When I was told that our client, oDesk, was planning on rebranding their company to Upwork, the “domain migration” alarm bells immediately went off in my head.
As Search Engine Land readers know, these pages are littered with horror stories of domain migrations that have done serious SEO damage. For instance:
- How One Brand Switched One Million URLs and Lived To Tell About It: 5 Questions With HomeAdvisor.com
- You Don’t Have To Be Nuts To Worry About Changing Your Domain Name
While the basics of SEO for domain migrations are straightforward, betting your business that both Google and your team will get it right is, in fact, a big bet. One read of that HomeAdvisor post should be enough to put off anyone from attempting the switch.
So naturally, when oDesk presented the idea of changing domains, my feedback was that they should set expectations correctly internally, put a plan in place to do everything right, and be pleasantly surprised if/when their organic traffic didn’t crater post-launch.
Spoiler alert! It all worked out better than planned. In fact, post-rebrand organic traffic and conversions are up considerably.
Given how much negativity there is out there on domain switches and SEO, I thought it might be helpful to others considering a move to hear that Google has vastly improved its ability to handle these switches.
While it still takes plenty of planning and care, a domain change can be a positive event SEO-wise. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you how oDesk — sorry, Upwork.com — did it.
The Big Day
On May 5th, oDesk pulled the trigger and officially became Upwork.com. As soon as the new site was live, the SEO team went to work crawling, clicking and endlessly staring at Google. We also submitted Change of Address requests in Google Webmaster…er, I mean Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
While I won’t go into every detail of the post-launch experience, I will say that in the first few days, there were definitely a number of technical issues that cropped up. However, these were quickly identified and squashed by Upwork’s developers.
It’s amazing how fast you can completely audit a multi-million URL domain when you have three different SEOs and their teams banging on it first thing in the morning from different time zones.
As I said, at the beginning, this is a case where the SEO not only didn’t tank, but actually increased due to a domain change. Upwork was able to use the switch as incentive to clean up many of its SEO issues that had never been a high enough priority previously while benefitting from the media attention that surrounded the event.
That said, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few items of interest we encountered once Upwork was live.
“oDesk” Queries Showing “oDesk” As Upwork.com’s Title In The SERPs
Until the majority of people get to know “Upwork,” there are still going to be a decent amount of queries containing “odesk.” Thus, Google may continue to show “oDesk” in the title tags of some search engine results pages (SERPs), even if it is displaying upwork.com URLs.
We often see this with rebrands, and it drives executives crazy. Unfortunately, these old brands will stick around in the SERPs for as long as people continue to search for them. As of this week, it appears this effect may have worn off.
oDesk.com URLs Still Indexed
While Google did a pretty good job of crawling the old site’s redirects, there are still a lot of odesk.com URLs in the index. While I cringe thinking of potential cross-domain duplicate content issues, in some cases this is not necessarily a bad thing as we are seeing both domains rank on page one for certain keywords.
Additionally, most of the odesk.com URLs that are still out there are likely relatively low-value. They will either get crawled or fade away eventually.
Upwork.com Rankings Fluctuations
Upwork’s rankings grew strongly out of the gate; however, roughly nine days after the launch, about 30% of the keywords we were tracking dropped out of the top 10 in Google. The odd thing is that this did not appear to result in a drop in organic traffic or conversions, which we suspect was the case because oDesk.com URLs were still ranking, often for the same keywords, and generating traffic.
Upwork regained and surpassed its rankings about five days later, but it was helpful for the team to have all of the data readily available so that a temporary blip didn’t cause a full-on panic.
Upwork.com has now been live for over a month, and all signs indicate that its organic traffic will remain in good shape for the time being (fingers crossed).
While you can never be sure when an algorithm change will throw a curveball your way, the experience of planning and executing the rebrand has ingrained SEO best practices even more into the culture of the company, which should hold them in good stead with the SEO gods for the future.
So, if you are planning a domain migration for your business, hopefully we’ve helped you realize that it can be done without killing your SEO.
For further reading, see the Upwork Marketing Team’s own account of the domain change and their VP of Engineering’s account.