There are a whole host of reasons why you may wish to change your domain name, from re-branding your business, to expanding internationally. Alternatively, you may have been told to switch to HTTPS for security reasons, or because Google’s search algorithms now reward HTTPS sites with boosted search rankings.
Whatever your specific reasoning, domain name changes are sometimes unavoidable, or even preferable. Yet, they provide a number of challenges, especially in terms of search engine optimization. Here, we guide you through the key things you need to know in order to change your domain name without suffering negative consequences.
The first thing you need to do is plan your move. Is the new domain you want actually available and can you also secure corresponding social media accounts? Are you going to move the entire website over to your new domain, keeping the site structure intact, or will you make changes? Are you going to stick with your current hosting service?
In addition, you need to consider the key objectives behind your move. For a start, you should be aiming to minimize both the loss of traffic to your website and the impact on your search rankings. You may also want to establish your new brand, improve security, or improve the layout of the site itself.
Next, you need to take some crucial steps to prepare for the move itself. A key element of this part of the process will be collecting data from your existing domain, because this can be invaluable in the event that things go wrong. To help you out with the preparation phase, you can follow the checklist below:
- Make a list of all of the URLs on your current website, as well as internal linking structures.
- Separately note down the URLs that are currently being used in your pay-per-click advertising campaigns.
- Run an audit over your website content, paying attention to how specific types of content performed.
- Identify which content should stay and which should be removed (if any).
- Map out all of the redirects you will need, trying to keep it as close to like-for-like as possible.
- Create a complete list of URLs for the new domain.
- Password protect the new domain and block search engine crawlers in the robots.txt file.
- Check media links are up to date, or if you are re-branding, you should make sure your accounts have been updated or moved to reflect the change of name, logo, colour scheme, etc.
With the planning and preparation complete, you are now ready to shift your website across to your new domain. This part of the process will vary from one site to another, depending on the extent of the changes being made. Once the content has been published, you need to check that all the pages are there and all internal links work.
Assuming all is well, you should implement your redirects at page level and test them, disable the password protection and alter the robots.txt file to remove the disallow command for search engine crawlers. Through the Google Search Console you should also use the “change of address” option and also submit a new sitemap.
Finally, you need to put the finishing touches to your migration. During this phase, you should make sure all of your social media links are up to date, or if you are re-branding, you should make sure your accounts have been updated or moved to reflect the change of name, logo, color scheme, etc.
Generally speaking, any migration will result in a slightly drop off of traffic, at least in the short term. Nevertheless, it makes sense to utilize Google Analytics and check if any specific parts of the site are experiencing a bigger drop off than others. However, by making use of redirections, and keeping visitors informed through a combination of your website content and social media pages, you should be able to minimize any problems.