Submit a new sitemap.xml file and use Google’s change of address tool to notify them of the change.
Have you updated directory listings to reflect the new URL?
This is especially important if you were relying on local organic traffic. You won’t lose traffic from the listings themselves if your redirects are accurate.
However, when Google sees conflicting key business information such as inconsistent phone numbers, hours of operation, or a website address, it must determine which is true.
Your site may not seem trustworthy if suddenly every other place the business is listed online says the domain is something else.
Have you checked for issues with the history of the new domain?
Hopefully the new brand name and associated domain was thoroughly investigated before the migration. But if not, now check if there are any unresolved manual actions in place.
You may need to do some cleanup and submit a reconsideration request.
If all else fails, browse through this list of other reasons why a site could suddenly see its rankings plummet.
Featured Image: Gearstd/Shutterstock