Changing Your Domain Without Impacting Your SEO efforts
A tired and out-of-date website does not represent your business or brand well. In order to stay up to date with current design trends and web standards, site owners are generally advised to re-design their sites every 2-3 years. A simple re-skin or facelift can often achieve this. However, in some cases, you may need to carry out a full site migration.
Whilst post site migration, you can expect an improved user experience, a cleaner interface, better performance, easier editing capabilities, and more, it can also bring subsequent issues when handled poorly. The choice to undertake the website migration process shouldn’t be taken lightly, nor should it be something you rush into without considering the pro’s and con’s first.
Many businesses are unfortunately not fully prepared for potential issues that a site migration can cause. Some even make changes without considering the impact on SEO, resulting in lost traffic and rankings. You might end up with numerous status code errors, adversely affect your search engine optimization efforts, and even aggravate your website visitors if the process is poorly executed.
Hence, in order to ensure that your content is safeguarded and your website migration is a smooth success, specific steps need to be followed.
Reasons To Perform a Site Migration
- You are changing your domain name or URLs.
- You need to move your site’s location from one server to another.
- You want to change the CMS platform your site operates on.
- You need to make major changes to your site’s architecture.
When you’re considering a website migration, allow yourself ample time to prepare and carry out the move successfully. Now, let’s jump into the nitty gritty details of migrating a website.
Switching Domain Names Without Damaging Your Existing Website's SEO
Consolidation and site migration can be a daunting undertaking to face, but they are often necessary nonetheless. If performed properly, they can also be of great benefit to your website. Your users should be your number one consideration when doing this migration. It’s important to ask yourself before proceeding – will my users benefit from this migration?
During the course of your website’s growth and development, you may find that the existing domain name no longer meets your needs or is not suitable. If you don’t take the necessary care and the appropriate steps during this process, changing your domain can have a detrimental impact on your site’s Search Engine Optimisation and could ultimately undo all of your previous SEO efforts.
When it comes to traffic and visibility, SEO is vital to the success of your website. If you want to change your domain name, there are ways to do so without incurring any lasting effects or negatively impacting your online presence. Therefore, it is possible to make the change and still rank highly in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
In this blog, we will discuss the importance of SEO and explain how to change your domain without harming your rankings. Let’s dive in!
The Benefits of Having a Strong SEO Strategy for Your Website
Search engines show you the most relevant pages based on how relevant they are to your search query. Whilst Google or other search engines ultimately determine the positioning of a website in its results, it’s possible to increase your chances of a higher ranking through the implementation of a strong search engine optimisation or SEO strategy.
Although Search Engine Optimisation takes on different forms, it generally revolves around the use of relevant keywords on your website. The main types include local SEO, on-page SEO like blog creation & optimised content, off-page SEO such as backlinking, and technical SEO. Even if you don’t use a particular method, a strong SEO and digital marketing strategy is imperative to your business’s and website’s long lasting success.
Your site’s visibility is largely determined by Search Engine Optimisation, or more commonly, SEO. It is less likely that relevant searchers will see your pages without it. Hence, your content is less likely to be seen, which can have an adverse effect on your conversion rates and site traffic.
A high ranking, however, can help you attract customers to your site. For small businesses and first-time website owners, SEO done in the right way can be a very effective way to promote and market your business and brand and grow your clientele base. You should remember, however, that a high ranking is not guaranteed. It is also important to keep in mind that certain actions can negatively impact your rankings if you aren’t cautious.
The Effects of Changing a Domain Name on SEO
There are several factors that can negatively impact search result placements, including downtime on your website. Right now, let’s pay attention to the potential negative implications of changing your domain name.
While switching your domain name may not be a regular practice, there are some cases when it might be worth considering. Several reasons could drive this decision, including the availability of a more user-friendly domain, you might want to combine two existing sites, you are looking at changing your company’s name, or you want to shift your website’s focus.
It’s crucial to recognise that even the smallest changes to your site can impact your rankings. As a result of your domain name change, your site will no longer link to content under the previous domain as a result. Consequently, the content cannot be indexed by search engines due to an inability to categorise dead links.
