I’ve had a lot of questions from other bloggers regarding the recent rebrand of my personal blog. Basically, I was feeling burned out and wanted to change the focus to something more general. However, since I’ve been blogging there for about a year and a half, it wasn’t as easy as just starting a new blog and abandoning the old one.
Once you’ve established your brand and people recognize it, changing that brand can be a difficult task! While many of my readers have been supportive of the change, just as many were confused and even a little upset. I had to balance the risk of alienating the community with my need to expand my repertoire, and I fully expect to lose some followers and subscribers as a result. I only made my decision after months of careful debate, and I would encourage others to do the same.
Here a few of the things I learned from my rebranding experience that might help you if you’re debating a similar transition.
Remember, People Fear Change
Ask your readers what they think! Once I decided to change the name of my blog, I sent out a survey to my RSS subscribers. I asked three basic questions:
- Would it bother you if I posted less about my former topic and more about other things?
- Would you be upset if the name of the blog changed?
- Would you unsubscribe or stop reading if these changes happened?
I had an 18% response rate in the 24 hours after the survey went live, which was actually pretty impressive! Overwhelmingly, my readers were okay with the idea of fewer niche-related posts, though they were a little weary of a name change. Luckily I had already anticipated that, which is why the new site title is very similar. I wanted to generalize the site a little without giving up the writing style I’ve always used.
If you’re rebranding, try to keep the look of your site close to the old one. I realize that isn’t always possible, but it really helps if you can do it. Several months ago when I was leaning toward rebranding, I changed to the new color scheme I planned to use ahead of time (even though it was more work for me). That way my readers could get used to the new look before I announced the other changes. If your new brand requires drastic changes, at least keep the structure of the site close to the way it was before so people don’t get lost.
Explain exactly what’s happening and why. I moved to my new domain more quickly than I planned (I’ll explain why in a minute), so I didn’t get to warn my readers in advance. They literally woke up one morning this week to a whole new site! However, I did put up a post that explained why I rebranded and what it would mean for the future of the blog. I wanted them to understand that I had a good reason for doing it and that most things would stay the same.
Anticipate Technical Glitches
Don’t move your content until you’re ready for the changes to be live. Weeks before I planned to transition to the new site, I exported the posts from my old blog so I could see how they looked on the new theme (I changed themes but left the layout and color scheme identical). But guess what? I forgot that all the blogs I’ve linked to in the past would receive trackback notifications once the posts were live on the new domain. Within minutes, I had people emailing me asking, “Why do you have two sites? What’s going on?” Talk about a facepalm moment! That blunder forced me to spend half the night finalizing the design so the new site would be ready for launch.
Accept the fact that your RSS feed will probably get messed up. If you’re just moving to a new domain with the same site title (or from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress, for instance), all you have to do is change your original feed address on Feedburner. You’ll keep all your subscribers and nothing will happen. However, as I learned yesterday, if you want the name and URL to change, you have to do a bunch of complicated wizardry that results in a 30-day redirect to the new feed, after which your subscribers will get a note saying “This feed is no longer active. Please follow the new one,” with a link. The odds of people clicking that link and subscribing to the new feed are pretty slim. However, because it’s important to me to erase all traces of the old brand, I made the change and I’m hoping for the best. (If you guys want more info on how to do this, let me know and I’ll write a separate post.)
Be prepared to lose ALL your stats, at least temporarily. If you use a 301 redirect to send traffic from the old domain to the new one, your PageRank, mozRank, and other stats should return the next time those metrics are updated. In the meantime, though, your new site will show N/A and your Alexa rank will reset completely. You can also lose your place in search rankings while Google reindexes and updates all your links. For me, the temporary drop wasn’t a big deal, but it may not be worth it for everyone (especially if you have income from your blog that could be affected by a change in stats).
Get Ready for Social Media Mayhem
Avoid a Facebook crisis. If you have less than 200 Facebook fans, you can change the name and URL of your page to reflect your new brand. But if you have more than that? Facebook recommends that you create a whole new page, and lets you change only the URL but not the name. (Am I the only one who thinks that’s completely backwards?) I didn’t know this until the plan was in motion, so I had to make a whole new page and annoy my fans to get them to “like” the new one. Worst of all, the custom URL I needed was taken by some random teenage girl, so I had to compromise. As of this writing, only about 1/5 of my Facebook fans have “liked” the new page despite my repeated reminders for them to do so.
Plan what you’ll do with your Twitter account. For most people, this is a no-brainer. You just go into your Twitter settings and just change your display name. BUT (and this is a big but) it’s important to make sure that the new name is available ahead of time and snag it so no one else can get it. The name I wanted is being used by a girl with no followers and no tweets, but Twitter would only take it from her if I had a registered trademark for the name. So I decided to consolidate my Twitter accounts and just use my personal one, which I was already using for business purposes. This has annoyed many of the followers on my old blog account; however, for me it made more sense to ask fellow bloggers and readers to follow a different account than to ask my business clients! Still, the transition has been painful so far and getting people to follow the new account has been extremely slow.
Overall Recommendations for Rebranding
Understand your reasons for wanting to rebrand. Sometimes you can make changes to your website without going through the hassle of a name change. Before you make the leap, make sure there is no other way to accomplish your goals. For me, because I originally chose a blog name that was so specific to my journey out of debt, there was simply no other way to write about other things without feeling like I was disappointing readers. After all, many of them probably came to my site for financial posts, not the random things I wanted to write about more regularly. With the new name, I feel like it’s more clear that I will write about a variety of topics.
Plan every step in excruciating detail. Make a list of all the things you’ll need to change if the name of your site changes. My list included all the obvious things, like RSS feed, email address, and social media profiles, but I also had to update my About page, change the entry for my blog on a ton of blog directories, ask other bloggers to update their blogroll links… It seems like I remember something else every few minutes, and it will likely take months to get everything completely switched over. It’s also essential that you plan each step of the transition so that things happen when you’re ready (and not before, like in my situation!)
Own your decision. As I mentioned, I received some criticism for changing the name of my blog, both from readers and from fellow bloggers. Some have even gone as far as telling me I’ve made a huge mistake. But the fact is, my blog belongs to me. If I’m burned out and don’t enjoy blogging anymore, is it better to change things so that I’m motivated to keep going? Or should I just delete the blog and forget it ever existed? I’ve put 18 months of serious work into building my site, and there’s no way I was going to walk away from it. So I don’t worry too much about what people think – if I lose some readers, that’s okay. If my social media numbers stay small forever, that’s okay too. I’m proud of my new site and I’m excited about its future, even if that means moving forward with a smaller audience.
Have you ever rebranded or thought about rebranding? What questions or concerns do you have about the process? Has a blog you enjoy reading ever changed drastically?