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How Do I Transfer My Website's Domain Name (Please Consider SEO)?

Posted by fusionbox on Sept. 13, 2010, 6 p.m.

Moving a website from one domain (my-awesome-site.com) to another (my-awesome-er-site.com) is a complex process that needs to be approached cautiously for a variety of reasons that affect both your ranking in search engines, and your visitor's experience with your website.

First Recommendation – If you don't have to change your website's domain, don't. The longer a website has been around, the more “trust” it develops with both search engines and your customers. Search engines use a variety of factors in ranking your website compared to your competition, and domain age, trust and authority are some of these factors influenced by your current domain name.

At the very least, make sure to wait and take the correct steps. Why do we recommend waiting? For your users and your search engine rankings. We've broken down some of the important factors below so you can better understand what it means to move domains and what you should take into consideration.

Reasons Website Visitors Don't Want You To Move:

  • Loss of Trust – “Where are you? I thought you were here! Maybe I even bookmarked you. Did you move? Where to? How do I know this is the correct site?” For example, imagine you complete all your banking online. You went to mybank123.com to pay bills transfer money day-in and day-out. Suddenly, the site's not there anymore.

    Best case scenario, they are automatically directed to mybankabc.com and the user never even notices a change. If this happened to you, and you did notice, would you be totally comfortable putting your pin number in this new website? I'm guessing not. While this trust is obviously more important for some businesses than others, it is something you need to think about.

    Worst case scenario, the page simply no longer exists. You Google your bank and the page you find there is the same one you went to already, and it still doesn't work. Suddenly, you worry that your bank has shut down and you've lost all your money. Fail.

Reasons Search Engine's Don't Want You To Move:

  • Bad visitor experiences – Not unlike other business, search engines make money based on happy customers. If users are unhappy that they can't find the site they're looking for, they'll also be unhappy with the search engine, whether it be Google, Bing or AOL. In order for SEs to keep their users happy, they will drop your site in rankings to show other results they feel will create a better experience. This means less traffic for you, and more for your competitors.
     
  • They have to work harder – Let's keep in mind that search engines are machines. How is Bing supposed to know you have a new website if you don't tell them by giving them instructions on what's been changed/what to do and look at instead? Sure, those crawlers will find you eventually, but can your business afford the loss of potential customers and credibility that comes with the inevitable downtime?

How this affects your rankings:

Can we say DROP? Your current website has its lifetime (however long you've owned it) accumulation of links attached to it. This means traffic, and much more importantly, VOTES for your website. Links are how search engines know what's important. Think of a link to your site as a vote for it, and your website is in the running for Prom Queen. Links are one of the three most important factors in getting your site ranked (there's also quality content and clean code to consider) so users can find you. Not only are you losing current customers, you're losing an indeterminate amount of business from new customers that would have found you otherwise. We'll explain the best way to hold onto the power of those links (a.k.a. “PageRank” or “LinkJuice”) below.

If you must move your website, there are steps you can take to help you retain your site's ranking.

PLEASE NOTE – Following these steps will decrease the downtime your site will experience in search engines, not stop it all together. Moving a site from one domain to another, or even certain pages from one location to another (say, mysite.com/contact-me to mysite.com/contact) will affected rankings, and there's nothing to be done about it. This is why we recommend not changing the domain unless absolutely necessary for business reasons.

Read: Google's Basic Guide On Moving Your Site.

Summary: Avoid 404 errors (Page Not Found)! Here's how:

  • If you're re-designing (in addition to changing the domain), it's best to first move the live site to the new domain, then wait, then launch the new design.
  • Set up a 301 Re-Direct from every single page on your old site, to the corresponding page on your new site. Side Note: These re-directs help your users avoid issues, and pass the “Juice” from your old site to your new site as we discussed ablove. This step is absolutely VITAL.
  • Check your links. The ones on your new website (you don't want them sending your users back to the old site, do you?), as well as the ones that have been given to you by others. While you won't be able to fix all external links, you should be able to update the ones in web directories (like DMOZ and Business.com/directory) , local listings (Yelp, YellowPages, Google Local) and any from related businesses who are willing to take the time when you ask them to.
  • Retain control of the old domain for 180 days.
  • Use Webmaster Tool's Change of Address tool to let Google know you're moving.
  • Update your Sitemap.xml file to outline all the pages of your new site.
  • Check for errors.

Here at Fusionbox, a Denver SEO company, we also recommend an SEO audit of the new site. You can avoid many problems by taking the correct steps in transferring your website's domain the correct way. You should consider:

  • Website code – is your new design SEO friendly (at the very least, is it an improvement on the last site)? What can you do to make it better?
  • Analytics – ensure that you're properly tracking at all times so you don't loose valuable, decision-making data.
  • Meta Data – do your new pages all have custom page titles and meta tags that have been properly keyword-researched? If your old site didn't, it might not be a big deal, but if it did and you don't any longer, search engine rankings could go 'splat'.
  • Optimized Content – same situation as your meta data; all site content should be original, keyword-optimized, readable and helpful to your users.
  • Do you have a live Pay-Per-Click campaign? Change your Destination URLs and Display URLs in your ads to reflect the change! (Yes, I've seen this forgotten before, and it's a lot of wasted money).
  • Notify users of the change on the site in an obvious way, as confused customers just might leave you.

Are you considering a website re-design, or a transfer to a new domain? Let Fusionbox help you.