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Thursday

19

Jan 2012

Note – In this entire post, I’m using Prudential’s recent brand name change as an example on what to do. We’re not advising them on their SEO, and have no prior knowledge of their SEO plans. Hopefully, they won’t be making the mistakes we point out in this article. 

This morning, I woke up to an interesting snail mail in my inbox – My insurance provider Prudential Asset Management (Singapore) Limited would be changing it’s name to Eastspring Investments (Singapore) Limited. That was a perfect way to awaken with my eyes wide open as we have recently been working on a number of Rebranding projects. In most of these projects, the client is changing their name or moving to a new domain name.

Most of the time, we get called in for a simpler sounding task like “Make us a new website” or “Figure out our new Social Media strategy“. Search, as always is the black sheep in the family of Internet marketing tools. Even though 20-40% of every website we see gets its traffic from natural search, presence & traffic from that medium is just assumed, without much thought.

In reality, getting listed in Google, attaining impressive ranks and getting significant traffic is a tough job. And most businesses don’t realize that until calamity hits, and they’re suddenly 10,000 visitors/day poorer due to nobody taking charge of the SEO impact of Website & IT decisions.

Anyway, back to Prudential. So, a search for “Prudential” brings up a page where Prudential is #1

That’s good news. (Although it’s not perfect – the sitemap listings are pretty badly filled with incomplete descriptions, inaccurate sections of the site etc – there are no news or video listings for such a large brand – and most of the links that come up are bland and unclickable). Still, it comes up and ranks #1, so that’s pretty good news.

Now, if we run a search for “Eastspring”, we get a page where the new website isn’t even on the page.

There is one result at #4 referencing www.prudentialcorporation-asia.com, a completely unknown site within the prudential family. And Prudential’s UK site is #9 on that page, where the press release announcing the new brand is ranked.

The main problem with this is that people ARE going to be searching for both Prudential and EastSpring releated keywords. And they just expect to be led to the right page.

Most IT departments don’t have the internal know-how to manage that process. The typical process is that on Feb 14th (official launch date of EastSpring), the old Prudential site will be turned off. If the IT dept is really good, they’ll redirect all Prudential.com.sg/xxx queries to the new home page EastSpringInvestments.com.sg (although most don’t). The new site, unfortunately will contain all new content that contains almost no traces of the old “Prudential” related keywords.

For a few months, Google will penalize them as the old site and Prudential related content is now gone. And the new site and EastSpring related content is new and unproven.

After that, EastSpring related content will come back up the ranks. And any hope of ranking for Prudential related keywords will slowly fade away.

Of course, I’m just guessing here – hopefully the Corp Comm department has a good SEO agency on staff, and they’ve already forseen this entire scenario. I sincerely hope they do, and for the rest of the post, I’m just using these guys as an example for general lessons on Rebranding SEO.

In our SEO training and Enterprise SEO consulting engagements, we go much deeper into this process – but in the interest of making this post readable, we’ll stick to the most important things. And I’ll do my analysis using the KARATE SEO framework we use in all our engagements.

1 – Keywords to use in Rebranding SEO

The first stage in SEO project is to figure out which keywords we need to rank for. For such a project, we need to expand from one to two families – “Prudential” related keywords and “Eastspring” related keywords.

Of course, standard keyword best practices will apply in putting on hats of different types of users and expanding this family into many keywords. Prospects, Customers, Employees, Investors, Media – will all have different variations of these keywords they’ll type into Google. I recommend expanding each brand into 200 odd keywords.

2 – Architecture to modify for Rebranding SEO

The next stage is deciding the sitemap & architecture to accommodate these keywords.

We have two sites to contend with:

  • Original site (Prudential.com.sg) that will be scheduled to sunset soon
  • New site (Eastspring.com.sg) that will be the main site going forward

All those keywords related to Eastspring would obviously be needed to mapped to the new site. But the interesting part is that all the original keywords relating to Prudential Asset Management will also need to be mapped to the new site because the old site won’t exist in a while.

The best bet for the initial site launch would be to mirror the structure & content of the old site as closely as possible in the new site. That will allow for accurate redirecting from old pages, to their new relevant equivalents.

3 – Relevance & On Page Optimization during Rebranding SEO

The next step would be to increase the content on the new site to accommodate all these keywords. Here, the delicate balance between SEO, Copywriting, Corp Comm and Compliance comes in. The simplest way to keep both Prudential and Eastspring related keywords would be a tweak to the title that has both words.

For example, on the “Contact Us” page, I’d recommend a title like “Contact Us at Eastspring (formerly Prudential) Asset Management, Singapore”

We need something like this that accommodates multiple keywords, the Page’s purpose, and satisfies typical compliance requirements.

4 – Authority & Link Building during Rebranding SEO

The best way to get instant authority into the new site – would be to redirect all the pages from the old site, to the new equivalent pages on the new site.

So for example, the old contact page (www.olddomain.com/contact) should be 301 redirected to the new site’s contact page (www.newdomain.com/contactus). In the same fashion, all the old pages (can run into hundreds) should be redirected to the right page.

Be careful not to redirect all the pages blindly to the home page – that’s poison for SEO. It’s important that internal pages redirect to internal pages.

Now, if complete redirection is not possible (if for example, only 1 division of Prudential is getting the name change, and the rest of Prudential.com.sg is still relevant) – then the old pages on the old site, should contain text links to the new pages. The same deal as above (each page linking to then new version), but instead of permanent 301 redirections, we use simple text links to maintain both assets.

All of the internal company links to the old products and pages, should be reset to the new site to pass on the PageRank juice to the new website.

And all of the PR activities should start mentioning the new site and encouraging partners and media to link to the new site.

(Of course, link building is a huge topic – but this is a simple to do list for the IT folks if they have 24 hours or less to do SEO).

5 – Technical Challenges & Trouble Spots during Rebranding SEO

The main issue is going to be deciding how to handle two separate sites. Options include:

  • Keep both sites alive (but have extensive linking between them)
  • Keep only the old site alive (with just the content changed)
  • Keep only the new site alive (with the old site being killed off)

Depending on the strategic decision here, the main challenge will be doing accurate 301 redirections to the new pages.

Of course typical SEO challenges (making sure the pages are HTML friendly, they’re being indexed, Not using Flash or Frames, No programming errors & infinite loops) will still exist. A proper audit will have to be done to ensure other trouble spots are avoided during the building/maintenance of whichever site is being kept alive.

6 – Experience & Usability Management for Rebranding SEO

The final step of any SEO project is ensuring that the new site’s customer experience is optimal. That’s because, more and more, the bounce rates and time on site are being factored into search rankings (along with newer factors like social media engagement, Schema.org compliance etc).

Some of the things that can be done include:

  • Keeping the layout & navigation of the new site similar to the old one
  • Indicating that the brand was formerly called “Prudential” in the logo and Page titles
  • Referencing the old brand name plenty of times in the content, for folks who haven’t gotten used to the change yet
  • Removing any old content / elements that aren’t accurate for the new brand

Figuring out how to make the User Experience better through Google Analytics Consulting and Usability Best Practices is another longer discussion, but for now – don’t rock the boat. Keep things as people expect them, and that’ll be a good start to the new brand.

So, that’s our 6 step KARATE SEO process, customized for brands undergoing Rebranding. Again, Prudential/Eastspring are just examples – any company undergoing rebranding can hopefully pick up a few tips from this article.

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