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April 12, 2018

Beyond a “Refresh”: Changing Our Brand

Shattered windshield with text: Watch Out When Making Big Brand Changes

Last time, we talked about using the opportunity of “spring cleaning” to review our brand and see if we needed to update anything on our website or social media accounts. But sometimes a “refresh” isn’t enough.

As Glynis Jolly asked in the comments on that post:

“I noticed you really didn’t touch on genre/blog/website name change. I’m thinking about doing that but am hesitant because followers may be lost in the process. How would you suggest how to handle it?”

As so often happens to me, I started a big, long reply and then decided the answer deserved a whole post. *smile* So let’s talk today about what we might want to watch out for when we’re considering a major change to our brand.

The Risks of Big Changes

As Glynis mentioned, big changes to our brand can come with big risks. Depending on the type of change, we might see that…:

  • Readers get confused by a blog or website name change. We usually express the name, subtitle, and/or tagline of our site in our header image, so a name or tagline change might come with other changes, such as the colors or graphics of our header, which might make readers question whether they landed in the right place.
  • Readers of our previous genre aren’t interested in our new genre, or readers get confused about which of our books are in the genre they like. Summerita Rhayne guest posted here a few years ago with her insights on the pros and cons of juggling multiple genres, and she dug into the question of branding.
  • Readers can’t find us if the domain name of our website or blog changes. The domain name of our site is also known as the URL (www.something.com). A change from something.com to somethingelse.com will mean that all old links to our site, our books, and our contact information will no longer work.

Each of those changes could result in losing followers, and those bullet points are in order of least-to-great risk. But don’t panic! *smile*

Those risks can be minimized. Or we might decide they’re not that big of a deal. Let’s take a look at each of those situations…

Changing Our Website or Blog Name

As I mentioned above, this is the least risky change to make if we’re talking only about a name change (like our site’s display name) and not a URL/domain name change (which we’ll get into below). We can include changing our site’s subtitle or tagline in this category as well.

There are two layers to our site’s name or tagline:

  • Metadata: For most website or blog software, we set up the metadata of our site’s name and tagline in the settings. For example, in WordPress, we can change the Site Title and Tagline under Settings>General.Screen shot of WordPress Site Title and Tagline settings pageDepending on our theme, whatever we type in those fields may or may not be displayed anywhere. However, they are part of the metadata of our site, which tells Google and other search databases what to call our site in any search results.
    Also, depending on our theme, the information entered in those fields might be overwritten by our settings within the theme itself. However, it’s generally a good idea to keep our information consistent between WordPress and our theme, just in case we change themes or updates break software, etc.
  • Display: Depending on our theme and/or amount of web design on our site, we might also have graphics that include our site title and tagline in our header image. If we use graphics that display our site name or tagline, we probably wouldn’t want WordPress or our theme to display it as well.
    For example, rather than having my metadata display on my site in a generic font, I created a “logo” of my name, genre, and tagline in a specific font, color, and layout that I saved as an image. I then inserted that logo image into the header for my homepage and a smaller version in the menu at the top of every page.Home page header image with Jami Gold logo
    Header image with Jami Gold logo for menu at top of every page

Whatever we do to communicate to visitors who we are and where they’ve landed, changing this aspect of our brand is the easiest and least risky as far as losing current readers.

Changing your website's branding? Communicate to readers... Click To TweetIn the business world, companies change their logo or packaging all the time. So readers won’t be too confused if we change the title or tagline of our site.

As long as readers don’t think they landed in the wrong place and close our site in their browser, we’re not likely to lose them as readers. So the main thing we need to do is make sure we’re clearly communicating enough information to readers that they know they didn’t get hijacked to a different site by mistake.

Advanced Tip: Maintain Consistency in Some Way

Last year, I talked about how I minimized confusion and maintained consistency when I completely redesigned every aspect of my site:

“Unintentionally, the colors of my old site became a major part of my online brand. I heard from many readers over the years who recognized when they landed on my site just because of those unique colors (which were simply a color palette built off my old site’s background—nothing I’d meant to do *shh*).

