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Protecting Rankings & Traffic During A Rebrand: SEO Expert Tips

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Protecting Rankings & Traffic During A Rebrand: SEO Expert Tips

What SEO considerations should you factor into your rebrand planning process?

This question comes from Tyler, who attended a recent SEJ webinar and asked,

“Recently, we had a client rebrand and change their brand name and URL. We saw an absolutely massive fall off with rankings and traffics.

Could you give some insights into why specifically changing the brand name/URL would affect all of these pages that essentially didn’t get changed content-wise and had the appropriate redirects in place?”

Doing The Prework For A Successful Site Rebrand

“Changing a URL/domain means a completely new page or website for Google. This is a classic challenge in a website migration,” says Ludwig Makhyan, Co-Founder of Mazeless – Enterprise SEO.

He suggests, “You have to take some crucial steps to ensure your migration process runs smoothly. If you do everything right, you’ll avoid losing your rankings and will save a lot of revenue.”

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Suggested Solutions:

“First things first, there is a ton of prep work to be done,” says Makhyan.

“The easiest way to play this will be to follow a good website SEO migration checklist. In general, the whole process will be broken down into the following main stages: Pre-Migration, Launch, and Post-Migration.”

Some of the most important things you have to do at the Pre-Migration are the following:

“After that, you have to run a bunch of tests on the staging environment. You have to make sure that all the redirects are set up properly. Some important mistakes to avoid are broken redirects, redirect chains, and loops. In a perfect world, you want to make sure each 301 redirect has no more than one hop,” reminds Makhyan.

“To recap, after the migration you have a brand new page for Google. Now you want to transfer all the pre-existing page values here. To do this, you have to let Google know that this new URL is the logical new version of the old one.”

See Mahkyan’s ‘Site Migration Issues: 11 Potential Reasons Traffic Dropped‘ to learn more.

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Resist The Urge To Execute All Changes At Once

Harpreet Munjal, Founder of LoudGrowth, says that the biggest mistake that many businesses make is not due to a technical error, but a process error: executing all changes at once.

“This can make things complex and reduce efficiency, especially if you have a large website,” he adds.

Suggested Solution:

To avoid this, Munjal advises that marketers “divide your rebranding and domain changing process into different steps.”

“For example, first tackle website design changes without changing your content, web hosting, or anything else. Then give it some time to see any effects. If everything looks okay, move forward with other changes,” he says.

Make sure you keep a backup of your older website, he adds. In case of serious site issues, you can always revert back.

“If you have to recover by using your backup, determine which issues were affecting rankings and traffic. Then, start over by planning the right strategy and implementing changes one at a time. Track changes and give each enough time to evaluate the results,” Munjal explains.

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Get Your Redirects In Order

Adam Riemer, CEO of Adam Riemer Marketing, recommends that when rebranding and changing a URL, “You must always set up all redirects properly.”

In this case, Tyler is certain his redirects were done correctly – but it never hurts to double check.

Suggested Solution:

Riemer emphasizes that, “All pages – especially those with quality backlinks and that get traffic from social media – need 301 redirects.”

Additionally, he notes that, “It’s also important to update your sitemaps, and point all canonical links from the old URL to the new URL, so as Google is crawling, it will see the new URL and where the page now exists.”

“Next, contact any relationships you have backlinks with and ask them to change out the old link for the new one. Then, send an email blast to customers letting them know about the new brand and begin building buzz,” suggests Riemer.

Keep Optimizing & Monitor For Traffic Changes

Himani Kankaria, Founder of Missive Digital, shares her insights on why specifically changing their brand name/URL would affect these pages.

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“Usually, the authority is attached to each domain name so even if you have the redirection done right, with all the canonical and internal linking in place, the site can lose traffic because of the lost domain authority,” she advises.

Suggested Solutions:

What can be done in this case? Kankaria recommends the following:

  • Make sure you’ve waited a month or two to see the real impact before making any changes.
  • Do some PR activity or link building campaigns for the changed name.
  • Do some content optimization for the top-ranking pages each month.
  • Make sure you’re not linking to any pages with the old URLs.
  • Crawl your website in Screaming Frog or Sitebulb to see if there are any major technical issues to be resolved.
  • Constantly monitor the change in the traffic for each important URL.
  • If a well-known business is involved, you can reach out to Google for help.

Takeaways & Working Backwards From Post-Rebrand

For Tyler, it’s too late to go back to planning. But the considerations above provide a framework to work through; if any of the above steps were missed, that’s a good place to start.

Check your redirects, ensuring you haven’t inadvertently created any broken redirects, redirect chains, or loops.

Reevaluate web design and content changes that were executed at the same time. See if you can identify high-value, most trafficked pages that were hit hardest. What changed? What can you change now and test to recapture that traffic?

Do a technical SEO audit to identify any major issues that could be negatively impacting rankings.

Evaluate your link building and content activities. Did you put other SEO tactics on hold to focus on the rebrand? If so, kick it into gear again and get rebuilding.

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A few other potential issues and questions that come to mind include:

Did the site architecture change?

Is it possible PageRank isn’t being distributed as optimally as it was? Has your site hierarchy become more difficult for users or crawlers? Are important pages now more clicks away from the homepage?

How long has it been since the rebrand?

There may have been some initial confusion for search engines, especially as the domain name changed. If the rankings and traffic losses are site-wide, it’s a possibility. Sometimes these things settle out and rebound.

Did they change anything on the backend?

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…such as removing/not properly setting up a CDN, or making design changes that introduced code bloat, reduced mobile friendliness, or impacted page speed?

Did you explicitly inform Google of the domain change?

Submit a new sitemap.xml file and use Google’s Change of Address tool to tell them about the change.

Did you update directory listings to reflect the new URL?

