Imagine this: you’ve been working hard to build your website and you’ve got every piece of the puzzle figured out – from various types of content your audience finds valuable, great visual structure and an appealing design, to the solid SEO and the nice amount of traffic you managed to generate. It’s all going pretty well but then you start exploring the possibility of changing your domain name. Many don’t really take the time to think about their domain name before registering and so it frequently happens they realize the name does not fully match their brand. Or maybe you’re going through the process of rebranding and so a fresh page you’re turning also requires a new name?
Changing your domain name could potentially be beneficial for you and your business, if done properly. Moving to another domain that has higher authority can help you swoop higher rankings easier. Or perhaps you have new business goals and would like to take advantage of the local SEO with a domain that will enable you to target your desired audience?
Keep your name short and memorable. One or two words is best. Keep in mind that the top 100,000 websites, on average, have nine characters in their domain names.Richard Lazazzera, Content Strategist, Shopify
Whatever the reason may be, you’re likely to hear the frightening voices that will direct your attention to the dangers of domain migration. By definition, domain migration means shifting all the data from one domain to another, without data security loss or impairment. To those who are a bit inexperienced or new in the industry, domain migration might seem as an unnecessary risk or even a gamble where you go all-in, investing everything you’ve managed to build so far with your website. Yes, it can be a scary venture as mistakes during the migration process can hurt your site’s performance in Google search results.
However, it is completely doable and similar to moving to another apartment: it takes some effort, a bit of packing and logistics but in the end – you can enjoy the perks of your new home. And just like in the case of real life movement, if you don’t safely wrap all your belongings (i.e. follow the tips for the SEO-friendly domain migration) and take precautionary measures – you can expect some damage along the way. Great planning goes a long way: check out our guide and don’t worry bout a thing!
Step 1: Assessing Your Needs
Different domain extensions and second-level domains offer you various opportunities. When changing a domain name, you should look into your options carefully and find the right domain that will suit your needs. Most commonly, there are three possible situations:
- Changing to a more relevant domain name: Whether you think you need a name that’s more catchy or SEO-friendly, a new name implies a whole new set of things to consider – ensuring your visitors and customers know you’re rebranding should definitely be one of the priorities.
- Switching to a country-code top-level domain: ccTLDs are the clearest signals to search engines when it comes to local ranking. If your business is turning towards the local audience, ccTLD gives you a chance to reach it more effectively. These domains also offer you a chance to personalize your domain name. For instance, with .ME, you can make the extension a part of your brand name or create a call to action by establishing a more personal connection to your target group.
- Moving to a domain that’s more authoritative: Although Google denied having preferences towards any kind of TLDs, some domain extensions are considered to be spammy and also create a negative impression from the user’s perspective.
Keep in mind that during registration – it’s advisable to provide the exact WHOIS information as for your old domain. Of course, if you’re buying a previously owned domain because of its market worth or the credibility it can give you and your business – you need to check the domain history. Investigate the previous ownership to avoid any kind of shady behavior. Google does take in mind the complete history of one domain and if it’s been connected to spam or malware, it’s a bad sign for you.
Step 2: Setting the 301 Redirect
Before you start moving to another domain, you need to set a 301 redirect which means a domain has permanently moved to a new location. It is important for a smooth transition and helps you avoid the dreadful 404 page not found: it directs both your website visitors and search engines to your new domain. The 301 redirect ensures up to 99% of your ranking power gets transferred to a new address and it’s easy to set since it implies only a few lines of code. If you use WordPress, there are free plugins that help you set and manage the 301 redirect.
To underline the importance of this step, we’ll give you an example of a serious SEO fail. In 2010, Toys ‘R Us paid an astonishing $5.1 million for a domain name toys.com. Unfortunately, they forgot to set the 301 redirect page which resulted in a total disaster: Google re-indexed all the site content and it was like a plane crash you watch from afar – a catastrophe completely out of your control. All their SEO hard work went down the drain.
Make sure you keep in mind user experience: don’t direct all the traffic from your old domain to your new domain’s homepage. Rather conduct a page-to-page redirect so that every old page has a matching new one on its new address. This has proven to be the best practice for minimizing both traffic loss and ranking drops.
