Not-So-Scary SEO: Will Rebranding Hurt Our SEO?

Posted by in Digital Marketing, SEO and SEM Strategy

Sometimes companies outgrow their names. It’s a perfectly normal part of the business lifecycle. At Mightybytes, we’ve worked with a few companies who either underwent a name change or were considering one. But if you change your company name, what happens to your search traffic? Will customers still be able to find you online?

In this post, we’ll take a look at some considerations when rebranding as it relates to how people find your company online, and we’ll offer some practical tips for managing your content and maintaining your rankings if and when your company changes its name.

One factor to keep in mind even before you choose your new name is to select something that is highly searchable. While this isn’t always possible within the constraints of organizational politics, it’s worth looking into picking a name that is unique, easy to spell, and not highly competitive in search rankings. For search engine optimization purposes, it’s better to name your business “Turquoise Unicorn” than it is “Brown & Associates.” But of course the choice isn’t ultimately about search.

Maintain branded keyword searches by publicizing your new name

Whatever you choose to name your new business, keep in mind that search traffic is really all about the content on your website. Some of the most important keywords that drive traffic are branded keywords (keywords related to your company or brand name).

In order to maintain search rankings around branded keywords after a rebrand, do these two things:

  1. Publicize your new name and get people searching for that new name.
  2. Manage your content in a way that redirects searches for your old name to the website with your new name.

The best way to help people find you online after a name change is to get them searching for your new name. There are no SEO magic tricks to start with here. If your company or organization undergoes a name change, you’ll need to embark on an old-fashioned campaign to publicize the new name. You’ll likely want to do this after your URL changeover, but it’s good to keep in mind for planning purposes once the switch occurs.

When you’re ready to publicize your new name:

  • Arm your employees with the tools they need to aid in the rebrand, from changing their business cards to swapping out email signatures.
  • Make sure your past and current customers, partners, and any stakeholders are aware of your name change (email lists help here).
  • Reach out to media contacts. You’re more likely to get coverage (and links to your new URL) if there’s an important story behind your name change. Think about turning your rebrand into an opportunity for PR, like this agency did.
  • Don’t forget social media channels! Change your profile names and use graphics and updates to communicate the new branding. Change the URL your social media profiles link to.
  • Change your name and URL on any and all local search directory listings, and make sure the new name matches the name on your Google+ page for business.
  • Reach out directly to any important referral traffic sources to communicate your name and URL change. This is especially important if any professional organizations, directories, third party sales applications, etc. are driving a significant portion of your web traffic. (While a redirect will take care of the URL change on your end, consider your branding as it appears on other websites.)
  • Add content to your website that includes your old and new company name in several places. This would look something like, “Company name is now New Company Name!” Do this on the homepage, About page, and in a blog post to start with.

Create redirects for all the content on your website

One of the most important factors related to search rankings are your inbound links (the number of pages on the web that link to your website). If you do not create redirects from old content to new content, links from other website to your website will no longer work. This will dramatically decrease the number of websites that link to your site, decreasing your domain authority and lowering your website in the search rankings for all kinds of searches.

Worse, if you don’t set up redirects, any content that does show up in search will now direct to nowhere and all your awesome built-up search mojo will be lost.

  • Start with a spreadsheet that lists all your current URLs.
  • In a new column, list where those URLs should redirect to on your new website.
  • Add these 301 redirects to your .htaccess file (or have your developer do this), or set up manual redirects (not recommended if your website has a lot of individual URLs!).

These 301 redirects will safely redirect any traffic from your old URLs to the new URLs and you will not lose search rankings because of it.

You’ll also want to make sure your new website has a helpful 404 page to direct any additional lost traffic to useful content on your new website.

What do we do with our old URL?

Your old URL should be redirected to your new website. If people search for your old branded keywords on Google, they may still see search results that contain your old URL. However, with redirects in place, that content will redirect to the same content on your new URL.

In order to ensure that your redirects work for years to come, you’ll need to make sure you maintain ownership of your old domain name(s) into the future. So keep paying the bills on time!

If you want to turn your old URL into something else, or eventually put up a landing page or new website with different content, you should wait a while before doing so. In this video, Google’s Matt Cutts explains how long you should leave your current redirects in place before switching over your content.

Will the non-branded content on our new website maintain its search rankings?

As long as you haven’t made significant changes to the content and you’re redirecting your old URL to the new URL, all the content on your current website should maintain its position in Google’s search rankings. For a while you’ll likely see your old URL name popping up in search results for terms you rank for, but your developer can also insert a bit of code into your .htaccess file that instructs Google to no longer crawl content on your old site. This helps avoid duplicate content penalties and ensures your new domain will show up faster in search results.

So what’s the verdict?

Having the right business name is more important than worrying about a temporary dip in search traffic. And if you organize the migration of your content from one URL to another and accompany your rebrand with an effective publicity campaign, your name change shouldn’t have too much of a negative effect on your traffic.

Be sure to monitor your search traffic carefully both before and after the name change, however, so you can deal with any traffic issues before they become a real problem for business.

Mightybytes is a Chicago-based digital agency and Certified B Corporation. Connect with us on LinkedIn or get in touch via our contact form.