This is particularly important if you relied on local organic traffic. You won’t lose the traffic from the listings themselves if your redirects are accurate.

However, when Google sees conflicting key business information such as mismatched phone numbers, hours of operation, or a website address, it has to determine which is true.

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Your site may not seem trustworthy if suddenly every other place the business is listed online says the domain is something else.

Did you check for issues with the new domain’s history?

Hopefully, the new brand name and associated domain were investigated thoroughly before the migration. But if not, check now to see whether there are any unresolved manual actions in place.

You may need to do some cleanup and submit a reconsideration request.

If all has failed, work through this list of other reasons a site might suddenly see rankings drop.

More resources:

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Featured Image: Gearstd/Shutterstock




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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

Understanding the impact of your content at every touchpoint of the customer journey is essential – but that’s easier said than done. From attracting potential leads to nurturing them into loyal customers, there are many touchpoints to look into.

So how do you identify and take advantage of these opportunities for growth?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn a comprehensive approach for measuring the value of your content initiatives, so you can optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.

You’ll learn:

  • Fresh methods for measuring your content’s impact.
  • Fascinating insights using first-touch attribution, and how it differs from the usual last-touch perspective.
  • Ways to persuade decision-makers to invest in more content by showcasing its value convincingly.

With Bill Franklin and Oliver Tani of DAC Group, we unravel the nuances of attribution modeling, emphasizing the significance of layering first-touch and last-touch attribution within your measurement strategy. 

Check out these insights to help you craft compelling content tailored to each stage, using an approach rooted in first-hand experience to ensure your content resonates.

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Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or new to content measurement, this webinar promises valuable insights and actionable tactics to elevate your SEO game and optimize your content initiatives for success. 

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords are the keywords your rivals rank for in Google’s search results. They may rank organically or pay for Google Ads to rank in the paid results.

Knowing your competitors’ keywords is the easiest form of keyword research. If your competitors rank for or target particular keywords, it might be worth it for you to target them, too.

There is no way to see your competitors’ keywords without a tool like Ahrefs, which has a database of keywords and the sites that rank for them. As far as we know, Ahrefs has the biggest database of these keywords.

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report

The report is sorted by traffic to show you the keywords sending your competitor the most visits. For example, Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword “mailchimp.”

Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.

Since you’re unlikely to rank for your competitor’s brand, you might want to exclude branded keywords from the report. You can do this by adding a Keyword > Doesn’t contain filter. In this example, we’ll filter out keywords containing “mailchimp” or any potential misspellings:

Filtering out branded keywords in Organic keywords reportFiltering out branded keywords in Organic keywords report

If you’re a new brand competing with one that’s established, you might also want to look for popular low-difficulty keywords. You can do this by setting the Volume filter to a minimum of 500 and the KD filter to a maximum of 10.

Finding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywordsFinding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywords

How to find keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter your competitor’s domain in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis reportCompetitive analysis report

Hit “Show keyword opportunities,” and you’ll see all the keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap reportContent gap report

You can also add a Volume and KD filter to find popular, low-difficulty keywords in this report.

Volume and KD filter in Content gapVolume and KD filter in Content gap

How to find keywords multiple competitors rank for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter the domains of multiple competitors in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis report with multiple competitorsCompetitive analysis report with multiple competitors

You’ll see all the keywords that at least one of these competitors ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

You can also narrow the list down to keywords that all competitors rank for. Click on the Competitors’ positions filter and choose All 3 competitors:

Selecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank forSelecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank for
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
Paid keywords reportPaid keywords report

This report shows you the keywords your competitors are targeting via Google Ads.

Since your competitor is paying for traffic from these keywords, it may indicate that they’re profitable for them—and could be for you, too.

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You know what keywords your competitors are ranking for or bidding on. But what do you do with them? There are basically three options.

1. Create pages to target these keywords

You can only rank for keywords if you have content about them. So, the most straightforward thing you can do for competitors’ keywords you want to rank for is to create pages to target them.

However, before you do this, it’s worth clustering your competitor’s keywords by Parent Topic. This will group keywords that mean the same or similar things so you can target them all with one page.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Export your competitor’s keywords, either from the Organic Keywords or Content Gap report
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
Clustering keywords by Parent TopicClustering keywords by Parent Topic

For example, MailChimp ranks for keywords like “what is digital marketing” and “digital marketing definition.” These and many others get clustered under the Parent Topic of “digital marketing” because people searching for them are all looking for the same thing: a definition of digital marketing. You only need to create one page to potentially rank for all these keywords.

Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

You don’t always need to create new content to rank for competitors’ keywords. Sometimes, you can optimize the content you already have to rank for them.

How do you know which keywords you can do this for? Try this:

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  1. Export your competitor’s keywords
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
  4. Look for Parent Topics you already have content about

For example, if we analyze our competitor, we can see that seven keywords they rank for fall under the Parent Topic of “press release template.”

Our competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" clusterOur competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" cluster

If we search our site, we see that we already have a page about this topic.

Site search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templatesSite search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templates

If we click the caret and check the keywords in the cluster, we see keywords like “press release example” and “press release format.”

Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"

To rank for the keywords in the cluster, we can probably optimize the page we already have by adding sections about the subtopics of “press release examples” and “press release format.”

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

Paid keywords are the simplest—look through the report and see if there are any relevant keywords you might want to target, too.

For example, Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter.”

Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

If you’re ConvertKit, you may also want to target this keyword since it’s relevant.

If you decide to target the same keyword via Google Ads, you can hover over the magnifying glass to see the ads your competitor is using.

Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

You can also see the landing page your competitor directs ad traffic to under the URL column.

The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”

Learn more

Check out more tutorials on how to do competitor keyword analysis:

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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