On top of taglines, logos, repositioning creatively – and everything else that’s involved, one important factor at play when rebranding is maintaining search rankings following the switch.
The issue is, too many brand agencies fail to grasp the importance of SEO during this process. They may be able to create a beautiful site for you, but what’s the point in a beautiful site that no one can find? Luckily, we’re an agency that can build a stunning and functional new website, create and reposition a new brand concept, and ensure that a clients SEO remains intact during the process.
Here’s a quick guide you can follow to make sure your rebrand doesn’t kill your SEO efforts…
The biggest SEO mistakes made during a rebrand and how to avoid them…
Lack of Preliminary Work
Advance planning is key. Before you start delving into the tactical steps, you need to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in order prior to pulling the trigger. Skipping these steps can cause huge setbacks down the road…
Block the New Site
Your new website should be live and fully functional – but blocked from search engines until the switch date.
This is especially important to avoid duplicate content issues if the pages are mostly the same as the old site. The easiest way to do this is with the Robots.txt file.
Google Webmaster Tools & Google Analytics
You’ll need to make sure you’ve added and verified both domains in GWT to take advantage of Google’s Change of Address feature when your new site goes live. Make sure to do it in the same Google account, and confirm that you have administrator access to the site in Google Analytics. If you don’t have the right permissions you won’t be able to update the old website information to the new one.
Registrar and Hosting
Make sure that you have access to the hosting for both websites. You will also want to make sure that you’ll be hosting both the old and the new websites for the foreseeable future. Same goes with the old domain – you should register it for as long as possible in order to maintain control of it.
This is another step that is often skipped but this is the ideal opportunity to make note of benchmarks for your most important KPIs. This includes traffic, bounce rates, rankings, conversion rates, your backlink profile and citations. You need these benchmarks in order to measure the success of your rebrand and determine how well you’re maintaining your SEO status.
Make sure to back up your old site. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
Not Prepping Your 301 Redirects
A 301 redirect transfers a user from one URL to another. “301 Moved Permanently” is the official title, and it basically makes sure authority is passed from the old to the new URLs. You should avoid a 302 (which is for a temporary change in URLs), as this authority will not come across.
Preparing your redirects is the most important step of your rebrand for SEO purposes. To keep Google happy and to ensure a good user experience, you’ll need to redirect every page from your old site to the most relevant page of the new one.
Failure to plan for redirects is something that we’ve seen far too many times over the years, and it can take a lot of rescue work after a migration.
Before starting to plan you 301 redirects, you need to make sure you have development website – making 301 redirect recommendations without knowing both the URL structure and what content lives on the page is another big mistake.
We found it easiest to manage this process with a simple spreadsheet, listing the URLs for every page on the old site in one column, and the corresponding URLs on the new site in the next column. Crawl the site using screaming frog to make sure there are no URLs missed. Of course, any pages that generate a lot of traffic or have a lot of backlinks should take priority, so organise your spreadsheet to update the most important pages first.
Any pages you’re not replicating on the new website, say a product or service you no longer offer, shouldn’t just be forgotten about. You’ll need to redirect them towards the most relevant page or simple to your homepage.
Failing to Update Directory Listings
If you do any local business – and who doesn’t really – you need to show up for local searches that involve your products or services. One of the strongest local ranking factors is the consistency of your business NAP – that is its Name, Address and Phone number – across the scores of local, regional and industry business directories. In the SEO world these are called citations.
You’ll need to go back and update every listing with your company’s new information. While this feels tedious, your local SEO efforts depend on it.
Be warned, this is not a quick and easy task. You’ll find that many directories can take an age to update a listing (if they do at all), and once they do it could be weeks before Google crawls the new information.
If your company name, address and phone number have all changed during the rebrand, you can go about setting up new citation listings instead. It’s important to remember that this is only okay if all three have changed. If not, they will start flagging as duplicate listings.
You also need to update all of the information of your Google MyBusiness listing and remember that these changes can take a few days to update.
Failing to Update Links
Your link profile is, arguably, the most important part of your sites SEO success. While the redirects will carry through some of this link juice, you should change any of the top referring links to point straight towards the new website.
Download your backlink profile and order them in terms of Trust Flow and Domain Authority. Also, take a look at your referral traffic in Google Analytics to see which links are bringing in the most traffic to the site. Once you have all of this information, work your way through these, contact the site owners to update the links to point to your new domain.
Again, this isn’t the easiest process and some sites will take a long time to update the links, and sometimes they won’t at all, but it’s worth doing.
Failing to fully optimise the new site
People can often get so caught up planning redirects and making sure the old content is pulled across, they forget the importance of optimising the new site. You need to conduct fresh keyword research, assess what you’re already ranking for and what search volumes these keywords have, what you’re currently ranking badly for and why…
You need to take this opportunity to audit your site in terms of keyword targeting and content optimisation. Too many people copy across all their old website copy blindly, even if it’s 5 years old and isn’t optimised.
Failing to test
You wouldn’t believe the amount of migrations that happen in which people fail to check their 301 redirects.
Check over the development site one last time before the switch, making sure all content is where it should be and all pages are as you want them to be. You should then crawl the new site with screaming frog to make sure all the on-page SEO has been implemented properly. Finally, give it a manual once over to make sure the content is good and that nothing jumps out or looks out of place.
Once the site is redirecting, check all of the redirects are working. This means testing them all individually. Run a fresh SEO audit of the website – as if you were looking at it for the first time. anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks after launch depending on the authority and traffic levels.
We check a few of the following:
That all on-page optimisations have been implemented.
Page speeds of the new site.
Internal link structure.
Robots, sitemap, etc.
Check that the 301 redirects were implemented – again.
Basically, your standard SEO audit.
Failing to monitor GA and GWT
Monitoring Google Analytics and checking Search Console is never more important than after a rebrand and migration. It is extremely likely that you’ll find missed redirects that end up being caught as 404’s in Search Console, and notice any issues via Analytics.
Failing to choose the right time
As long as you stick to this plan and be vigilant, there’s no reason SEO issues should stop you from rebranding and switch domains. Even when you’re as careful as you can be, there is still a chance you will see a dip in your organic traffic in the days and weeks following your migration.
Our advice would be to plan the switch for when you’re in “downtime”. Every company has points throughout the year when their sales or enquiries dip. Take a look at the search volumes for your core keywords and see when they’re lower, and look at your yearly traffic via analytics for the last few years.
This will help you establish which periods people are searching for your business services less than usual, which is the perfect time to undergo the change.
If you’re still worried about the potential loss of traffic and custom, you can always set up a paid campaign to run following the switchover. This can help you retain some of the traffic should your rankings dip slightly.
To sum it up
Don’t let potential SEO issues put you off a rebrand if it’s needed. With any business decision, you need to weigh up the pros and cons, but your SEO efforts can certainly survive a rebrand.
If you’re considering rebrand or change of domain and want some advice and guidance, get in touch today. We’re an agency that can create a beautiful new brand for you, build you a stunning and functional new website and ensure that all of these SEO steps are followed during the process.
We’d love to build something great with you.