The SMB Guide To Changing Business Names & SEO

Dr. Geoff Bell*, a dentist in Carlsbad, CA (you’re welcome Doc), has a problem child – his son. Things had been going well.

People hadn’t been flossing (I’m looking at you, dear reader), he was ranking #1 for “Carlsbad root planing” and business was booming.

Then Junior had to go get a dentistry degree and decide to join the family business. And because Junior has a bit of an ego, the decision was made to change the name from “Geoff Bell, DDS” to “Bell Family Dental”. No big deal right? Wrong.

There are plenty of complications in changing a business’ name. Many involve filling out a lot of forms to tell the government what’s going on.

Unfortunately, the United SERPs of Google does not provide much in the way of forms. And rebranding (as we call it in the biz) can be the quickest way to destroy your search engine rankings.

Perhaps a few tips in a handy list from myself and some other notable local SEO geeks are in order to avoid the SEO equivalent of root canal:

1.  Don’t Do It!

As you’ll see below, there are a lot of potential SEO pitfalls to changing your name. If you can avoid doing it, you’ll sleep a lot better. But if it has to be done, keep reading.

2.  Seriously. Don’t Do It!

What he said.

3.  Avoid Changing Your Domain Name

Switching domains is a great way to lose a lot of search engine traffic. If you can avoid changing domains, you’ll sleep a lot better. If it has to be done, make sure you have a good URL redirection plan in place.

Do make sure you have a PR plan in place to help you get new links and social sharing signals. These can help support your search engine rankings if there is a dip after you make the switch.

Also,  have a paid search or other marketing campaign in place to help make up for any lost traffic while you are working on improving the new domain’s SEO.

4.  Update Your Business Contact Data – Everywhere

Google uses your business name, address and phone number (aka your “NAP”) as a key signal in its local rankings. It looks at various relevant “citation” sources of local business NAP data (e.g. yellow pages sites, local chamber of commerce sites, etc.) to algorithmically determine where a business is located, what the business does and how it should rank for various local queries.

If your NAP data is inconsistent across these different citation sources, it can cause your local rankings to drop. And don’t forget about updating your NAP data on your Google+ Local page, Bing Local and Yahoo Local profiles.

A good way to find relevant citations for your business is to do a “business name” + “phone number” and a “business name” + “address” search in Google to get an idea of the citations that Google has indexed. Checking for pre-existing listings before adding a listing with your new business name is an absolute must to prevent duplication and NAP data corruption.

When it comes to citations, it’s just as important to get rid of the old information as it is to push out the new stuff. There are some non-traditional citation sources and lower level directories that are quite difficult to get your business information changed on (i.e. brownbook and city-data won’t let you change your business name once you have listed them). These can cause duplication issues down the line.

While many SEOs recommend that you do not change your phone number, no matter what, Will Scott, CEO of SearchInfluence, recommends in cases where you can’t get a lot of citation sources changed, you may want to consider changing your phone number to better differentiate your new NAP information from the old.

5.  Update Your Business Name On Your Website

Would you be surprised to hear that it’s not uncommon for a business to change its name but forget to change it on its website? Get this one at the top of your checklist.

Mary Bowling recommends that you do this before you update it on Bing Local and Yahoo Local to avoid any issues with those services.

6.  Add A Keyword and/or Location Term To Your New Business Name

If you are going to go through the trouble of changing your name, you might as well change it so something that has more value for SEO. In the case of our dentist, while changing to “Bell Family Dental” solves the’ whose business is it’ problem, it doesn’t do much for SEO, except perhaps in the case of those looking for “family dentists”.

A name like “Carlsbad Family Dentists” or even “Bell Family Dental of Carlsbad” might perform better. Of course, you’ll also need to take non-SEO factors into account when choosing a name, such as social media benefits, will it fit on a business card, family member egos, etc.

