How to successfully maintain SEO during a website rebrand
Rebranding a website can be an exciting task for any business, but it also carries a variety of risks to a website’s organic visibility and overall performance.
A rebrand can range from a simple domain change to a complete overhaul in brand, website design and website architecture, which require comprehensive analysis and a logical migration process to maintain traffic.
Not conducting thorough research and planning can lead to devastating SEO impacts that will directly affect the commercial revenue the website generates following a digital rebrand.
However, careful SEO consideration and successful execution of a website rebrand can result in minimal traffic loss with potential for rapid organic growth.
Where to start with rebrands
At the start of any rebrand project, it is essential to understand what will change on the website and what will remain the same.
This information will allow you to analyse the risks associated with the changes and implement solutions to reduce the negative impacts.
Below are questions you need to carefully consider before the rebrand, as each will have an impact on the risks:
- Is the brand name changing?
- Is the domain name changing?
- Will the URL website architecture be changing in any way?
- What on-page content changes are being made?
- Are any services or products being changed, removed or added?
Additionally, it is also vital that you recognise the value of your existing website by reviewing what areas currently drive organic traffic and the resulting value each area brings.
Organic traffic can be broken into two areas:
- Branded organic traffic
- Non-branded organic traffic
Branded organic traffic is when users search a query into a search engine that includes your business name. For example, for SALT.agency, a branded search would be “salt agency seo”.
Organic brand traffic carries significant value for any business as, in most cases, the customer knows what they are looking for and are likelier to purchase a product or service due to the pre-existing trust.
Brand traffic sources
To review the current organic branded traffic your website obtains, a great place to start is Google Search Console (GSC) and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWMT).
In GSC, follow this process to filter search queries for your brand:
Search results > select the date range > ‘+ New’ > Query > Enter a query containing your brand name.
BWMT does not offer a filter option like GSC; therefore, you must export all search queries to an Excel document and filter the results in the sheet to contain your brand query.
You can use the information from these sources to understand which are the top branded queries.
Importance of brand traffic for a rebrand
If your business is not changing the company name, maintaining organic brand traffic is extremely important, as it will remain valuable to your business.
It is also likely that your non-brand traffic will experience traffic loss, with site architecture or product (service) changes to the website. Therefore, maintaining brand traffic will reduce the overall impact this may have.
If you are changing the business name as part of the rebrand, maintaining branded traffic is less critical, and more effort should be focused on targeting the new name. It would help if you also considered helping customers and search engines recognise the business change.
Methods of achieving this are explored later in the article.
Preserving brand traffic through a rebrand
If the business is keeping the same name and brand traffic needs to be preserved during the rebrand, there are a few activities that can be carried out to achieve this.
Tracking / Monitoring Queries
Using the sources mentioned, you should collate all the traffic driving branded queries you find into a single list and prioritise them by their importance to the site (traffic).
From here, you should monitor the performance of these queries before, during, and after the rebrand so you can identify any drops in clicks, impressions, and rankings to specific branded queries, and implement changes.
Using the list of branded queries collected, you can go through each of the queries and identify the core landing pages that drive traffic.
You can do this by searching the specific query into GSC & BWMT and select the “pages” option to see which landing pages rank for the query.
Most likely, the homepage, or a general business page (such as about us or contact us), will be the top pages driving branded traffic. However, in some cases, it may be a specific service page that search engines prioritise.
On-Page Elements & Content
Once you have identified the landing pages that drive branded traffic, you should review them to determine the specific features that result in the brand traffic.
These features will commonly be the page meta title, the H1 tag, and the on-page content. It would help if you looked to preserve these elements, or even expand, by targeting the same queries throughout the rebrand to maintain branded traffic to the website.
Non-branded organic traffic is where a user searches for a query not containing the company name and lands on the website. For example, a non-branded search query for SALT.agency could be “technical SEO services”.
Typically, non-branded traffic does not offer the same commercial value as branded traffic as users may not be after a specific product/service you specifically provide and are generally browsing the internet for it.
