How to Do a Rebrand Without Completely Tanking Organic Traffic

by Christina Keffer, Lead Digital Strategist, Chemistry, Pittsburgh


One of the most common reasons we get SEO clients is that they went through a rebrand and their organic traffic tanked. The agencies they work with typically come up with a million and one amazing ideas, a great new logo, new brand standards, the works. They think of everything, from the fonts to the business cards to truck wrappers. But, unless they’ve got an in-house digital team, they usually miss one vital thing.


They don’t take search engine optimization into consideration at all. This can be especially harmful if the brand depends on organic traffic to bring them the majority of their leads, which is often the case.


Here are a few things you, as a brand owner, should consider from an SEO perspective during a rebrand.



How the New Brand Name Will Rank Compared to the Old Brand Name


Among a million other touchpoints, the brand name is often the centerpiece of the brand’s website URL. For this reason, changing that brand name needs careful consideration from an SEO perspective. URL relevance matters a lot to the search engines as they attempt to establish relevance to search terms.


This is not to say that brand names should be chosen specifically for the relevance to the market’s common searches, only that it needs to be taken into consideration. Here are some things to think about:


  • Consider the impact of removing business category words from the brand name. One common tactic in rebranding is to shorten the brand name so it is more memorable. This often removes descriptive words from the brand name, which can damage the brand’s ability to rank for those descriptors.


  • Consider the risks in migrating the site over to an entirely new domain. Even if you do all your redirects correctly, there will still be ranking drops and an overall decrease in organic traffic while the search engines parse and evaluate the new site.


  • Consider the history of the domain you’re purchasing. If the domain existed previously, be sure to check out the inbound link profile. You don’t want to accidentally put your new website on a domain that has been flagged for black hat tactics by the search engines.


  • Consider the benefits of adding descriptive or category terms to the brand name. This can dramatically boost your relevance to those keywords.


Often times, the new brand name will have enough in common with the old brand name that the actual domain name of the site doesn’t really need to change, and the decision to change it is driven by other political or internal pressures. From an SEO perspective, it’s always best to keep the same domain name, unless the site has already been penalized for some reason.



How New Brand Standards Will Impact Web Content


Many times, a rebrand or brand refresh necessitates a total website redesign, and as a part of that redesign, content tone, voice, and overall presentation may change radically. If a website has been around a while, it’s likely that the new design will involve a modernized take on content, which typically means fewer words, more imagery, and more multimedia experiences. These changes can be great from a user-experience perspective, but they can also be very detrimental from an organic rankings perspective.


Removing keyword rich content in favor of a sparser, more user-friendly website can tank organic rankings pretty quickly. In order to avoid this, or at least be aware of the risks involved, do a quick landing page report, using the organic traffic segment, to pinpoint the pages on the site that contribute the most organic traffic. The content on these pages can be retooled or re-utilized to retain that traffic. In many cases, just recognizing the risk of changing those pages allows brands to make more educated decisions and do honest risk-to-reward analysis.



Successfully Managing the Digital Transition


When you DO move your website over to the new domain, if there is one, there are a few things that MUST be done in order to avoid losing the organic traffic you currently receive. The following is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started!


  • Good Information Architecture: Make sure valuable content remains close to the root of the site.


  • Keyword Inclusion: Make sure the new site has beneficial keywords that were sending traffic to the old version throughout.


  • 301 Redirects: Make sure that you’re redirecting old pages to their new counterparts. Every time a page URL changes, it’s new, even if the content is the same.


  • Ensure digital marketing channels are aimed at the correct domain.


  • Ensure that the old version of the site is completely de-indexed.


This is a relatively simplistic view of what can be, a complex part of the rebranding process, but hopefully it provided some food for thought!