7.  Make Sure You Can Own Your New Brand Online

According to David Mihm, many SMBs neglect to secure important user names and domains when they rebrand.

Make sure you can get the .com, .org, .net and your relevant country TLD before you make the switch. And make sure the Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus user names are available. Knowem is a helpful tool for this.

8.  Don’t Forget About Your Customers!

A lot of SMBs neglect to include their customers in the rebranding process. When you change your name, it might put off customers who weren’t in the loop and don’t understand what’s going on.

Dev Basu, CEO of Powered by Search, recommends that you give your customers a heads up that you are rebranding soon and show ‘sneak peak’ elements via a Facebook Fanpage or Google+. Then you can gauge customer feedback from these posts.

If all of this sounds complicated and intimidating. Good. SEO for rebranding is not for the faint of heart.

My recommendation for Dr. Bell – Make sure you have plenty of laughing gas on hand before you rebrand. You’ll need it.

*The author has no professional affiliation with Dr. Bell or his business. That said, the author does have teeth.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

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  • Linda Buquet

    I’ve done some consulting and troubleshooting for Geoff in the past on other problems and he called me too regarding rebranding to add his son to the practice. I warned him about all the potential pitfalls and offered him some suggestions to help work around Google’s struggles with name changes. (Gave him some basic advice as a freebie, have not started consult to actually implement anything yet.) Maybe he’s working with Andrew on it which is cool cuz I’m buried.

  • Lauren Lanni

    How funny that I read this article in my FB feed because I follow Search Engine Land and Dr. Bell has been my dentist since I was a kid.   Love him – he is the best!  Hope this all goes well for him – I think he has been doing a great job with his online and social media presence!  :)

  • Andrew Shotland

    Hi Linda, I am not working with Dr. Bell.  I heard about his issue and thought it was a good topic for a post.

  • Linda Buquet

    Andrew, missed your cute disclaimer at bottom. Glad you have teeth! ;-)

    And yes, good topic! Since Google wants businesses to represent themselves as they are in the “real” world AND since in the real world businesses move and rebrand – it would be nice if it was a little easier to move/rebrand on a Google business listing.

    Lauren – too funny! What a small, small world!

  • jeffmcneill

    Valuable suggestions, but there are ways to gain value from a name change. For example, if a name (and domain name) already has a degree of relevance/expertise. Instead of inventing a new name, see if there are any other relevant domain names that already exist (and are for sale or expired). No need to invent from scratch.

  • Authority Buzz

    Solid tips Andrew. I especially agree with point #3 about not changing domain names. It’s like hitting the reset button. You could do a 301 redirect of course, but it’s not bulletproof, especially on large sites.

  • Andrew Shotland

    One update to #6.  Add A Keyword and/or Location Term To Your New Business Name  - Google has been known to ding businesses that appear to be “gaming” the system with keywords in their business names, so this strategy is not without its risks.  But then again, no risk, no reward.  Your mileage may vary.  Not available in stores.  If you have an erection for more than four hours consult your doctor.

  • Andrew Shotland

    True dat Jeff. Although I have seen Google “reset” domains before.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Rebranding is a serious under taking in every way, not just SEO. While I can understand why he would want to do it, it’s important to remember the long term implications of chucking an old brand for a new. Are you prepared to start over with your marketing?

  • Andrew Shotland

    Agreed Nick.  That said, if the new brand has a lot of potential (e.g. “Quickster Dental”), the long term benefits may outweigh the short term chaos.

  • Russ Offord

    Hi Andrew,
    I was wondering if you would mind explaining how we know that this concept is true:

    “Google uses your business name, address and phone number (aka your “NAP”) as a key signal in its local rankings. It looks at various relevant “citation” sources of local business NAP data … to algorithmically determine [...] how [a business] should rank for various local queries.”

    Where does the idea come from? Have any studies been performed and patents studied, or is it really just observation/experience from many SEOs?

    Thank you. Sincerely, Russ Offord


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