There are lots of reasons to hang on to a business name, even when it’s clearly past its sell-by date. I assume the majority of Carphone Warehouse customers aren’t old enough to know what a ‘carphone’ is, but it’s a brand with a life of its own.
However, if you’ve successfully built a business selling blue widgets, and your brand and website domain name includes the term ‘blue widgets’, there’s a decision to be made as you expand into selling different coloured widgets. It’s no good wishing you’d named the business ‘all widgets’ from the start (because it wouldn’t have been honest anyway). But now you have to.
This is largely the same problem as happens every day when a business is taken over. In that case, the best strategy would probably be to move the Blue Widget Company’s website to a level down on the New Parent Company website, bring in an interim visual branding, and just 301-redirect the old Blue Widget Company’s site to that one level down on the New Parent Company website. There are many, many examples of this being done disastrously though, often due to an unwarranted sense of self-importance at the new owner, dismissing the brand equity of the business they’ve bought.
With the expanding business problem, one approach could be to make the existing business a ‘division’ of the new business, at least for website administration purposes. So the old ‘blue widgets’ site becomes a second level on the new ‘all widgets’ site, alongside the new ‘red widgets’ and ‘green widgets’ sections.
Move the existing website
If this sort of segregation isn’t ideal, however, the best thing to do is probably to just rename the company and move the existing website to the new domain, carefully 301-redirecting the old one. Then ensure that the existing products (‘blue widgets’) remain front and centre on the new site’s home page for now, as if it was simply a case of the old site taking on new product ranges.
Of course there’s an SEO risk in doing this, but don’t forget that the search engines have no interest in penalising you for such a move, and have come across this sort of thing many times before. It’s fair therefore to assume that if done with the minimum of upheaval, you can rebrand a business without taking a search engine ranking hit.
Customer point of view
As ever though, think of it from the customer point of view. If they click on a link saying “visit the Blue Widget Company website”, and are seamlessly taken to the new, expanded business site, how jarring will it be? If all looks instantly reassuring that the new site is a parent of the old site, it’s fair to say that search engines will see it the same way.