Andrew Shortland covers this topic in eight points for Search Engine Land, and his first two are “Don’t Do It!” and “Seriously. Don’t Do It!” That said, things can happen that make it unavoidable. In Shortland’s example, a dentist’s son went into the family business and wanted the name changed to reflect that. But a major change in the focus of your business can also prompt a change; so can trademark issues; and so can other events that may or may not be beyond your control. What should you do then?
If you absolutely must change your business name, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and go to work. If at all possible, try to keep the same domain name. If you change it, you could lose a lot of search engine traffic. If you must change it, “make sure you have a good URL redirection plan in place,” Shortland advised. Indeed, planning well may be the most important thing you can do to minimize the negative impact on your business. You’ll need a good PR plan to build new links and social sharing signals with the new name. A paid search campaign – again, with the new name – can fill in the gap while you’re working on the SEO for the new domain.
Your next step is to update your business contact data – not just on your stationary and your website, but everywhere. You must make sure that Google knows your business name, address and phone number. The search engine looks at this information to determine where you are geographically and what you do. It indexes yellow page sites, local chamber of commerce sites, and so on to get this data. That means if you haven’t completely corrected that information in even one place, your local rankings could drop.
Speaking of local, “don’t forget about updating your NAP [name, address, phone number] data on your Google+ Local page, Bing Local and Yahoo Local profiles,” Shortland noted. And as you bring in the new, make sure you get rid of the old. Some sources might give you hard time about it – and these could cause duplication issues down the line. If you find a lot of sources won’t let you change your data, you might consider changing your phone number – though only as a last resort – so searchers looking for you can better distinguish your new information from your old information.
While you’re going about updating your business name in various places online, make sure you update it on your website! In fact, you should update it there before you update it on services such as Bing Local and Yahoo Local. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but Shortland revealed that “it’s not uncommon for a business to change its name but forget to change it on its website.” Don’t become another statistic; at the very least, you’ll confuse potential customers, and you definitely don’t want to do that.
Speaking of your customers, be sure you tell them all about the name change before you do it. “When you change your name, it might put off customers who weren’t in the loop and don’t understand what’s going on,” Shortland explained. So get the word out, especially if you have a presence on Facebook and/or Google+. You can even show them a “sneak peak” of your new name or elements from the new site, and find out what your customers think of the change.
I haven’t covered everything; check out Shortland’s article for more details and suggestions. Rebranding is a lengthy, tedious, potentially expensive and detail-laden process. It is not for the faint of heart, and it should not be attempted lightly. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, I wish you good luck; you’re going to need it.