So when working on my redesign, I aimed for a look that was the phrase we often hear from agents and publishers: I wanted the same but different. *smile*

Obviously, just to get away from the dated design, I needed to make a lot of changes. Add to that the new theme platform, which forced me to rebuild everything, and I knew I had the different down pat.

But I also wanted my site to feel like my site. I decided that it wasn’t about the layout, the background, the header, etc. It was about the colors. Those needed to stay the same.”

If there’s an aspect of our site that makes it extra recognizable or feel like “home,” we can try to incorporate that aspect into whatever changes we make.

If we’re keeping our header image and just changing the text of our site name or tagline, that goal is easy. If we’re changing the image itself or other aspects of our site at the same time as a name change, we might need to think about ways to incorporate that touch of home.

Maybe we keep a similar accent color. Or typeface. Or style of graphics. Even just the layout of where our title, tagline, and graphic elements line up in the header image might be enough.

Changing Our Genre

If we change genres or add a new genre to our repertoire, we might face several difficulties, depending on our situation. Obviously, there’s a risk that our previous readers might not enjoy our new genre, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to cut us off.

Thinking of changing your genre? Don't leave readers behind... Click To TweetWe can communicate to readers our plans to continue our previous genre, such as hinting at future books continuing our current series, etc. That hint can keep readers curious and checking back for updates on the genre they like, preventing them from deleting our links from their browser bookmarks. *smile*

We can also entice readers to try our work in the new genre, such as offering a teaser story in the new genre to our existing readers. We shouldn’t assume that our readers from the old genre won’t enjoy our work in the new genre.

Sometimes the aspects they love about our writing go beyond genre, such as our voice, humor, or twisty plots. Good writing can be good writing. So readers who don’t hate our work or take it personally that we’re writing in the new genre are likely to stick around.

We also need to make decisions about our brand:

  • Do we want to incorporate our new genre into our existing/updated brand, combining them?
    If so, we might need to update our site title (if we mention a genre) or our tagline. We might need to change our brand to apply to both genres, such as using a less-obviously sci-fi typeface if we’re also going to be writing historical fiction. Or we might need to redesign our site to create pages for our different genres.
  • Do we want to create a new and separate brand for our different genres?
    If so, we need to decide how much separation we want—different pen names, websites, social media accounts, etc. With complete separation, we also need to decide whether we’re keeping them secret, with no mention from one to the other, or open between the two, with links back and forth.

Authors have chosen every possibility we can imagine, so there’s no right or wrong answer. For most of us, unless the genres are very different—such as children’s literature and erotica—complete separation with secrecy would just create more work for us.

Whereas, if there’s openness, authors might use common social media accounts—even with two pen names—reducing the need to maintain multiple social circles.

If we’re not sure which way to go, we can keep in mind a goal of trying to minimize the risk of losing followers. Which would be the bigger risk:

  • upsetting readers so much with the new genre that they no longer want anything to do with us (unlikely except for very different genres)?
  • losing opportunities to grow readers between the genres because they don’t know we do both?

In most cases, separation can limit our readership more than a combination would upset them. However, only we know our readership, so only we can determine what’s best for us.

Advanced Tip: Understand Our Reasons for a Genre Change

As I’ve mentioned before, genre is often just a layer of worldbuilding. We could write the same story with the same characters and underlying situation in different genres, simply by changing the plot and conflicts/resolutions to match the expectations of the genre.

Genre is mostly about the world we build for our characters while they explore the story, so we might be able to avoid the temptations of genre-hopping and stick to our brand if we understand how story ideas—at their essence—can be translated from one genre to another. Just because we got a shiny story idea for a different genre doesn’t mean we have to write it in that genre.

If we get a story idea for X genre but we usually write in Y genre, we can ask ourselves: What makes this story idea appeal to us?

  • Is it the story itself? The theme, the conflict, the confrontation?
    If so, the genre might not be important, and we might be able to translate the idea to our usual genre.
  • Is it the world we’d get to create? The settings and surroundings, the appropriate plot events, the expectations?
    If so, it might be the change of genre that appeals to us, and our urge might not be about the story idea at all.

