As an SEO, I’ve worked with many clients during rebranding initiatives to ensure that their sites retain rankings — and, over the past few months, my own firm has been undergoing a brand transition. Thus, I thought I’d use my column this month to share some advice on how to handle a rebrand from an SEO perspective.
What Is Spurring The Rebrand?
To adequately address the rebrand, it’s important to understand the reason the rebrand is occurring. Is there a merger of two companies, creating an altogether new brand? Is one company (brand) being acquired and absorbed into another company (brand)? Or is your brand just in need of a refresh?
These questions are important because they affect how you’ll address SEO in each situation.
It Starts With The Brand Name
Choosing a new brand name today isn’t easy. Not only do you have to consider if you can acquire the domain for that brand name, but now you also have to consider all of the various social media profiles. That’s no easy feat. Make sure your SEO and social media teams are working with the branding team from the beginning to guide the brand decision if possible. As brand names are considered, investigate the possible competition and roadblocks on the search and social sides.
If you find a social profile ID that you really want but is currently taken, in some cases you can still get the ID from the current owner.
Update Your Social Profiles To Your New Brand
While you can reserve a domain name in advance of your brand relaunch, not all social platforms are as simple to reserve or update. Every site is different in how it allows you to update the social profile’s ID:
If you’re just updating your brand, as we did from Search Mojo to Marketing Mojo, Facebook allows you to change your page name one time, but only one time. Additionally, you can change your reserved URL, but only once.
If you are merging two brands into a new brand, there isn’t really a way to merge two pages together. I’d recommend keeping the page with the most followers and rebranding that page. Then, I would redirect followers from the other page to the one you decide to keep.
There are obviously many abandoned IDs on Twitter. It’s very frustrating. According to Twitter, they will periodically deactivate IDs that have not been active for some period of time. However, I’ve found that Twitter is very slow to do this. As Twitter suggests, the best thing to do if you see an ID you want (and it’s not being used) is to contact the person who owns the ID first and see if they are willing to part with it.
In our case, someone owned the Twitter ID “MarketingMojo,” but she hadn’t tweeted from the account in nearly four years. We were able to locate her via some savvy investigation and reach out to her to see if she would be willing to allow us to have it — and thankfully, she did!
If you do feel you have a legitimate trademark infringement issue with your name, you can file a trademark policy violation claim with Twitter. However, be sure you own the trademark to the name, else you will likely not win this effort.
Fortunately, LinkedIn doesn’t present as many limitations as other social platforms when changing brand profile information. The greatest challenge with updating your brand on LinkedIn is the company name. If you have a unique name, you may have no problem getting the page name that you want. However, if you do find that someone has already taken the company name you want, you’ll have to get creative in how you name your company. In our case, we had to set our name to “Marketing Mojo, a Digital Marketing Agency” to reserve the page since “Marketing Mojo” alone was taken.
We didn’t want this longer name to be displayed on employees’ profile pages, so we let employees know that they can edit the “display name” shown on their profiles. While this change will appear within their individual profiles, the link on the company name will still link to the company’s page.
To change the company page URL, you must contact LinkedIn technical support and enter a trouble ticket. We found LinkedIn support to be fairly responsive, changing the URL for our company page within about 24 hours.
Google+ is, in my experience, the most frustrating social platform of all when rebranding. While you can change the business profile page name, you cannot change the vanity URL. So, if you have set your vanity URL already, you cannot update the URL to match the new brand (as you can with Facebook).
Once all of the new social profiles are edited and set up, don’t forget to go back to Google+ and update your company’s links in the About Us section of the profile.
Don’t Lose Your Authority
As you develop the new website, don’t lose all of the great authority it has gained with search engines over the years! Before relaunching the new site, make a list of your old URLs and map them to the same (or similar) content on the new site.
I like to use a spreadsheet with two columns: Column A contains the old URL and Column B contains the associated new URL. By entering the URLs this way, you can quickly create a set of 301 redirects for these URLs in Microsoft Word by simply changing the table to text and doing a few search/replace functions. This is especially handy if you have a long list of URLs to enter.
Be sure to add the redirects to your .htaccess file. Test your 301s after the launch to ensure they are working properly.
Unfortunately, rebranding also means that you’ll need to pay close attention to your authorship markup and ensure that the authorship snippet continues to show for your site.
Think about how the authorship connection is established — it is the handshake between a website and an author’s Google+ profile. Once a website URL changes in a rebrand, if the author does not also update the “contributor to” link on his/her Google+ profile, then the authorship can break. Similarly, if your authors used the email confirmation version of author verification and the domain of your URL changes, the authorship can also break.
Once you relaunch the website and the new domain is live, reach out to each author to encourage them to update the “contributor to” links on their Google+ profile pages to ensure the authorship handshake remains intact.
Consider Adding Structured Markup
Rebrands often mean redesigning a website, and that’s a perfect time to investigate adding structured markup to all forms of content on your new site. If you’re editing CMS templates, it makes sense to incorporate structured markup into those templates while you’re editing them for the relaunch.
Refer to schema.org for a full list of structured markup categories, and test your markup once the site is live via the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.
Don’t Forget Mobile
No matter what the reason for the rebrand, it can be easy to focus so much on the main website and other details of rebranding that we lose sight of creating a mobile-friendly version. Don’t forget mobile!
A common practice I’ve seen lately (and one we employed at Marketing Mojo with our rebrand) is to relaunch the main site first, then build a responsive design site after the main relaunch. This allowed us to work out the kinks of the website first, prioritizing issues like broken links and such, before transferring the same site to a mobile display.
Since mobile still is not the primary driver of traffic to our site, this seemed a prudent approach. But if mobile makes up the majority of your website traffic, you may reconsider how to integrate mobile into your relaunch plans, perhaps prioritizing it higher as the need warrants.
Keep The Old Sites Up For A Short Time
If you’re familiar with DNS changes, you likely know that it can take generally up to 72 hours for servers across the web to understand that the domain is pointing to a different IP address. In an old blog post from 2005, Matt Cutts advises:
Once you are sure people or Googlebots are fetching from the new webhost/IP address, you’re done. You can shut down the old site.
So in most cases, theoretically, that should be up to three days later. However, I have found in the past that some Google servers didn’t appear to be as quick as others to update.
Given that, I use a rule of thumb to leave the old sites on the old IP addresses as the shift occurs for a period of about two weeks. This generally catches all of the potential delays. It might be overkill, but I’d rather do that than lose my hard-earned SERP listings!
Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
It’s inevitable that you miss something with all of the moving parts of a rebrand site relaunch. So be sure to monitor your traffic and rankings closely to spot any irregularities quickly.
I generally benchmark my traffic and rankings just prior to the launch and then monitor daily for changes for about two weeks. If rankings drop for a particular page, it may mean that a 301 redirect was missed, so as you monitor and see changes, respond by taking appropriate action to fix the problem.