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How to Switch Domain Name Without Damaging SEO

Posted 18th May, 2015 by Aliysa

Websites grow, business plans change and over time you may find that the domain name you registered to launch your site is no longer relevant. Perhaps you originally opted for a .CO.UK for your online shop because you only delivered to the UK, but have since gone global. Or maybe the launch of new extensions like .PHOTO and .AUDIO mean you can register a new domain name that better reaches your target audience.

Like all major website changes, there’s a recommended way to carry out a switch of address to ensure minimal impact on your new sites search ranking. Simply adding a 301 redirect isn't enough to preserve your ranking in search engines, so to give you the best possible chance of avoiding any interruption, I've listed a few extra precautions you should take to switch your domain name without damaging SEO.

A change of domain is almost always permanent, so I’ll be using 301 redirects for the steps below. If you'd like to test your change of domain before making the move permanently, then substitute a "301" redirect with a temporary "302" redirect. Because of their temporary nature 302 redirects do not pass any search ranking juice across from your old domain, whereas a 301 redirect will pass your ranking across to your new domain name.

  1. Add Your New Domain as a New Site:

Once you’ve registered your new domain name, add it as a new website on your hosting package. To ensure your new site is crawled you’ll need to let web users and search bots know that this domain will host a genuine site and isn’t just a parked domain name, by creating a simple cover page that displays key information.

  1. Upload Your Web Files to the New Site:

Next, copy each file from your current website over to the new site, using an FTP client like Filezilla. To help search bots crawl your new site efficiently, you should also create and upload a brand-new XML sitemap, which lists every page on your new site.

Note: If you choose to make any changes to your site structure whilst copying your files across, then it's important that you make a note of where your content is now located, before moving onto the next step.

  1. Redirect from the Old Domain Name:

Now you need to create 301 redirects, to redirect any traffic from your old domain to your new one. Within your old website's file manager, open up the .htaccess file and add the following 301 redirect code on a new line at the bottom of the file:

#Wildcard redirect
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(.+\.)?[]$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^ http://[]%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

Note: (Substitute "" and "" for your old and new domain names.)

Below this code, you need to list where each of your site's pages are now located on your new site, in order to redirect anyone who visits a page on your old site to the corresponding page on your new website. If your site structure is identical on your new site, then rather than listing each individual page you can save time by just listing every subdomain.

If you site structure remains identical:

redirect 301 /blog

If you have changed your site's structure during the move, then you will need to list each page individually, and state where it now belongs. If the file name and location is the same on the new site, add this code:

redirect 301 /about-us/index.html

If the file name or location is now different, add this code:

redirect 301 /about-us/index.html

We recommend testing that your first redirect works successfully, before you add a redirect to the rest of your webpages.

If you choose not to include content from your old site on your new site, still create a redirect but point it to an appropriate alternative to avoid them reaching a broken link.

  1. Tell Search Engines You've Moved:

To ensure that the authority from your old domain is passed across to your new domain you need to let the search engines know that you've moved by registering a change of address.

You can register a change of address with the top 3 search engines: Google, Bing and Yahoo, all of which follow a very similar process. Below I've laid out the steps for informing Google that you've moved domain.

  1. If you haven't already, sign up for 'Webmaster Tools' and add both your old and new sites to your account. You can do this by visiting the Webmaster Tools homepage, clicking "add-site" and following the on-screen instructions.
  2. In the main menu, click on your old site address. Next, click the "Settings" icon (which looks like a cog) in the top right hand corner of the page and then select "Change of Address".
  3. You'll then be presented with a 4 step check-list, during which Google will check that your request is genuine and that your old site does actually redirect to your new site.

Once complete, Google will alter their index to reflect your change of address and will list your new site in their search results instead of your old one. It may take Google a few days to update their index, but you can speed up the process by submitting your new site's XML sitemap, which you created in step 2, to Google's Webmaster Tools:

  1. Within the Webmaster Tools homepage, click on your new domain name. In the left hand menu, go to "Crawl", "Sitemaps", "Add/ Test Sitemap".
  2. Enter your sitemap location into the text box and select "Submit Sitemap". Google will then crawl your site for content as soon as possible.

  3. Clarify the Change Worked:

Before you celebrate a successful move, dive into Google and Bing's Webmaster Tools and compare the performance of your old and new domains. Chances are, your site will fall slightly in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) initially as old visitors adapt to the change, but if you see a large drop off in SERP then you should recheck each of your site's 301s individually to make certain they work as expected.

  1. Let your Customers Know: **

To encourage your customers to visit your site using your new address share a link in social media posts, and update your profiles to reflect your change of address. If you send out automated emails and other communications take time to update these as well.

  • Update Important Backlinks:

Backlinks are links to your content on a 3rd party website. Relevant backlinks on respected sites can boost your website's authority, but if your backlinks are pointing at your old domain name, this doesn't help to increase authority for your new domain name.

Update any important backlinks, so they point directly at your new site. Use the "Links to Your Site" feature in Google's Webmaster Tools to unearth backlinks which drive lots of traffic to your site, then contact the owners of these sites directly and ask them to change the backlinks to your new address for you.

  • Don't Let Your Old Domain Expire!:

Obviously as a domain registrar, it's in our interest to say that but it's honestly the truth! If your old domain name expires, then any links to your old site will be lost, instantly breaking all those 301 redirects to your new site. Furthermore, once your domain expires it's no longer under your control.



Have you ever switched your website's domain name before? How did your search ranking perform during the transition. I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.


Categories: Tips, SEO, Domains

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