Step 3: Taking Care of Your External and Internal Links
In an ideal world, you would contact each webmaster who has links pointing to your site and ask them to update the links so they point to the new address. This is not very practical, especially if you have a well developed website with dozens of backlinks. In addition, you should also check your inbound links and ensure they point to your new domain.
In the process, you should do an analysis of your link profile and make adjustments: just like when you’re moving to a new home and you decide to simultaneously get rid of the stuff you don’t have much use of, in means of domain migration – check if there are some bad links from spammy websites pointing to your domain and get rid of them. So, here’s what you should do:
- Crawl your site and get a list of all internal pages and redirects
- Look for crawl errors (use Google Webmaster Tools)
- See what’s your most linked content (again, with Google Webmaster)
- Check the number of your indexed pages
- Check the list of external links
Once you’ve got a pretty good overview of your current success, give yourself a pat on the back for all the SEO accomplishments and move on to the next step.
Step 4: Getting Your Sitemap in Order
If you’ve just read “sitemap”, squinted your eyes and got a bit confused about what we’re actually talking about, not to worry – it’s honestly not that complex. A sitemap is a file that tells Google and other search engines about the organization of your site’s content (typically in hierarchical manner), making it easier for them to crawl through it. Not all websites have a sitemap but when you plan a domain migration – you need one for a smooth transition. However, there are other benefits of having a sitemap:
- It increases the chances of more of your content getting indexed by Google (especially if your website is huge, sitemaps help Google figure out its way through your pages)
- If your internal links aren’t the strongest, listing them in your sitemap will help
- Sitemaps provide a good source of additional information for Google (but keep in mind it’s not a guarantee all of your content will get crawled, nor being indexed)
Target your geographical area in your domain name. If your business is local, consider including your city or state in your domain name to make it easy for local customers to find and remember it.Andrea Rowland, Managing Editor, GoDaddy Garage
Just like you need to put everything in boxes when relocating in real life, sitemaps are the way to pack your content in the cyberspace and ensure it finds its way safely to a new domain.
Step 5: Monitoring the Transition
First things first: you can’t expect the traffic to stay intact during domain migration. You will notice a slight drop in traffic which is perfectly natural as search engines need to adapt to the new situation.
In order to check if the moving is going according to plan, you can use Google Search Console. Here’s what to keep an eye on:
- Check if there are any crawling errors on your new domain
- See if organic impressions are gradually decreasing on your old domain and proportionally increasing on your new one
- Monitor the traffic and conversions volume and analyze if there are some unwanted changes in comparison to previous domain
- Check external links once again and ensure they are pointing to the right domain
- It’s advisable to keep your old domain for a while, at least up to the point it stops being indexed
Usually, it takes around six weeks for rankings to assimilate so try to be patient, young grasshopper.
Step 6: Letting Google Know You Have Moved
At last, you can throw a housewarming party and celebrate your new domain home! This means you should let Google know you’ve moved: change your address in the webmaster tool account (in the Google Search Console) and then resubmit your sitemap.
Setting up an account seems like common sense but you would be surprised how many webmasters actually don’t have one, in spite of the undeniable benefits. To name a few:
- It allows you to verify the website ownership
- It enables you to be in full control of your website and analyze diagnostics independently
- It offers you insights of the relevant statistics (e.g. click-through-rates, conversions, traffic statistics, etc.)
When you ensure Google is notified about your new domain, reach out to your followers and loyal customers. The redirect page will be there anyhow but it’s good to let your audiences know you’ve moved. Use social media as a great channel of communication and spread the word about your new domain. Not only will you direct your previous visitors to the new address but chances are – it’s going to attract new ones, too. Promotion plays a big part: having a great website with valuable content means little if no one knows you’re out there.
Domain migration is not really that uncommon. For example, did you know Facebook was initially thefacebook.com? Back then, domain name facebook.com was taken and the domain holder was interested to sell it but asked too much money for it. In 2005, the company decided to buy this domain name for stunning $200.000!
No arguments here – domain name is important: it’s like a personal ID for yourself or your business in the digital world, the first thing someone encounters when meeting with your brand. It should be recognizable and make you stand out from the competition.
If you’re thinking about registering your first domain or you’re planning a domain migration, consider .ME as your new home. We’ll be honored to stand behind your online presence!