Rebranding can be a notoriously complicated process. It typically involves numerous stakeholders, competing points of view and countless decisions. While marketers may be more focused on a new name, messaging and logo design, the new website is arguably the backbone of a successful rebrand.
Unfortunately, executing a rebrand isn’t as easy as slapping your new name and shiny logo on the site. Completing a domain migration in a way that preserves existing SEO value is a somewhat complicated and tedious process—but it’s well worth the effort to preserve the traffic you’ve worked tirelessly to earn.
If you’re actively in the rebranding process or planning for a rebrand in the near future, the following tips are the most important things to consider along the way.
Build a plan with the right stakeholders
Website migrations are complicated projects that require support from multiple departments across the organization. Avoid last-minute rushing and mistakes by planning ahead with the right internal and external stakeholders.
Your plan should include:
- Selecting the right team. These are the folks who will manage the project and own key deliverables. Input from others is great, but a small execution team is key to staying on track. It’s important to get critical feedback from your marketing, sales, content and brand teams, so include all of these departments to be most successful.
- Benchmarking performance. Gauge 6 to 12 months of relevant metrics from the existing site. This is highly specific to each organization, but at a minimum, be sure to notate traffic levels (all sources and organic), quality metrics (duration, engagement, etc.), and impression and click data from Google Search Console.
- Budgeting time for rigorous testing. Check links, animations and various browsers to ensure a consistent user experience. For added support, make a copy of the site and block it from Google to avoid duplicate content risks. This will allow you to play in a safe sandbox without disrupting existing UX. You should budget at least a week to be accurate.
Audit your existing content
Perform a brief content audit prior to migration to determine which existing content will be moved over and which URLs will be left behind. Consider which older legacy content no longer reflects new messaging and the vision of the brand to determine which content you may not migrate over.
Pro tip: Some of that content could have substantial SEO value. Redirecting those URLs is the best way to preserve that value without making the content user-facing.
To go a level deeper, you or your digital partners can layer in quantitative analysis by analyzing 12 to 18 months of page view data to determine which content gets the most (and least) visibility. Not only will this show you which content is most valuable in driving traffic and conversions, but it will also help you identify the key topics that resonate most with your audience. This should help with future content planning as you will now know the topics that interest your audience.
Create a URL redirect map
Now you need to make a clear redirect plan. The 301 redirect is the best for SEO performance because it permanently relocates the original URL to the new site—preserving as much of the historical value of that page as possible.
Prior to launch, you need to decide the following for each URL on your current website:
- Whether the original URL is staying as is, redirect the original URL to the new domain. Example: www.olddomain.com/blog/best-post/ would 301 redirect to www.newdomain/com/blog/best-post/
- If the original URL isn’t staying, but you want to preserve its value, you need to determine which topically relevant active page to redirect the URL to.
- If the original URL is not coming over to the new site because it is now irrelevant, simply remove the page from your CMS and your final sitemap.
Ensure performance on any device
If it’s been some time since you’ve updated your website, you may need a refresher on web design best practices. Having a mobile-friendly design has become increasingly critical to performance. Additionally, with the introduction of Core Web Vitals in the summer of 2021, Google further committed to prioritizing user experience. Google now rewards websites that create fast, secure and consistent browsing experiences, regardless of the device visitors may be using.
To succeed, here are a few recommendations to consider:
- Create a device-specific design. The design should calibrate loading in real time based on the device each individual visitor is using. This is fairly standard in most CMS platforms today, but be sure to prioritize mobile-friendliness in any highly customized builds.
- Limit third-party tool usage. There are some unavoidable tools in a modern marketing stack (e.g., Google Tag Manager) that marketers must deploy to gain insight at the cost of speed. However, third-party tools can drastically decrease page load speed, so we recommend using them as sparingly as possible. If tools like chatbots and heatmapping/behavioral analytics platforms are required, ensure that they are only implemented on the specific URLs that absolutely need them.
- Use newer image formats. Compression-friendly image formats include JPEG 2000 and WebP. Or you can optimize image sizes in their current formats to increase speed.
Rebranding has a ton of moving parts; however, the domain migration portion of the process is absolutely critical to the project’s long-term success. Messaging, a new logo and cohesive images are all important, but if you don’t have a functioning home base to send key stakeholders, it could become a bust and your your hard work won't end up in front of the right people.
Matt Raven is VP of Digital at Look Left Marketing.