How to Rebrand or Rebuild a Website that is SEO-Ready
:: By Jason Squardo, ZOG Digital ::
Rebrand and rebuild; for some businesses, those are the keys to moving forward both financially and digitally. But tearing down an established digital presence and domain name can have massive impacts on search engine rankings. Therefore, any business considering a complete digital remodel should do so with an eye on search engine optimization (SEO), or else risk losing a high percentage of organic search traffic and online visibility.
How important are search engine rankings when it comes to businesses? When it comes to clicks on organic rankings, 53 percent go to the top result. The second sees 15 percent of the action, the third nine percent, the fourth six percent, dwindling all the way down to four percent to round out the top five (according to a report by Compete.com). So it’s easy to see how a small drop in rankings can dramatically reduce online traffic and e-commerce sales.
But, a drop in traffic doesn’t have to accompany a company’s digital rebranding and rebuilding. With careful planning, and attention to SEO best practices and careful vigilance, businesses can keep their Web traffic during and after the launch.
Preparation is Key
Businesses looking to redo their digital image must invest in planning to avoid many of the common pitfalls that come with rebuilding and rebranding a website.
1. Complete a full digital audit: This means creating a full sitemap with the domain authority for each page and a list of inbound links and referrals, which can be found using Google Webmaster Tools or Open Site Explorer. This information will be used later to both create and track metrics during the site launch and will help identify what 301 redirects need to be created.
2. Build some links to your new domain name and create a coming soon page with information about the company and the site. By taking these steps, search engines will start crawling the new site earlier, allowing businesses to track any indexing errors that may occur.
3. Create a detailed content strategy: With Google’s new Hummingbird and Panda updates, quality content is more important than ever. Businesses should create content that not only wows visually, but is useful to consumers. To know what content users want, businesses should engage in meticulous and thorough keyword research. Following best practices in design and development is also critically important to SEO success.
4. 301 redirects are key: A comprehensive 301 redirect strategy will help seamlessly roll old users into the new website if they click on old links. Every single page from the old site should have a corresponding page on the new site. One way to keep track of this is to simply make a spreadsheet with a list of every single URL in one column and then the redirect page in the other column. Businesses that do this completely can avoid sending users to 404 error pages and help minimize indexing errors by search engines. This process is especially important to help save inbound links that were directed toward to the old website. Without 301 redirects, a business could lose the links as well as authority and the search engine rankings that go along with them.
5. Businesses should also upload the new website address to digital directories well in advance of the launch; we recommend about 6-8 weeks. This is because it can sometimes take that long for the new information to show up in the larger directories and be funneled down into the small niche ones.
After the Launch
Once the new content is live, the key is to watch for any potential drops in search engines rankings, attempt to correct the errors and to promote the new website.
1. Monitor metrics carefully: Businesses should run a test crawl on their new website and fix any broken links that are reported. They should also use Google Analytics to measure traffic and monitor search engine rankings and site speed. By tracking these important metrics, business owners and marketers can measure how effective the new website’s coding and organization is in the eyes of search engines and also fix and errors that may pop up.
2. Reach out to any websites that have links to the old domain or URL and request they update their link to point to the new URL. While 301 redirects will help minimize the loss of link authority, earning a new direct link to your website will have a much greater benefit.
3. Update social media accounts and search engine listings: Updating social media and search engine listing profiles before the site goes live could cause users to run into broken links and get frustrated. But, once the site is live, it’s important to change the links as soon as possible so search engines can see consistent information in a variety of locations.
4. Promote, promote, promote: Businesses should promote the new website and branding as often as possible. Use customer contact information to send out bulk emails, promote the changes using paid search and social advertisements, and push the new website using social channels, press releases and events. Businesses should make sure to listen to their customers about the rebranding and work to fix and issues such as a lack of content on a specific topic, broken links, confusing layout or slow loading speeds.
It is normal for businesses to see dips in Web traffic right after a launch, but it’s important not to make any panicked decisions because of this. If brands follow the best practices listed about, the Web traffic and search engine ranks should rebound in about 6-8 weeks.
Jason Squardo is the executive vice president of optimization and a founding member of ZOG Digital. Squardo has worked with many leading brands, including American Airlines, Fairmont Hotels, FedEx, Sears, Bank of America, Nine West, General Motors, Toyota, and MasterCard.