8 SEO Steps When Rebranding Your Company

Should your company undergo a rebranding exercise — change in brand name or online identity — which inevitably puts at risk the progress you’ve made, there are steps in SEO that you can follow to mitigate the possible drop in organic traffic and potential confusion among your loyal audience.

Rebranding obviously involves not only SEO rankings — there’s repositioning of the business, changing of creatives, logos and business cards, administrative and legal hurdles. And while SEO helps maintain brand recognition and search engine visibility, many brands who have reinvented themselves didn’t quite achieve their desired results.

Why rebranding can be bad for SEO
Offline, transitioning to a new brand identity means replacing an old one with a new one and translates to new logos, updated email addresses, document color schemes and even repainted office interiors. Similarly online, such replacement job aims to remove remnants of the old brand so that previous logos, old website address or outdated content are completely replaced accordingly. However, it’s also likely that the exercise will mean rankings will plummet and lose potential traffic.

In short, a rebranding exercise could be detrimental to your business if it means you’re starting all over again. But a change in business identity is sometimes necessary for long term gains. That’s why as daunting as the scenario might be for SEO, such change has to be carried out especially if things are beyond your control such as your company has been acquired and has to rename itself.

Thankfully there are a number of things that help avoid losing those hard-earned rankings while rebranding is in full swing.

1. Preserve your old website content
During the initial weeks or months of a rebranding exercise, it is expected that your company might roll out a new website or fresh content. But while this is taking shape, keep your existing assets that have delivered leads or brand exposure in the past. What I mean by this is do not delete the outdated web pages in favor of new ones or abandon an old domain.

This is because external web pages are still linking to them and immediately removing them will deprive you from leveraging the link equity gained by these pages.

Please advise your webmaster to retain these properties for a few months while search engines attempt to understand the changes and eventually update their index with new content you have rolled out.

2. Redirect old URLs to new ones
Rebranding is the process of changing your company’s corporate image, which means you can’t keep two separate versions, unless you’re creating a new branch or subsidiary. The primary purpose of keeping the old content as described in #1 is to leverage link equity (value of link coming from existing backlinks from other websites) as you forward that page to a new one.

For example, say your company used to solely facilitate sale or lease of subdivided flats in Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po, but decides to switch towards the more profitable commercial space, serviced apartments, village houses or facility rental, hence the rebranding move by revamping the website or changing brand name.

Now, pages that people visit when they look for subdivided flats may no longer be served but can still be forwarded to a page that says “sorry, we don’t offer this service anymore” and also features the new real estate services.

While this sounds straightforward, notifying a visitor that you no longer have the service they’re looking for, in the background, links coming from websites such as those promoting flatshare or blogs that highlight the benefits of subdivided flats is still active and provide value to the soon obscure page, even though it’s not as relevant as before. Redirecting the flatshare page to the new page extends this value to the new landing page.

Remember that links are among the most important SEO ranking factors.

Redirection should be done using 301 method:

Redirect 301 /flatshare.html http://www.company.com/realestate/services.html

For change in domain name, apply the following code (replace oldbrand.com and newbrand.com with your current and new domain, respectively):

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^oldbrand.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.oldbrand.com$
RewriteRule (.*)$ http://www.newbrand.com/$1 [R=301,L]

3. Make right judgment on redirecting pages
Not all rebranding exercises will adopt the same procedure as described in #2 so when it comes to redirecting pages, it pays to do the correct approach.

Examine the old pages and decide the right course of action:

  • If old page is no longer part of the rebranded website, redirect it to a placeholder page similar to the above example, or to homepage. It makes sense to properly send the right message to visitors who are not aware of changes and need to be informed about them. Otherwise, a visitor can get confused to see different content while expecting the old one.
  • If old page is part of the rebranded website, it would be better to keep the entire URL intact. However, if the brand changes, for which domain names or folder structures are also updated, map the old URL with the most appropriate equivalent on the updated website structure.A good practice to do this is create a spreadsheet list of old URLs on one column, and then identify the corresponding new URLs on the other column.
  • If old page has multiple possible web pages it can be redirected to, you can pick one, or create a common page to share links to those pages. Using the example above, flatshare.html can be redirected to commercial-space.html, serviced-apartments.html or village-houses.html. Or you can redirect it to a newly created services.html whose content includes information and separate links towards commercial space, serviced apartments or village houses landing pages.

