Often, moving your website to a new domain isn’t a choice, but a business need. Your business may be rebranding, consolidating, or you’ve purchased a better domain.
This process of changing your domain name can seem like a daunting challenge but it shouldn’t be. One important takeaway to mention early on, but you shouldn’t lose sight of your SEO objectives and strategies.
Digital Ethos, a highly experienced Digital Marketing Agency, have moved countless websites to new domains. These redirects have been successful, because they were done correctly. The great news is that we were able to preserve the keyword rankings and domain authority by correctly using 301 redirects and Google Webmaster Tools.
In this blog, our Digital Marketing Consultants have created a guide that walks you through the process of changing domains, without having a negative impact on SEO.
Changing Your Domain
For ease of this guide, let’s assume that you just want to change your domain and keep your website architecture the same (sitemap, URL, etc).
As Google themselves recommend, if you’re changing domains and launching a new website, you should do it in two separate phases. Change the domain first, then update the website once the domain change has settled.
Stage 1 – Preparation and Research
In all, the process of changing domain names can take less than an hour if you’re prepared. Before you begin, you should have the following things ready and in place:
- Either a full working version of the same website, located on the NEW domain name, on it’s own hosting environment (with either robots.txt and/or Meta Tags temporarily in place to block search engines until you’ve 301’d).
- Or, the ability to quickly change your hosted site’s domain via your hosting panel and (if necessary) Database references to the domain.
Either of the above options are fine, but you need to make sure that you can still host both domains after you launch the site on the new domain. Your old domain will need to host a small ‘.htaccess file’ in order to ensure redirects are passed onto the new domain.
- Both domains should be verifiedand accessible in your Google Properties and Tools accounts.
- If you use Google Analytics, ensure you have sufficient permissions to change the domain settings for your site’s profile.
- Back-up your website and database(s).
Step 2 – 301 redirect(s)
In order to preserve and maintain both your traffic and back-link portfolio from the old domain, it’s important to 301 redirect all of your individual URLs to the new domain. The simplest and most efficient way to do this, is via your site’s .htaccess file. If you look at the diagram below, this illustrates how you can host a lone .htaccess file on your old domain that redirects all requests onto their counterpart at the new domain:
It is important to note that these stages are assuming that your only changing domain and therefore your sitemap and individual URLs are not going to change. In my diagram above, you can see how individual spec-specific requests can be directly matched and redirected onto the same page at the new domain.
By adding this code to your old domain’s hosted .htaccess file, you’re essentially saying if someone accesses any URL that isn’t the using the new URL (newdomain.co.uk), then redirect to the same URL but under the new domain. Therefore no matter how many pages your site has, the above 2 lines of .htaccess will work for all of your pages. If however your URLs have changed too, you’ll need to individually redirect each page on the .htaccess file like this:
|redirect 301 /old-contact-url.html http://www.newdomain.co.uk/new-contact-url|
redirect 301 /old-about-url.html http://www.newdomain.co.uk/old-about-url
It’s important to have your .htaccess file and/or 301 commands ready before you switch the domain over. Once you’ve successfully migrated your site, this .htaccess file is all you’ll need to host on the old domain in order to successfully redirect.
Step 3 – Redirecting your domain
You should now be in a position to change domains. If you have a separate copy of the same site live on the new domain already, all that remains is to deploy your .htaccess file to the OLD domain hosting. Even if you leave all of your files on the old server as a back-up, the .htaccess file should redirect any and all traffic/requests onto your new domain whether they’re accessing the homepage or an individual landing page.
It is important to make sure you remove any robots.txt commands or Meta Tags on the new domain that will prevent it from being crawled and cached.
If, rather than running the two domains alongside each other, you’re changing the one hosted site to the new domain then you’re now ready to do this. Once changed, you now need to set-up hosting for the OLD domain so that you can upload the .htaccess file.
Hopefully step 3 makes sense, if it doesn’t please write a message in the comments below before you proceed.
Step 4 – Tell Google You’ve Moved
Now should have your website live on the new domain, with any old domain URL requests being 301 redirected to their counterparts on the new domain. Correct implementation of the 301 redirects is good enough alone, but Google offer several features within Webmaster Tools to make sure the process is as smooth as possible.
Webmaster Tools: Changing your address
As you should already have your new domain verified too, select this in the drop
down below, and press submit.
Webmaster Tools: How to submit your sitemap
To further assist the process, i’d recommend submitting your new XML sitemaps to Google. Simply navigate to Crawl > Sitemaps:
Start by initially testing your XML sitemaps, then once you’re satisfied they’re 100%, Add them onto the profile for crawling.
Webmaster Tools: Fetch as Google
In order to speed up the caching and switch-over of the new domain, i’d also recommend submitting your key page(s) via ‘Fetch as Google’. Navigate to Crawl > Fetch as Google:
Start by fetching your new domain’s homepage and any other key landing pages that you’d like to be promptly crawled by Google. It is worth pointing out that you don’t need to worry about over-using this feature.
Step 5 – You’re nearly done…
You should now have a fully working site on the new domain, with the old domain redirecting requests and traffic perfectly. Not only that, but Google is in the process of switching your domain over in its’ cache of your site. I’d recommend spending some time next just testing your 301s, a good way of doing this is to search for your old domain using the search query: site:olddomain.co.uk.
This will bring up all of your old domain’s cached pages within the results. Click away at the various listings to double check they all 301 redirect onto their counterpart on the new domain.
Finally, don’t forget to update your Google Analytics profile. Rather than creating a brand new profile (unless you want to that is) you can simply change the domain URL that you’re asking Google to track.
There you have it. If you have any questions about this process, or need support in transferring / redirecting your domain, please get in touch with one of our webmaster consultants today.