SEO for Rebranding – What are the SEO Implications for Using a Newly Purchased URL?

Recently, a question was posed on a private forum for marketing professionals and I provided an answer that was considered to be very useful. While there is no absolutely perfect way to answer this question without knowing all of the nuances to a particular situation, I did my best to answer the question in a consultative way that provided value. Here is a cleaned up and anonymized version of this conversation.

Rebranding? Question: What are the SEO Implications for Using an Existing URL When Rebranding?

We are looking to change our brand name from Brand X to Brand Y and move our site to an entirely new domain (BrandY.com). BrandY.com has already built up brand equity, but for an entirely unrelated product. We have about 6 months before this change will happen.

I know that this is normally accomplished with a 301 redirect, but our situation is slightly more complicated because BrandY.com is already a well established website in its niche, but the content is not relevant to the content on our current BrandX.com website. We are concerned this lack of relevancy will hurt search rankings and negate any value achieved through 301 Redirects.

We are acquiring BrandY.com and want to work to preserve the link equity for this site while also making the content more relevant to our companies niche. Before our switchover in 6 months, we would like to morph BrandY.com into a site relevant to the industry of BrandX.com.

Here are our questions about the impending move:

  1. Is it plausible to make this move work?
  2. Is it black hat to move to a new domain that has link equity established under a different niche?
  3. Is it worth the effort?

Answer

In my opinion we tend to overvalue relevance and overestimate search engines ability to prove out what is relevant. They are very good at estimating relevancy, but it is still an algorithm being used to make this distinction. Sure, most of the links for BrandY.com will be relevant to one type of content, but if you can build up the value of BrandY.com over the next 6 months to another relevant area, there’s no reason why you can’t share the wealth with your new content.

The key operative here is that you are building value over the course of 6 months before the switch, not cutting over cold turkey.

I have seen many sites that rank well for Insurance industry terms, yet most of their links and content are about completely different topics (like converting units of measurement). There is little to no relevance between these content topics, yet they do rank well for searches where there are much fewer direct links. That doesn’t mean this is foolproof, but it seems like quality of content and volume of links really help this site.
There is nothing saying that a domain name can only be about one topic area. Take news sites for example. They are about anything from local business to world politics. What are they relevant for?

Maybe these are just extreme cases, but there are sites that are relevant for multiple items, yet don’t seem to suffer penalties when it comes to search rankings.

What you are proposing makes the most sense. Softly ease the site for Brand B into what you want it to become as opposed to switching it overnight.

In response to your specific questions, here are my thoughts:

  1. Is it plausible to make this move work? Yes, it seems plausible to make this work if the right moves are made over the course of your 6 month transition grace period
  2. Is it black hat to move to a new domain that has link equity established under a different niche? In my opinion, that term gets thrown around way too liberally. Was Apple purchasing icloud.com black hat? No, they wanted to create a new brand and someone else had the domain name already. The one thing to be careful with is if you have a lot of spam links to the domain or if it is penalized by Google. You can usually see that through Google Webmaster Tools or simply searching for your website name or a common title tag in Google.  
  3. Is it worth the effort? It sounds like you don’t really have a choice? If you are rebranding and want to mitigate risk as much as possible, it seems like you are going about this the right way by easing in over 6 months instead of switching over immediately.

It’s hard to say much more without knowing the actual domains in question. At a high level, everything you are doing is by the book, with a possible concern about the relevancy of the existing links coming into your site. But there is little you should do about that unless these links are causing a ranking penalty currently.

You may also want to consider using Google+ Authorship as a way to bridge the gap between BrandX.com and BrandY.com, since that can be a common source of trust between the sites.

When all is done, be sure to use Google Webmaster tools to indicate to Google that you have permanently changed your address. This should help you when it comes to Google specific risk mitigation.

Changing domains and rebranding is never fun from an SEO perspective; it’s risky to current rankings and there are all kinds of places where things can go wrong. However, when you do everything to power in order to mitigate these risks, you can sleep well at night knowing you did everything you could to preserve and even enhance your presence after the move.

Related posts:

About Jeff Sauer

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of San Francisco, CA.