For Apache servers, apply redirection using the same 301 method as above.

Once redirections are in place, test if they are properly working. Also check if methods of redirection are as expected using http://www.redirect-checker.org/.

The idea is to avoid wasting the inbound links coming from external websites as link building is among the most difficult, if not time-consuming task an SEO has to do.

4. Update other online brand accounts
Before deciding on a rebranding move, I assume you also checked the procedures on changing your social media profiles. If not, make sure your intended brand also has a consistent, or at least acceptable profile name to adopt in the rebranding effort.

  • Do you need to create a new Facebook page and leave behind thousands of fans especially if you already renamed your page before and is no longer eligible for another rename?
  • Does the new brand have an available Twitter handle you can register? Or perhaps talk an existing user into granting you access to take over — if both of you agree on returning the favor.
  • Is the new brand company page available on LinkedIn? You can rename an old business page but may need to tweak a bit.

In addition to accessing the account, don’t forget to update your brand’s profile description and website URL.

5. Review other online presence
It’s not only your website nor social media accounts that need to be taken care of during the process of rebranding.

If you were actively involved in guest posts, you may want to edit your company or personal bio to reflect the changes in your corporate identity.

If you don’t have a proper documentation of your past online submissions, do a quick Google search using the old company name and check if you can revise or approach the webmaster for a timely update.

6. Update SEO settings, analytics and diagnostic tools
As your rebranding goes on full swing, get the tools to monitor performance right:

  • Google Search Console:
    Make sure you have verified both websites using the same Google account so you can later make use of its Change of Address feature. If you have done so, take time to review an earlier post I wrote about this procedure.Also prepare the new domain’s XML sitemap for submission to GSC.
  • Google Analytics and Bing Webmaster Tools
    Update the domain settings and apply the tracking code to provide continuity in tracking traffic and other metrics between the old and new website addresses in case you decide a new domain is part of rebranding exercise.
  • Capture performance data
    Whether it’s keyword ranking, organic traffic, backlinks count or brand queries, make a record of these KPIs to serve as your benchmark data. You can then compare them with the same KPI once the new site has launched. Although there may not be a significant SEO done, this comparison could help provide leads to diagnose problems that may arise.Segment data as needed; organic traffic, direct traffic, referrals.
  • Access to domain registration and hosting provider
    Ensure that you have access to the domain name and hosting provider for both old and new domains. This helps ease the task of doing redirections, avoiding duplicate content and resolving any DNS issues.
  • Create fresh backup
    As with any major website updates, backup of data and content is imperative. Make this backup copy accessible in case you need to revert back to the old website version.
  • Update Meta tags
    You may need to review your keyword list and validate whether old ones are still applicable or new ones need to be added — depending on the impact of rebranding on your online presence. You can then update the page titles and meta descriptions to reflect the new identity.

Once the new site has been launched, take time to simulate a Google search to see if traces of old brand is still reflected on search results.

7. Promote your new brand
Once the site migration has taken place, ownership of social media account settled and page redirection from old to new website URLs are sorted out, it’s time to promote the existence of a new brand.

  • Newsletter update
    Notify your subscribers about the change. But more than a newsletter update, extend the message to your vendors, customers, suppliers and partners about the new change.
  • Press release
    To amplify the message you outlined in your newsletter or email blast to relevant recipients, a press release is a good way to get the official word out, plus it also has benefits beyond just SEO.
  • Social media
    With a new or renamed account, take time to explain, albeit briefly the change taking place and how it can potentially net you new sales leads or potential partnerships.
  • Advertise
    Change in brand can also be reflected in how you craft your advertisements. For example, in Google AdWords, you can include your old (and perhaps more recognizable) brand by using a similar phrase to this one “Find your new home with NewBrand (formerly OldBrand).”

8. Monitor progress.
Certainly your work is not done and a big part of task to be done is monitor how are things progressing online with your newly launched brand.

  • Check KPIs. In a reasonable time frame, maybe a month or two, examine the old benchmark data and perform a similar check to see how things have progressed. Has rankings stabilized or plummeted? Does a search using old brand queries reflect the new brand presence online? Is organic traffic starting to improve after a week-long drop?
  • Checked diagnostic tools. Explore the 404 errors, broken links or duplicate page issues at Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools and fix them.

The rest of tasks should be fairly similar to what you’ll do with websites that don’t undergo rebranding. Good luck!