Despite this, non-branded traffic is commonly larger due to the variety of queries a well-optimised website should target.
Sources of non-branded traffic
Like branded traffic, you can review the performance of non-branded queries using GSC & BWMT.
You can achieve this through the same process explained for branded queries, but instead, change the filter requirements to view all queries excluding the brand term.
For example, if I were to review SALT.agency’s non-brand queries, I would search for all queries not containing the key phrase “salt”.
Importance of non-branded traffic
The importance of non-branded traffic varies for each company due to variables, such as industry, products and services, and the business size.
However, for most websites, the importance of non-brand traffic is substantial in obtaining traffic to specific landing pages, as well as having a broader audience reach.
When carrying out a website rebrand, it is vital to understand the value each part of the website has with regards to the non-brand traffic they capture.
Preserving non-branded traffic
To preserve organic non-branded traffic, you can carry out the same research process used to protect brand traffic.
The process includes reviewing which non-brand queries have driven traffic so you can use them to identify core commercial pages and content.
The fewer features of the website that can be maintained, the more risks there will be of potential non-brand traffic loss.
If it is decided that certain services or products will be removed from the site, effort must be made to ease this transition.
This can be achieved by producing supporting articles that explain why certain services are no longer available. Alternatively, the service could be mentioned through content on a related page.
You could also ensure that redirects are pointed towards the most relevant page. This still allows the targeting of key terms, but means that search engines recognise that the service is no longer a core commercial service.
How to implement changes with minimal traffic loss during a rebrand.
Changing brand name
It is essential to recognise that changing the brand name will have a significant impact on the website’s performance, as the site will no longer target the same brand queries.
The main focus when changing a brand name should be on spreading awareness of the change across various channels. This includes sending emails to subscribers, alerting social media followers, and pushing marketing to existing customers.
Despite having a new brand name to target, it does not mean people will suddenly stop searching for the old brand name.
For this reason, you should produce a blog post that explains the change using old and new brand names. This will also help search engines understand that the brand name has changed.
You should also include information about the change on general business pages, such as the about us or company history page. This tactic will also help search engines process the change and ease the transition.
Despite performing the activities described above, brand traffic will inevitably slow. Therefore, effort should also be focused on targeting the new brand name by ensuring it is mentioned across the site, such as including it in all page meta titles.
Changing domain name
Changing the domain name of a website carries large risks for rebranding projects, as you are essentially introducing a new website to search engines. When doing this, your main objective needs to be showing search engines that your company is the same, despite having a new address.
There are a variety of activities you can do to help search engines understand and process this change, such as:
- Ensure all old URLs point to the correct location on the new domain
- Minimise content changes
- Maintain the internal linking structure
- Keep metadata consistent – primarily meta titles and H1 tags
Completing the above will help search engines better compare the old website to the new one and process that they are the same entity. As a result, this should reduce ranking losses.
Website’s architecture changes.
When creating a website architecture, it is essential to remember it has a direct impact on search engines as well as customers. Search engines use the website’s architecture and internal linking to crawl the website and understand the services of the company.
If the architecture or internal linking were to change, search engines would re-evaluate the website and directly impact the sites rankings respectively. For example, should a core service page be removed from the main navigation? Or should it no longer link to other key pages? If this were to happen, search engines would devalue the page, which would result in ranking drops and less traffic.
Therefore, any changes made to architecture and internal linking during a rebrand should only occur when fully necessary.
You can attempt to mitigate traffic loss by minimising the number of changes required, although sometimes a big architectural change is what’s needed for websites to perform successfully.
URL redirects play an essential part in ensuring organic traffic is maintained during a website architecture change. Redirects allow for link equity, which is where the link value of one page transfers through to another. If redirects are not implemented correctly, the website’s rankings will be directly impacted, and organic traffic will decrease as a result.
A small decrease in traffic is commonly experienced with architecture changes while search engines begin to crawl and process the new structure. Google typically has a “grace period” when it detects a migration which structurally changes the website, allowing itself to re-discover all URLs.
If you are looking to maintain organic traffic during a rebrand, then get in touch!