In the increasingly competitive digital landscape, one may find a wealth of reasons to rebrand a website. Analytics or business needs may say it’s time for a visual upgrade, a complete site migration, or anything in-between. Still, it’s very often not a comfortable undertaking, as SEO rankings may suffer if done wrong. So, let us use this article to explore how to rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings, step by step.
Types of rebranding
First, let us briefly explore the 3 main types of rebranding one might consider. Each will require a rather different process, but here we’ll try to cover the fundamentals of them all.
#1 Redesigns and enhancements
A very common type and actually the closest to a traditional rebrand, this one simply sees website upgrades. These will include layout and other redesigns and optimizations, seeking to make a website more effective.
Unless you also change your domain name, this will be the easiest type of rebrand SEO-wise. If you do, you will need to account for 301 redirects and adjacent practices we’ll cover below.
This type often comes up in response to hosting problems and objections, such as lacking security or performance. These cases also often entail rebrands, as new domains present such opportunities.
Understandably, this type presents many more challenges, as it requires an actual content migration by default. It’s thus among the riskier rebrand types, and it’s the one this article will cater to the most.
Finally, business mergers and site acquisitions are not uncommon either. Many webmasters use these opportunities to rebrand in the process, highlighting their new identity or assets.
Thankfully, this type is somewhat similar to relocations, and will primarily need simple 301 redirects too.
SEO’s relation to rebranding a website
Still, regardless of the reason, one needs to ensure they rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings. Why is that, some might wonder – what’s SEO’s relation to rebranding? Put simply and bluntly; rebrands can be catastrophic to SEO without proper care.
Among its vast array of ranking factors, SEO takes domain age, authoritativeness, and similar domain-level qualities into account. Thus, domain-level changes can undermine such qualities and tarnish the SEO power you’ve worked hard to acquire.
To consolidate its primary adverse effects, we may narrow them down to the following:
- Fewer leads. Without SEO’s favor, your website may need many months to regain its former rankings. In turn, lower search engine visibility will reduce your lead generation rates and damage your business.
- Less incoming traffic. Worse yet, especially if you’ve worked hard on backlinks, domain name changes can significantly reduce your incoming traffic. That’s before considering that your hard-earned backlinks’ Domain Authority (DA) benefits won’t fuel your SEO either.
- Higher churn rates. Finally, leads aside, even existing customers may leave your business if they can’t immediately recognize it as one they know. While universally applicable, this holds substantial value for professional moving companies, which must strive to improve retention rates and avoid losing clients at all costs.
In brief, then, poor execution can have very severe effects that overshadow a rebrand’s benefits.
How to rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings
So how can you avoid these pitfalls? Let’s take things one by one, and work our way to success – no matter your rebrand type.
#1 Backup your website
First and foremost, as with all such endeavors, start with a full site backup. This way, you’ll be sure you have a functional website to fall back to should anything go wrong. If you’re using WordPress, you may use backup plugins like the following to save you some trouble:
- WP Time Capsule
- ManageWP Backups
No matter the type or scope of your rebrand, we’d strongly advise that you don’t skip this step.
#2 Audit your website
Then, you may conduct a full audit of your website to determine which content holds the most SEO value. You may certainly migrate all your content, but you may wish to use this opportunity to clean it up.
If you’re working with web development professionals, they may do so for you. If you don’t, or would rather do it yourself, you may use such tools as:
- Moz Pro
- SEO Checker
Of course, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools are also powerful tools you may use for this process.
As you audit your website, you may primarily note the following:
- Your website’s architecture. Especially if it already works for you, you will ideally want to replicate it or preserve it.
- Content performance. Some content will simply attract and convert more visitors, and that content you may best prioritize.
- Internal and external links. Links will offer your SEO’s proverbial backbone, so you should mind both internal and external ones.
You may also note which of your content works best for mobile devices, as mobile traffic now exceeds desktop traffic.
#3 Export and import your valuable content
Now, this part is crucial to ensure you successfully rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings. With those insights in hand, you may pick the best-performing content and either migrate or preserve it.
The migration process is quite lengthy to cover in full here, but the basic steps for WordPress sites are:
- Export your database through your cPanel’s phpMyAdmin
- Create a new database in your new server through cPanel’s MySQL Databases
- Create a new MySQL user for it
- Edit your old site’s wp-config.php file to point to your new database
- Import your database to your new server via phpMyAdmin, and assign it to your new user
However, these are only the fundamentals. We strongly suggest that you consult your host providers for this step.
#4 Prepare for 301 redirects
The crucial part for any rebrand type and process, 301 redirects will largely safeguard your SEO rankings. In brief, that’s because both visitors and search engines will immediately identify your brand through them.
First, let Google know you’ve moved your site through its change of address tool. Then, you will need to set up permanent 301 redirects from your old content to your new content. This process won’t save all your SEO power, and it will need some more work to fully pay off – as we’ll cover next.
For this step, if you’re not familiar with the process, Google offers an excellent help article on redirects.
#5 Update your internal links
Then, to finalize the previous step, you will need to scout and replace your content’s links to successfully rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings. Much like redirects, your links, too, should point at your new content. If you’ve preserved your site’s structure, this will present no challenges at all.
SEOPress offers a handy search-and-replace tutorial without third-party assistance. Still, if you have lots of content and little time, you may use such WordPress plugins as:
- Search & Replace by Inpsyde
- Better Search Replace by Delicious Brains
- CM Search & Replace
Some of the tools you might have used for step #2 may also provide such functionalities.
#6 Reach out to update backlinks
Next, and equally crucially, you must do the same for your backlinks, as those hold even more SEO value. Where internal links consolidate your website’s structure and craft customer journeys, backlinks boost your DA score and produce referral traffic.
For this step, you may use any tools that check for broken links. Many of the above tools, like Ahrefs and Moz, offer such features. If you need different ones for this step, you may use, among others:
- Dead Link Checker
- Link Check
- The Atomseo Chrome extension
Sadly, backlinks are beyond your direct control. So, you’ll need to make a list of your backlinks and reach out to webmasters to fix them for you. You may use an email template for this step, but ideally, you should personalize each email for better results.
#7 Monitor your changes
If you’ve followed the process so far you should now be good to go. Still, once you finish rebranding your website and fine-tuning your content, you will still need to monitor your website’s metrics. For at least a few weeks after the process, keep an eye on crucial metrics like:
- Organic traffic; has your website retained its SEO rankings? You should only see slight dips in traffic – and swiftly intervene if you see larger losses.
- Referral traffic; do your backlinks produce traffic like before? Depending on how much traffic you’ve lost, you may amp up your link-building efforts accordingly.
- User behavior; do your visitors enjoy your rebranded website? You may use heat maps and analytics to deduce user satisfaction.
Even after the readjustment period, a close eye on your new or renewed website’s performance will always benefit your business.
In closing, it may be nigh impossible to rebrand a website without losing SEO rankings at all. Any such changes will inevitably cause minor losses – but nothing you won’t soon recover from. Following this process, you should keep your SEO mostly intact while also reaping all the benefits of your rebranded website.