How to fix a huge traffic drop after rebranding

Rebranding happens when companies grow or face big PR problems. As a marketer and SEO expert, you’ll deal with it due to acquisitions, executive decisions or investor demands. Regardless of the reason, traffic will drop when things go wrong.

But don’t panic.

Both branded and non-branded traffic can be recovered. It depends on the cause of the loss and what you do next.

Below are common situations in which we’ve helped clients regain traffic post-rebranding, sorted by situation and traffic drop types. 

I’ve also included non-SEO things to look for so your company can save money, as revenue becomes tight when this happens.

A quick warning before we jump in

If you are launching a new site design with the rebrand, you’re in for a longer time to recover, if you recover at all. Changing names only is easier because you can do press releases, have influencers talk about you or send email/SMS blasts to customers and make it known who you are now.

When your customers start searching for the new site and visiting the new domain, along with the proper URL migration implementation, you’ll see the flip normally happen within two days to two weeks, depending on the size of the site and your external brand strength.

Changing code bases with a new name and URL means search engines must discover the new brand, evaluate it and determine the new user experience. Now, they evaluate how it stacks up to other pages in their indexes. Chances are you’ll lose a bit, even if it is the best because you’re shocking the system too much. 

Avoid rebranding and launching a new website design simultaneously. Give it at least a few months in between.

Where does the traffic drop come from?

The first step to fixing a traffic drop is identifying where it’s coming from. Use analytics for this.

Go into whatever system you use and check the following with a comparison from the time of the drop in traffic to the same time period before using to determine the actual traffic drops:

  • Traffic by channel:
    • Dive deeper if it is social media and see if it is Meta, but Pinterest and TikTok are strong.
    • If affiliates and SEO declined, it is likely affiliates are intercepting your own traffic. This isn’t recoverable because you need customers on your own website for them to intercept. 
  • Next, sort by category to see if one category was penalized or didn’t get built with the new brand, but the others remained strong.
  • Branded vs. non-branded campaigns in PPC to see if consumers are using the new branding or if the branding, email, PR, lifecycle and social teams need to ramp up the announcements and adoption.

These three items help determine the loss of traffic while the other team members are building the new brand and will help give you quick wins to aid recovery. 

Dig deeper: 3 underutilized Google Search Console reports for diagnosing traffic drops

URL migrations and domain changes

When migrating a URL, you can do everything right and still see traffic drops while Google crawls and indexes your new pages.

It is out of your control when Google crawls, indexes and displays your new URLs, but you can be proactive.:

  • Make sure Search Console is updated with the new URL, sitemap, etc., and watch the indexing reports.
  • Request specific pages that are the most important are getting crawled.
  • Share important pages and new content with natural internal links in places Google finds them, like social media. Do not try building backlinks from them, especially if the backlinks are for SEO purposes. 
  • Check to make sure you have a strong crawl path that helps the end user and search engines find your most important pages easily, including:
    • Menu links
    • Breadcrumbs
    • Internal links
    • Canonical links
    • Meta robots
    • Sitemaps
  • Double-check that the previous site is still redirecting to the new pages.

You should be fine if you did your job before the migration, including setting canonical links from the old URL to the new one.

Take deep breaths. I’ve been doing this for a long time and still feel the same anxiety you do when we flip the switch and wait. It’s normal.

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Combining stores

Unlike a URL migration, combining stores comes with unique nuances. Three examples are when:

  • Each exists through tabs across the top and has similar or identical products.
  • They’re combined into a single brand.
  • Remain separate but under the main company umbrella and feed products into each other causing duplication.

When each exists separately but is connected, follow best practices for interlinking your brands.

If the products cross over, make sure you match the product descriptions and selling points to the new audience’s needs so you’re benefiting the customer. When you are customer-first focused, SEO normally comes as a reward.

If everything is being combined into one domain, choose the best experience for the combined user base. This includes copy, images, upsells, PR bars, etc.

Make sure canonicals from the previous sites point to the new site before you redirect and that the redirects are not conflicting. If some pages were thin and should have been pruned, this may be the right time not to redirect them and let them die.

In situations where the domains remain the same, but the branding changes, and you’re interlinking new acquisitions, stay the course with a unique website.

Interlinking the brands through the footer and in some of your content is likely safe. You made it clear there are associations between them, and a search engine would likely expect a company to push customers to their other brands. You’ll see this on Amazon, Overstock and Gap.

Affiliates are one of the best opportunities for you to speed up a URL migration and rebranding traffic recovery. But only if your affiliates are not intercepting your own traffic.

Some affiliates intercept customers already shopping on your website by using browser extensions to offer cash back or coupons, and others show up in SEO and PPC for your brand name + coupons. There are also software partners that you install into your own shopping cart to give customers multiple payment options. 

These types rely on you to have traffic for them to intercept. They will not be helpful to your traffic recovery because they are not sending you traffic. It is the affiliates who have their own traffic who can help you with recovery.

Have your affiliate manager create a promotional event and series that corresponds with the launch of the new brand. They can offer exclusive access and “leaks” with media outlets, influencers and content creators with blogs and YouTube channels.

If you give them a budget, they can reserve media space on sites that get crawled frequently and have an active reader base or newsletter list. This generates buzz and helps search engines discover your new site and pages more easily.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned not to build backlinks and I stand by that. Affiliate links are not backlinks and they can point to any page on your site.

Affiliates see better conversion rates when they promote specific products and landing pages. If they link from their content to your key conversion pages, search engines are more likely to prioritize crawling and indexing those pages. But, for this to succeed, your affiliate program must have these value-adding partners.

In October 2019, a representative from Pinterest spoke at the Plaid St. Conference in Arlington, Virginia and discussed using “domain reputation score” in their algorithm. This is:

  • Not the same as “Domain Authority” or other similarly branded phrases created by third-party SEO tools.
  • Not used by the actual search engines. 

If you changed domains and Pinterest doesn’t have enough data on this, that could impact your ability to have new and existing pins gain and maintain traction. (Note: The conference no longer exists, so I cannot source it.)

This same concept of “brand trust” is believed to be used by other social media algorithms like LinkedIn. If your social media followers don’t know or forget that you switched brands, they might ignore your new posts. And when your new posts don’t get likes, shares, views or comments, reaching and engaging with your audience becomes harder.

If the algorithm doesn’t recognize the domain as authoritative or trustworthy, your new content on the platform may not perform well. Some platforms will let you change names and don’t have links to your content, while others don’t.

If social traffic is dropping from the new brand, it’s time to build trust and send social signals to social algorithms.

  • Influencer and ambassador accounts that have the platform’s trust may share your new URLs and tag your brands, helping to build trust or the association.
  • Avoid running contests as giveaways lead to fake and low-value fan accounts. As these accounts don’t engage because they’re not customers, your reach dies with it. 
  • Do a couple of product launches for social media only and boost the posts. This encourages people to visit your social channels for the announcement. Depending on your industry, you could even do a discount for the first hour to select people to get people paying attention and engaging with your accounts.

Bouncing back from traffic drops post-rebranding

Expect a dip in website traffic when you rebrand. SEO relies on various channels like PR, which attracts media attention and links to your new site.

Affiliates also play a role by updating links and directing search engine bots deeper into your site. Social media is crucial, too, as it signals to search engines that your new domain is trustworthy.

There’s only so much you can do from the search side, so follow best practices. Websites are just code; code can be fixed, modified and repaired, and traffic can be recovered.

Dig deeper: Why traffic declines despite solid rankings and what to do

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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