- Test the move process by moving the contents of one directory or subdomain first. Then use a 301 Redirect to permanently redirect those pages on your old site to your new site. This tells Google and other search engines that your site has permanently moved.
- Once this is complete, check to see that the pages on your new site are appearing in Google’s search results. When you’re satisfied that the move is working correctly, you can move your entire site. Don’t do a blanket redirect directing all traffic from your old site to your new home page. This will avoid 404 errors, but it’s not a good user experience. A page-to-page redirect (where each page on the old site gets redirected to the corresponding page on the new site) is more work, but gives your users a consistent and transparent experience. If there won’t be a 1:1 match between pages on your old and new site, try to make sure that every page on your old site is at least redirected to a new page with similar content.
- If you’re changing your domain because of site rebranding or redesign, you might want to think about doing this in two phases: first, move your site; and second, launch your redesign. This manages the amount of change your users see at any stage in the process, and can make the process seem smoother. Keeping the variables to a minimum also makes it easier to troubleshoot unexpected behavior.
- Check both external and internal links to pages on your site. Ideally, you should contact the webmaster of each site that links to yours and ask them to update the links to point to the page on your new domain. If this isn’t practical, make sure that all pages with incoming links are redirected to your new site. You should also check internal links within your old site, and update them to point to your new domain. Once your content is in place on your new server, use a link checker like Xenu to make sure you don’t have broken legacy links on your site. This is especially important if your original content included absolute links (like www.example.com/cooking/recipes/chocolatecake.html) instead of relative links (like …/recipes/chocolatecake.html).
- To prevent confusion, it’s best to make sure you retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days.
- Add your new site to your Webmaster Tools account, and verify your ownership of it. Then create and submit a Sitemap listing the URLs on your new site. This tells Google that your content is now available on your new site, and that we should go and crawl it.
- Finally, keep both your new and old site verified in Webmaster Tools, and review crawl errors regularly to make sure that the 301s from the old site are working properly, and that the new site isn’t showing unwanted 404 errors.
From my personal experience, within a month or two, you should recover your PR and the Google Index should be updated. So yes, expect some bad days especially within the first 2 weeks. Redirecting all your content to your new website using a 301 redirect is really the key, as it will tell Google the page has permanently moved and the new page should be considered as the original source from now on.
A nice side effect of using anchor text in the ranking algorithm Google uses is that you will continue to rank for your old name on Google. Even if the name is completely different, the links with your old website name now points to your new website because of the 301 redirect which mean you will most likely rank for that your old keywords.
A negative side effect that I can see from a SEO point of view is if you were targeting a specific geographic location with a particular TLD (.co.uk for example) and switched to a .com. If you don’t have enough backlinks from the country you are targetting and now don’t have a proper TLD for that country, you might disappear from the results for this country. So, be careful if you target a specific market or region.
Another negative impact that can happen is if you redirect your old domain to a subfolder of the new domain. Let’s say you are redirecting your established pizza.com domain to xyz.com/services/pizza. This might not help your rankings but honestly, it has nothing with moving the website, it’s a pure SEO issue: root domains tend to rank better than subfolders.
This is related to SEO, but backlinks are probably the biggest SEO concern for most people, so let’s make a new section for that. It is important to note that when using a permanent 301 redirect, all backlinks will now link to your new domain. If you look at Yahoo Site Explorer and don’t see your old backlinks, it is absolutely normal, they will never appear for your new domain. They still exist, but Yahoo Site explorer doesn’t update with 301 redirects: it’s a bit dumb and only look for backlinks linking directly to your domain name. So, don’t panic, they’re still there and still giving you PageRank juice. Maybe not for the right keywords anymore though…
Branding and RSS Subscribers
To me, the biggest issue has always been branding and RSS Subscribers. I feel I’ve always made the right decision, but changing a brand’s name is never a good idea. People know you under a certain name and all of a sudden you’re someone else. Imagine if Wal-Mart decided to change their name, this would certainly impact their brand. Well, this is no different for a website, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. But you know, as long as changing your name is a long term decision, it’s a good decision.
Another important aspect to consider is if the site you are moving is a blog and you have to change the RSS Feed address. If you can keep the same address do it as it will avoid you a lot of pain. Services like FeedBurner usually offer a 30 days redirect to the new feed address, but you will lose some subscribers in the process as not all of them will take the time to update their feed reader. You can also see it as a way to keep only your interested readers.
As you see, moving a site to another domain isn’t as bad as it seems from a SEO point of view, but could hurt your brand. I’m sure you can find quite a lot of horror stories out there and I can imagine it can be quite a nightmare when moving a website with a million of pages indexed (delicious for example), but for most people I feel it’s not that bad.