As we discussed earlier, low rankings can have a negative impact on your conversion rates and site traffic. Fortunately, you can take specific steps to improve these metrics and ensure your website’s search engine optimisation work remains intact.
SEO-friendly Method of Migrating a Website
Key Aspects to Consider When Merging Your Site
Although a change of domain name typically causes your rankings to temporarily drop, you can avoid long-term damage to your previous SEO efforts by following a few simple steps. Let’s dive into how that works.
Step 1: Backup Your Website
You should start by creating a backup of your entire website. It is possible to do this with many tools, but choosing one that supports backups as well as migrations will greatly simplify the process for you. A duplicator plugin can help greatly with this.
The archive file contains the full copy of your website, which is what you will need to move it to another domain. Using the archive file, the installer script will automate and run the migration process for you.
Step 2: Change Your Website's Domain
You must first create a database for the new domain name before you can make the switch. Having already created one, the process is simple.
After downloading the Duplicator files you need to upload them to your new domain name. In order to do so, you’ll need to connect to the domain using an FTP client. Upload the archive and installer files to the root folder after making sure that it is empty.
As soon as both files have finished uploading, you can begin unpacking WordPress. Enter the following URL in a new browser tab (replace “yoursite.com” with the domain name of your new website):
Upon clicking this, you will be taken to the Duplicator migration wizard. You will be prompted to enter information about your existing WordPress database once the installer locates the archive file. In addition, you’ll need to provide the database details for your new domain.
Your WordPress database backup will then be transferred from your existing archive to your new domain using the Duplicator plugin. Once it is complete, you will need to update the site’s URL or page path. There should be an automatic detection of this information, but if not, you can enter it manually.
The migration process will then be completed by Duplicator for you. Entering the new URL into your browser will allow you to verify that it worked, with your website loading immediately.
A vital step in this domain change is the setting up permanent 301 redirects now that your new domain setup is complete. By doing so, you will ensure search engines can continue to index all your content regardless of your new domain name.
Step 3: Notify Google of your domain change
As soon as you move your site to a new domain, you need to notify Google of the change. Google will be able to find your site’s new location quickly and display it within search results going forward.
To get started, you need to add your domain name to Google Search Console (GSC), then you will need to access your old domain name (or add it if necessary). After this, select the gear icon at the top of the screen which will launch the change of address tool. Google Search Console then walks you through the process of submitting a new domain request through its ‘Change of Address’ tool.
Google Search Console: Change of Address Tool
It is important to only use this tool in certain instances. You should not use this tool when changing your address from http to https, moving from www & non-www in teh same domain or in the event of moving some of your web pages from one location to another within your site (e.g. from example.com/oldpath/… to example.com/newpath/) or when moving a site without any user-visible URL changes (changing CDNs or hosting providers). In these cases, redirects, sitemap updates and canonical tagging can be put in place.
When moving a site, it’s crucial to retain the same site architecture in the new location. This is because it helps pass the signals more directly to the new site. If you choose to combine a site move with a change to the URL structure and a redesign of the content in the new location, you can expect to see considerable traffic losses and negative ranking impacts as Google may need some time to re-learn and re-assess your individual web pages.
Vital steps and pre-work needs to be followed in order for your website migration to go smoothly and minimise potentially negative impacts on your SEO. These include;
- Implement a 301 redirect from your old homepage to your new homepage.
- Implement 301 redirects for canonical pages on your old website as well.
- Factor in changes that need to be made if you’re doing a site move with or without URL changes as per GSC.
- Carry out any highlighted pre-move actions.
- Sites at the domain level can then proceed with utilising the Change of Address tool
Using the Change of Address tool:
- In order to forward your old site signals to your new website, you must fulfil certain requirements and follow the below steps.
- You must be a verified owner of the old and new properties in GSC and use the same Google account to manage both properties.
- The Change of Address tool can be used only on properties at the domain level (moving example.com, m.example.com, or http://example.com).
- The tool does not move any subdomains below the specified domain (including www).
