How to Change Domain Names (Without Losing Google Traffic)
Learn how to change your blog or website domain name without losing precious Google traffic, PageRank or SEO juice.
This article will provide a domain change checklist and show you the best way to transfer PageRank to a new URL without losing much (if any) Google search traffic in the process.
Businesses and bloggers looking to switch their sites to a new Web address need to be careful not to lose any authority built up on the old domain. High ranking pages must pass their SEO juice to their counterpart on the new site, otherwise you'll fall out of the rankings and revenue will suffer.
In addition, the quality of the browsing experience for users should be maintained through the move so that human visitors don't end up being put off. This means that analytical data becomes critical for detecting broken links and other potential problems on the new site.
How to change a Web address
There are two ways to go about changing a site's domain. You can:
- point the new domain to the existing website
- create a new website account (with the hosting service of your choice) with the new Web address, and transfer a copy of the website across
Option 1 is far quicker and easier so this is the update method I'll focus on here, because it doesn't require making and transferring full site backups, like the second option.
Domain name change process and checklist
In order to change a blog or website's Web address you will need to:
- purchase a new domain
- associate the existing IP address with the new domain
- use 301 redirect to permanently redirect traffic from the old URL to the new one
- add and verify the new domain on Google analytics and Google Search Console
- Specify the address change in Google Search Console by completing the form in Change of Address under Configuration
It's beyond the scope of this article to explain how to change DNS records. Any good Web hosting service will provide tools to do this, or hosting support to do it for you.
Let's explore the remaining points in more detail...
Domain name changes with Google in mind
We can't simply point the new domain name at the existing site and carry on as normal. From Google's perspective, there would be two websites with exactly duplicated content - the new domain, and the old domain.
This scenario is likely to end in a Google Panda algorithm penalty, which will decimate organic search traffic volumes - not what you want.
The old domain name needs to be 301 redirected to the new address. A 301 redirect tells Google that the current page has been permanently moved to a new URL. Upon encountering a 301 redirect, Google will simply transfer any existing PageRank and authority to the new page with little to no reduction in SEO juice.
Implementing a 301 redirect on the old domain
You can setup a 301 redirect by editing the .htaccess file in the web root folder of your account. Add the following lines, replacing the bold section with the appropriate new domain name:
RewriteEngine ON RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.new-domain-name.com/$1 [R=301,L]
The RewriteRule permanently redirects every page on the current domain (which is the old domain) to the corresponding page on the new domain. So, for example, if someone arrived at an old address (in this case wsm4b.com) like:
they would be permanently redirected to:
on the new domain (in this case smepals.com).
Testing 301 redirects
It's important that you test that the 301 redirects are working as intended. In particular, you need to see if visitors from Google search are going to the right content on the new site. To do this:
- Search for any page on your old site in Google
- Click on the search result and ensure that you arrive at the same page at the new Web address
If something other than arriving at the correct page on the new domain occurred, then you will need to analyze what has happened and fix the problem.
The most common error is to arrive at the old address instead of the new one. In this case, the DNS settings may not have propagated because domain name changes can take up to 2 days to filter through, so be patient.
Monitoring the new domain and Google traffic
It's important to closely monitor Google Webmaster tools and analytics for the first few weeks after changing a domain. In particular it is likely that a few links in the content will be broken, or point to the old URL.
Google webmaster tools will find any broken links and display them under Health >> Crawl Errors. By routinely fixing broken links at this early stage, it is assured that the new domain will not suffer any loss in authority or PageRank due to poor quality linking, or other problems.
By the same token, keeping a close eye on organic search traffic patterns in analytics will provide insight into how Google is indexing and treating the new Web address.
Don't be surprised if search terms deviate from the norm in this period. It takes a while for Google to re-index every page and this might lead Google to make slightly different assumptions about the focus and content of the new site.
Are you planning on changing your site's domain name? Have you been through this process already, and learned any valuable lessons?
Share your thoughts and insights into how to change a Web address without adversely affecting Google search traffic and SEO.