Rebrand Your Website or Blog without Losing Your SEO Ranking

  • March 13, 2016
  • Nic Raboy
  • SEO

So you’re looking to give your blog or website a new name? Maybe you no longer like the old name that you chose, or maybe the name no longer represents the goals of your business. Whatever it may be, you want to establish a change.

Here is where the problem sits. Your current (old) name has probably been around for a while and established a solid footing in the Google Search results among other things. The new name will have no reputation in search and everything you worked to gain could potentially become lost.

We’re going to look at what needs to be done to safely rebrand a website or blog without damaging the SEO ranking that you worked so hard to achieve.

Before going forward I want to say that I’ve rebranded my other blog now known as The Polyglot Developer. Before rebranding, it was known as Nic Raboy’s Code Blog for nearly three years. Both versions of my blog had different domain names. The rebranding process, although not difficult, was time consuming, but in the end I didn’t lose any of the rank that took me three years to gain.

The following are the steps that I followed and have proven to been successful.

Before Rebranding Your Blog or Website

Before you change domain names and start the process you need to take care of a few things.

Make Sure Your Domain Name was Registered and is Live

Registering a new domain name and having it disperse across the internet is not instant. In general, when I configure a new domain name it takes roughly three (3) hours to be live. It can potentially take forty-eight (48) hours to go live.

Make sure your domain is ready before you start to refer people to it.

Confirm You Have Access to Google Webmaster Tools and Similar

When you switch brands you need to update the search engines. If you never submitted your old brand, then this isn’t too big a deal because you can register a new account now. However if your old brand is registered under tools like Google Webmaster Tools, you need to have access to the account because not only will you be registering the new brand, but you need to initialize a transfer of the old that is already registered.

Make sure you have access to these accounts before you start.

Back Up Your Old Site

You’re going to be making some major changes to your website or blog. It is a good idea to create a backup in case you need to revert to before the rebrand transition.

If you’re using WordPress you can use tools like UpdraftPlus to manage full backups. Depending on your web host, they may have comparable tools to back up your website or blog as well.

Deploy a Copy of Your Blog or Website using the New Branding Information

When it comes to deploying your new brand there are a few things that can be done. My preference is cloning the old blog or website and making any changes to the clone. It is what I did for my brand. The benefit to this is that you will have 100% uptime during the transition.

This is typically easier to do when you are using a virtual private server (VPS) like Digital Ocean or Amazon EC2, but usually isn’t an issue if you’re using a shared hosting service like BlueHost or GoDaddy.

If you go this route and clone your site, set up the new domain to point to this clone. This way you have your old domain pointing to your old brand and the new domain pointing to your new brand.

Configure Permanent (301) Redirects to the New Name

Although your old domain and name will be a thing of the past to you and a lot of other people, it won’t be a thing of the past to most of the internet. This means that traces of your old blog and website information will still exist. For example, maybe your old links show up in forums or in references on other peoples websites.

This is fine for the most part, but we need to make sure those links still remain active. This can be accomplished via what is known as a permanent redirect from the old links to the new links.

Now there are a few ways to do this and it is dependent on your technical background and what kind of access you have to the server that hosts your website or blog. I issued my permanent 301 redirects through my Apache Virtual Host file. You do need access to Apache, provided your server is using Apache, and some technical know-how to do this method.

If going the Apache route, within your Apache Virtual Host file, commonly in /etc/apache2/sites-available/, add the following:

<virtualhost *:80>
    ServerName blog.nraboy.com
    Redirect 301 / http://www.thepolyglotdeveloper.com/
</virtualhost>

The above snippet will take all traffic that hits blog.nraboy.com on port 80 and permanently redirect it to www.thepolyglotdeveloper.com. The great thing about this is that any path that follows the core domain will be redirected too. For example if someone navigates to blog.nraboy.com/this-awesome-site, they will be redirected to www.thepolyglotdeveloper.com/this-awesome-site.

Now let’s say you don’t have access to the Apache files or you don’t want to be burdened with them. You can always create or edit an existing .htaccess file at the root of your website or blog.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^blog.nraboy.com$
RewriteRule (.*)$ http://www.thepolyglotdeveloper.com/$1 [R=301,L]

The above snippet accomplishes the same as the virtual host method, but this time it is in your .htaccess file.

If you want to use a service like CloudFlare, you can configure permanent 301 redirection rules there as well.

Tell Search Engines About the Change

I mentioned Google Webmaster Tools earlier. Now it is time to use it to tell Google that your site was transferred.

Sign into Google Webmaster Tools and add your new domain if you haven’t already. After, select your old domain and click the gear icon at the top right of the screen.

Google Webmaster Tools Change of Address

A menu should be displayed similar to the above. Choose Change of Address and go through the process. It could take some time before the change leaves the Google queue. Just play the waiting game.

A similar set of processes can be done for other popular search engines like Bing or Yandex.

If you don’t tell the search engines your address changed, they may automatically get the hint from the 301 permanent redirect. If they do not, you will most certainly be penalized for having duplicate content. Don’t let yourself become penalized from duplicate content.

This is probably the most difficult and time consuming part of the entire process. You may have hundreds or thousands of sites already linking to your old name that you’re no longer using. It is time to start sending out requests to update those links.

When I did my rebranding I had links to my old domain on a lot of different external websites. This included Stack Overflow, various forum boards, other peoples blogs, and profiles such as Facebook or similar. Not all links are within your control to change. For example, if I found my old link on another blog or website, a simple request to the owner to change would often be enough. However, when it came to forum boards and similar, it may not happen, and that is alright because you have a redirect to your new site.

Fix the links where you can and your SEO will be fine.

Promote the New Brand

Now that you have a new brand, you probably want to make sure all your loyal visitors know what happened. Here are some ideas for brand promotion.

Send an Announcement Newsletter

If you’ve got an email list with MailChimp or similar, create a campaign to get subscribers familiar with the change.

Take it to Twitter and Other Social Media Outlets

Hopefully before making the transition you had developed a following on social media. I found social media to be the easiest and most effective solution when making the transition to the new brand.

Tell people that your blog or website changed and ask these people to tell everyone they know as well. If using Twitter this could happen simply by including RT in the message.

Create a Few Guest Articles

I mentioned previously the benefits of writing guest articles on other peoples blogs and websites. You can take this knowledge to build up an audience on your new brand.

Conclusion

It is never too late to rebrand your blog or website. You can see from personal experience that I rebranded my business three years and two million views later. Everything went well in this transition because I followed the steps in this blog article.

By preparing the new and old brands for transition, configuring permanent redirections, updating the search engines, and promoting the new brand on social media, your SEO will remain strong and so will your rank in search.

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