Word of Warning: Renames are Challenging for Your Team
Sometimes site renames are necessary, and a well-chosen and executed rename may even be beneficial long-term. But all renames require a significant amount of work up front (not just for the Drupal admins, but also for your team), and short-term, they fracture your web presence and damage your search rankings.
You should only change URLs when it's 100 percent necessary.
— John Lincoln, CEO Ignite Visibility
Marketing agency Ignite Visibility says that very basic changes "such as capitalization, adding a hyphen, an underscore," even to a single page's URL can be detrimental to your site SEO.
SEO giant Moz.com wrote "All change is risky... Even a perfectly executed site-wide URL change – with pristine 301-redirects – is going to take time for Google to process. During that time, your rankings may bounce. You may get some errors. If your new URL scheme isn’t universally better than the old one, some pages may permanently lose ranking."
As a result, we strongly recommend that site renames are used as sparingly as possible. Select your site's new name very carefully and try to make it both future-proof and user-friendly. Thoroughly validate links on your renamed site, keep a watchful eye on your top 404 errors, and coordinate with other site owners (especially within Cal Poly) to get old links updated ASAP.
And keep in mind - even if your web team goes all-out, and does absolutely everything as flawlessly as possible, there are links they will be unable to change. For example, sometimes external sites don't respond to requests to update links to your old address, and printed materials or emails that reference the old name can't be updated.
What Is the Site Rename Process?
Your Team Discusses Rename with University Marketing
Sometimes there are alternative solutions, and your site's problems can be solved with other SEO tools! University Marketing may be able to help identify and recommend these solutions - and if a rename is absolutely necessary, they can help ensure the new name is simultaneously as succinct, user-friendly, and future-proof as possible.
It's critically important to choose an impeccable name for this process to be successful long-term and worth the issues it will inevitably cause, so an extra set of expert eyes on the process will be immensely helpful.
If you're considering renaming a site, please let University Marketing know!
Your Team Submits the Site Rename Request
Once you've determined a rename is absolutely necessary and finalized the new name, submit the Site Request Form to the Drupal team.
Drupal Team Creates The New Site
A Drupal site can't actually be renamed in place - so our team will have to create a brand new site on stage that uses the new name, and inject your old site's database into it (which copies your old content over).
After that, we'll run a script that looks for links to pages, images, documents, etc, that you may have hard-coded to the old URL, and it updates them to point to the new address.
Your Web Team Validates/Updates the New Site
Once the Drupal team hands the stage site off to you, your web team has to go through the site and validate all the links are correct. Although our script does most of the heavy-lifting, it's up to your team to double-check that everything on the new site is pointed to the right place!
Links may appear to work now, because your old site is still live. But eventually your original site will be deleted, and at that point any links on your new site using the old address will break.
This is also the step where any changes you may want to make to the site should be made. However, please be aware that content updates you make to the old site will no longer be automatically copied to the new one! At this point, all new or even updated content on the old site will have to be manually copied to the new stage site.
Your Team Proactively Contacts Site Admins For Known Issues
If you're already aware of any other sites that link to the one you are renaming, this is a good time to reach out and let them know the rename is in progress. Ideally, you'll coordinate a launch date during which they have the availability to update the links to your site.
This is easier to do with other Cal Poly Drupal sites, as the Drupal team can let you know who the site's admins are if you aren't sure who to contact. Additionally, those site admins can save a draft of their pages with all your updated links, and then simply publish the draft when you launch the renamed site. This helps ensure the links are quickly updated and makes it easier to schedule your rollout.
You should still try to reach out to sites about links to your old address even if they aren't on Drupal, or external to Cal Poly, but you may have a more difficult time tracking down a point of contact or getting a response.
Drupal Team Rolls Out Your New Site
When you're all set, inform the the Drupal team, and we will copy your new stage site to production!
Your Team Monitors & Maintains the Rename
Using tools built into Drupal like the Top 'page not found' errors report and the Broken Links report (both found on the Reports page), your team looks for anything that might have been missed and tries to get it updated.
The Top 'page not found' errors report will show you what pages users are trying to find on your site that no longer exist. If you only renamed the site and made no content changes, this may not be a significant list. However, if you made widespread content changes alongside your rename, this list could be sizable.
The Broken Links report will show links on your own pages that point to dead destinations. If any links using your old address are still present on your new site, they will show up here as either 301 or 404.
We also recommend you contact University Marketing for access to the Google Analytics tool (all Drupal sites have it installed in the theme for you). Access to this additional tool alone can help you identify and address SEO problems caused by your rename, and UM's expertise in SEO can be utilized to further assist in the analysis of this additional information.