If you are considering changing your website's domain, you may be worried about losing the "Google value" of your current website. If you appear quite high in Google search results for your main keywords, it is normal to be fearful. However, it is possible to do so while minimizing the "damage" to your website. In today's post, we'll take a look at the steps you need to take to ensure a smooth transition between your current site and your new domain.
Before looking at the best practices for switching domains, let's first talk about some of the reasons why you might want to do so.
- You've found a "better" domain: Sounds simple, but sometimes the original domain wasn't available, so you had to resort to plan B. If suddenly the new site becomes available, you might want to switch. After all, a “.com” is much easier for customers to remember than a “.net” or “.org”.
- You've changed your business name: For whatever reason, you've decided to change your entire brand name. If this is the case, it is clear that your website will also need a new domain.
- You want to merge several sites into one: It may be that you have several websites that sell similar products. You may have bought your competition. For whatever reason, you may want to merge your websites into one.
Now that you understand why you want to change your domain, let's take a look at the steps you need to take to make the transition as seamless as possible.
The first is the first. Before you do anything, make sure to backup your original website . If something goes wrong during the migration to the new domain, you'll have this backup to fall back on while you fix the problem on the new site.
Buying a new domain is a bit like buying a car. If you have bought the rights to a domain that was already in use, you will need to make sure that the previous owner is not selling you "junk" . How can this happen with the domain of a website? Well, if Google had penalized you for trying to take advantage of their algorithm (for example, with keyword stuffing or excessive links), these penalties could still be upheld.
To check it, go to Google Webmaster Tools and claim your new domain from there. Check the Manual Actions page. If there is no problem, you would not have to worry about possible pending penalties. However, if you see a manual action, you'll need to make the necessary changes and submit a reconsideration request. Once your application is approved, you can start moving to the new domain.
Before you transfer anything to your new domain, you'll want to take note of the most important stats from your old site . Having this information will help you measure the success of your new website after migration.
Next, you need to create a list of incoming links to your website (a primary SEO factor). In Google Webmaster Tools you can access the “Search Traffic” menu on the left side. Then click on “Links to your site”. Export the list so you can save it.
Revisit the best links on the list. You'll want to check that the links are still working and that the 301 redirects are working properly after the transfer to the new domain (we'll talk more about 301 redirects in the next section).
301 redirects are meant to guide your readers from a page on your old website to its equivalent on the new site. In other words, if a user clicks on an old link or types in your old web address, they will be sent to the new site automatically. However, 301 redirects are not just for users. They also tell search engines that there is a page that has been permanently moved to a new site and they will "send" the link credit to the new page.
If you plan to keep the same structure on your new website, probably the best thing to do is to create a "wildcard" redirect in your htaccess file . This will basically add 301 redirects to all URLs from the old domain and transfer them to your new domain with the same URL. If you plan to change the structure of your website, I would recommend doing so a few months after transferring to the new domain to give Google a chance to understand all the changes to your website.
It is advisable that you take your time and check that all 301 redirects are working properly . Working 301 redirects is crucial to making this process as smooth as possible.
In Google Webmaster Tools, click on the gear icon and then on the “Change address” link ( more information here ). This informs Google that you have officially changed the domain name and that your new domain needs to be updated in their system.
In addition to checking all 301 redirects, you also need to make sure that you don't get any 404 errors . You'll find many free tools online that check this (for example, deadlinkchecker or brokenlinkcheck ), but for the first week after migration, you should check every day. After this time, check it once a week for the first month or so. Some of these error pages take weeks to appear.
Do you remember that list you downloaded with the best internal links? Well, they should all have 301 redirects, so checking those is a good idea too. However, it can be a good occasion to contact those content colleagues. If those other web pages share your links, try contacting them to manually change the links to your new domain. It is clear that not everyone will have time to do it, but many others will not mind, since it is done quite quickly.
It's basically impossible not to lose some of your SEO strength by migrating to a new domain, even if it's only temporary "losses." The tips compiled here are good practices to minimize "the damage" . Therefore, it would not be a bad idea to plan a marketing campaign parallel to the migration. It can be an effort to get links with guest blogs, the push of some infographics or simply an ad campaign to compensate for some of the lost traffic.
Changing the domain is a big decision for any company, so take your time when you do it and give yourself time to implement the changes. In the end, it might be the right decision for your business, but it really will go much better with serious planning, early observation, and consistent maintenance.