Changing Our Domain Name

This possibility is the most difficult and comes with the biggest risk for losing readers. In this case, we’ll lose readers not due to them being upset with our change, but simply because they can’t find us anymore. Yet despite the risk, we might have good reasons for making this change.

For example, we’d usually want our blog/website domain name to be our author name (or our author name -books or -author if just our name isn’t available in .com). A website address of our author name is professional, Google-able, and won’t change with various trends.

However, some authors start with a cutesy URL (such as strugglingwriter.com) they picked up before they thought about branding issues. Then once they’re published, they want to change it to their name for better Google-ability and professionalism.

Changing your website's domain name? Get prepared... Click To TweetAs Glynis brought up, this is exactly the situation with the biggest risk of losing followers/readers, as links stop working. Any links to something.com no longer work—or connect to the new somethingelse.com.

No one can find us anymore. For a while, not even Google will be able to find us.

That said, a domain name change can be done—renaming the links of all the pages, posts, comments, etc. for the new domain and ensuring domain forwarding is set up for all those links (meaning that clicks to the old links are redirected to the new). But it’s definitely something we need professional help (like from our hosting provider) to do cleanly and seamlessly for visitors.

(And even so, not every hosting provider knows how to do it without loss. I know my hosting provider, TechSurgeons, has set up this type of transition for their clients, but I also know authors with different hosting providers who just started over because they couldn’t figure out how to make it work.)

The difficulties of this change can be high, and that’s why I’ve always recommended that newbie writers should decide on their author name before they start creating their digital footprint. But if we didn’t take that step, we face a few possibilities:

  • We could throw up our hands and start over, losing followers in process. Any links out in the wild for the old URL—from blog posts to book pages—would no longer work.
  • We could keep the old domain name and update the design of the site to point people to the new address. (Check the old Bookshelf Muse site by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for an example that just tells visitors to go to Writers Helping Writers instead.)
  • We could set up domain forwarding to send all old links to the homepage of the new site. Visitors would find us automatically, but they’d have to dig through the site to find anything specific.
  • We could set up the new site as a mirror of the old (or simply “rename” the site for the new domain) and use domain forwarding to map every link to its duplicate with the new name. This is the most seamless for visitors but would require more work (and money to pay our expert).
    (The difficulties and costs for this option vary widely depending on our website software, WordPress, Blogger, etc. and other variables. Sometimes it can be easy, and sometimes not.)

Again, there’s no right answer, as only we can prioritize the strength of our current readership and the costs of making the domain name change. Knowing our goals and our budget will help us make the right decision for our situation.

Change is never easy in real life or in our online life. But with the right information, we can make sure we’re making smart decisions moving forward—all the better to avoid more hard change in the future. *smile*

Have you contemplated big changes for your brand or website? What aspects have you struggled with? Does knowing the details help you commit to a decision or approach? What types of changes have you considered? Do you have any other questions about making big changes?

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Elizabeth Randolph

But what happens when someone already has our author name so we can’t use it? This happened on WordPress. I was thrilled when WordPress filled in randolphweb, perhaps as a suggestion. Even I can remember that. (I have a free theme. That may make a difference.) I can use my author name on an author page on Facebook but not as an account. FB said E J was too short for a first name. I guess FB doesn’t like initials.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks! My cosy crime readers do not cross over with my SF readers but sometimes cross over with my romantic suspense readers; seldom if ever with my YA horse book readers. So I recommend having a good solid series in each genre if possible as the reader your first book brings may just want more of the same. I separate out the genres on my website.
And we did change domain name as I bought my name.ie rather than a long complex name from the telcoms provider. This worked well as my marketing was bookmarks which we print as needed, the contacts in my books, which I can update, and a few sites like Linked In and Goodreads. Don’t forget to update your Amazon Author Profile if you make a change. Amazing how easy it is to forget that one; Author Central.

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