- The tool moves all protocols of your source property. So if you specify http://example.com, it also moves https://example.com.au.
Using the Change of Address tool in GSC:
- Open the Change of Address tool in a property that is at the domain level.
- Follow the instructions provided in the tool. The tool runs a few critical pre-move checks before advising Google of the site move so make sure these are performed correctly.
- If critical pre-checks pass, all sites being migrated from or to will display a notification in GSC that the move is in progress for up to 180 days.
- Monitor your traffic closely proceeding the site migration.
- Maintain your redirects for at least 6 months or until traffic flow to them ceases in Google Search.
- Remove your old pages, but we recommend continuing to pay for the old domain for at least a year to prevent others from buying and using your abandoned domain for malicious purposes.
- After the 180 day period, Google generally doesn’t recognise any connection between the old & new websites, and treats the old site as an unrelated site if it’s still present and crawlable.
What happens when I run this Change of Address tool?
When you file a change of address request using GSC, it tells Google to focus on crawling and indexing your new site over crawling your old website. It also forwards various signals from the old site to the new site, and tells Google to prefer the new site over the old when determining canonical pages.
Whilst Google doesn’t erase the old site from the index, URLs from the old site can continue to be shown in Search results if available and don’t have an equivalent page on the new site.
If you have equivalent pages on your new site, providing redirects from the old site to the new and providing rel=canonical tags can reduce the number of old URLs shown in Google Search.
Once you complete the steps, GSC will run several tests to ensure everything is working properly. Prior to sending the request to Google, the tool does a quick check to make sure you own both sites, and to make sure your site has 301 redirects setup as needed. As the migration progresses and Google Search catches up, you’ll start to see traffic from the other site take off and add on to the traffic coming through on your new website via successful redirects.
Website Migration Checklist
Here’s a short checklist you can refer to when carrying out your website migration.
- Crawl your existing website
- Record your benchmarks
- Map out your URLs
- Develop a redirection plan
- Carry out content mapping
- Consider technical issues like retention of title, meta descriptions, canonical tags, schema and HTML markup, sitemaps, open graph tags, Analytics tags, API keys, widgets etc.
- Try the new build on a test server
- Prepare to update your site’s DNS settings
- Migrate to your new domain
- Advise the search engines
- Crawl the new website & check your SEO carried over
- Identify and rectify any issues like duplicate or missing content
- Review the site for redirect loops
- Ensure Google Analytics & Google Search Console are implemented
- Flag the launch date in Analytics
- Submit sitemaps
- Monitor subsequent site performance
- Perform site audits
- Update necessary platforms and backlinks
Now that this has all been completed, you’ve done everything you need to do in order to switch over your domain name while protecting your rankings & previous SEO work.
The Keys to Performing A Successful Site Migration
A change in domain name is sometimes inevitable and becomes essential to your future growth as an expanding business. However, it’s imperative to keep the possible complications top of mind, particular when it comes to your site’s SEO.
Search engines are vital to the ongoing success of any website, and you certainly want to avoid making it harder for them to locate and understand your content.
In order to avoid potential disaster when switching your domain name over, protect your site’s rankings and preserve your previous SEO efforts, you’ll want to ensure that you fully backup your website and follow all necessary steps.
Performing a site migration in the proper way results in the protection of your site’s performance after this is carried out, as well as retaining SEO work. It is also important to advise Google about the switch as soon as possible so that your ‘new’ site gets indexed sooner and you start to see traffic roll in.
Website migration can be an arduous and somewhat lengthy process, but it isn’t impossible. With preparation, you can have a migration that’s both successful and doesn’t get rid of any of your existing SEO work. Following the specific steps outlined above will help you maintain your traffic, rankings, and revenue, and will lessen the possibility of adverse effects.
Do you need assistance with your website migration? Or perhaps you have recently launched a new website for your business but aren’t getting any traffic? Speak to the experts at iOnline about how we can help.
With our comprehensive range of SEO, Digital Marketing and Website Design and Web Development services, we assure you that we have what you need to improve your business, boost your website performance, drive traffic and increase your online visibility. Get in touch with us today to find out more information!