How to Change Domains without Losing Your SEO Strength

changing domains of your website

Changing the domain of your website can have an impact on your SEO. That can be a scary thing, especially if your website already ranks on Google pretty well for your important keywords. You don't want to lose your "Google value", so what can you do to minimise the "damage" of moving your website? In today’s blog, we’ll be looking at what steps you need to take to ensure a smooth transition from your current site to your new domain.

Table of contents:

  1. Why should you change your domain?
  2. How to change domains
    1. Back up your old website
    2. Check out and clean up the new domain
    3. Audit your old website
    4. Get 301s to redirect traffic to your new site
    5. Let Google know that you’ve officially moved
    6. Double check everything
    7. Change your inbound links
    8. Make up for the short-term hit with a marketing campaign

Why should you change your domain?

Before we look at the best practices for changing your domain, let’s look at some reasons why you might want to do this in the first place.

  • You’ve found a “better” domain – sounds simple, but sometimes the original domain wasn’t available, so you had to settle on plan B. If this new site suddenly becomes available, you might want to switch to it. After all, “.com” is much easier for consumers to remember than “.net” or ".org".

  • You’ve changed business names – for one reason or another (e.g. SEO, branding), you’ve decided to change your entire brand name. If this is the case, your website would most likely need a new domain as well.

  • You want to merge multiple sites into one – perhaps you have multiple websites that sell similar things. Perhaps you’ve bought out your competition. Maybe you've localised your international websites and merged them onto one domain. Whatever reason there is, you might have to consolidate your websites into one.

These are, of course, not the only reasons why you might have decided on moving your website. Whatever reason you may have, what's important is to make the move the right way:

How to change domains

Now that you understand the reasons for changing domains, let's delve into the most important steps needed to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.

Back up your old website

First thing’s first. Before you do anything, make sure you back up your original website. If something goes wrong during your migration to the new domain, you’ll have this backup to use while fixing the new site.

There are a number of methods you can use to back up your website. PCMag has a great overview of some of your options.

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Check out and clean up the new domain

Getting a new domain is a little bit like buying a car. If you’ve bought the rights to a previously used domain, you’ll want to make sure the previous owner is not giving you a “lemon”.

What is a "lemon" website? Well, if Google penalised the previous domain owner for trying to take advantage of the Google algorithm (e.g. keyword-stuffing or excessive link-building), these penalties might carry over.

Recommended reading:
What to Know Before Buying a Website Domain for Your Online Shop

To check for this, head to Google Webmaster Tools and claim your new domain there. Check the Manual Actions page. If there are no issues, you shouldn’t have to worry about lingering penalties.

However, if you do see a manual action, you’ll have to make the necessary changes and then submit a reconsideration request. After your request is approved, you can start the move to your new domain.

Audit your old website

Before transferring anything to your new domain, you’ll want to make note of the major statistics of your old site. Getting this information will help you gauge the success of your new website after migration.

woman auditing website

Source: shutterstock.com/Andrey_Popov

Next, you’ll want to create a list of the inbound links to your website (a huge SEO factor). In Google Webmaster Tools that was linked above, you can head to the “Search Traffic” menu. Then, click on “Links to Your Site”. Export the list for your records.

Revisit the best links from this list. You’ll want to check that these links are still working and that the 301 redirects are functioning properly after you’ve transferred domains (more on 301 redirects in the next section).

Get 301s to redirect traffic to your new site

301 redirects are meant to guide your readers from a page on your old site to its equivalent on your new site. In other words, if a user clicks on an old link or enters your old website address, they'll be sent to your new site automatically.

Keep in mind that 301s aren’t just for your users. They also tell search engines that this has page has permanently moved to a new site and will “forward” the link credit to the new page.

If you plan on keeping the same structure on your new website, you’ll probably want to create a “wild card” redirect in your htaccess file. This will basically add 301 redirects to all of your old domain URLs and forwards them to your new domain with the same URL.

If you plan on changing the structure of your website, I would recommend doing this a few months after transferring to the new domain to give Google a chance to make sense of all the changes happening on your site.

You’ll probably want to take your time and double check that all your 301 redirects are working properly. Functioning 301 redirects are crucial to keeping this process as smooth as possible.

Let Google know that you’ve officially moved

In the Google Webmaster Tools, click on the gear icon and then click on the “Change of Address” link (read more here). This lets Google know that you’ve officially changed domain names and your new domain should stay up to date in their system.

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Double check everything

Not only should you double check all your 301 redirects, but you should also make sure that 404 Errors aren’t popping up. You can find plenty of free tools online to check this for you (e.g. deadlinkchecker or brokenlinkcheck), but you’ll want to check this every day during the first week after migration.

couple passing moving boxes

Shutterstock/Pressmaster

After the first week, go back and check them once a week for the first month or so. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for some of these error pages to show up in the first place, so keep your eyes open during this transition period.

Change your inbound links

Remember that list you downloaded that showed your best inbound links? Well, they should all have 301 redirects, so it’s good to test those as well.

However, now would be a good chance to reach out to your content partners. If these other websites are sharing your old links on their websites, then try to reach out to them and get them to manually change those links to your new domain. Sure, not everyone will have the time to do this, but many won’t mind as it’s a pretty quick fix.

Make up for the short-term hit with a marketing campaign

It’s basically impossible to not lose some of your SEO strength when migrating to a new domain, even if they are just temporary "losses".

The tips above are best practices to minimise the “damage”. Because of this, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to plan a marketing campaign alongside the migration. Whether that means a link-building effort with guest blogs, an infographic push, or simply an ad campaign to make up for some of your lost traffic.

Conclusion

Changing domains is a huge decision for any company, so take your time when making this decision. If you do indeed decide to move domains, make sure to give yourself time to implement these changes. In the end, it very well could be the right decision for your business. However, it really works best with some serious planning, early observations, and consistent maintenance.Trusted Shops SEO benefits one-pager download

12/07/22
Alon Eisenberg

Alon Eisenberg

Alon Eisenberg has been the Content Manager UK at Trusted Shops since 2017. He graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor's degree in Communications in 2004.

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