Inc. Magazine on Rebranding Online

by Fredrik Savin on 06/02/2011 · 0 comments

One of my favourite business magazines Inc. published an article in their February ’10 edition on rebranding online. The article illustrates some of the issues around rebranding a business online today using two case studies:

Company (a) recently acquired their ideal domain name (envelope.com). However, as much of the business for its current site (actionenvelope.com) originated from search-engines (e.g. they have allegedly been the ranked first for ‘envelopes’ on Google’s search-engine for quite some time), they decided to build an entire new site for envelope.com rather than just migrating the current site over to the new domain name. Customers would still be able to use their standard login accounts on the new site but the content (including product names) would be new (in order to avoid being penalised by search-engines for having duplicate content). After the launch, search traffic to the old site remained steady but the traffic to its new site gradually increased. The long-term aim is to merge the two sites and close the old one down once envelopes.com becomes as well-established and ranked on Google et al as the initial site.

Company (b) also purchased a new domain name (evo.com). However, instead of being risk-averse and running two sites in parallel, company (b) decided to just move its current site (evogear.com) to the new domain name. The content on its old site would be redirected to the equivalent pages on the new site using a so called “301 redirect” (a status code for permanently moving a web page). However, company (b)’s approach wasn’t as successful as company (1)’s. After the re-launch and the 301 redirect, search traffic decreased by almost 40% and the company’s ranking for business critical keywords moved from the first Search Engine Result Page (SERP) on Google to the 35th page. Furthermore, the company’s sales decreased by approx. $200,000 USD in just two weeks. The company was required to put in months of hard work to recover its search traffic and sales.

I think these two cases really illustrates the importance of doing your research before engaging in a complete rebranding of your site which would involve a move to a new domain name, especially if the site has a large number of inbound links and is heavily dependent on search traffic. A 301 redirect is recommended by many SEO experts as well as Google when e.g. merging two sites and one wants to make sure the old links appearing on SERPs are redirected to the equivalent new pages. However, as illustrated in the second case, a 301 redirect might not always achieve desired outcome. A software engineer from Google commented on company (b)’s experience and suggested moving a site in phases rather than all content in one go. Moreover, as pointed out by the Google engineer, migrating to a new Content Management System (CMS) during a move to a new domain might also have a negative impact on search rankings (e.g. it may take some time for search engines to interpret the new content structure and properly index the new site). Moving to a new domain or not, a site’s CMS can have a big impact on its search-engine friendliness. For more information around this topic and SEO in general, I recommend reading The Art of SEO by Enge, Fishkin, Spencer and Stricchiola.

In conclusion, Google et al have added another dimension of complexity to rebranding businesses today and I think the above shows that it’s not one to be taken lightly. Have you been involved in rebranding an established Web site which included a move to a new domain? If so, did you achieve the desired outcome? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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