Website domain names often need to be changed for a variety of reasons. You might want to offer a more secure browsing experience to your users and move to HTTPS. A brand might be being updated to a new name or a new website structure or you might simply be changing content management systems (CMS) whilst retaining the same domain name. Whatever the reason, if a migration is managed badly you may end up losing all the positive equity associated with your current domain which can hit your organic search and thereby profit, hard.
In this blog post we’ll review what best practices you need to consider in order to reduce the negative impact on your search, content and social channels when moving domains.
- Crawl your existing website to create a record of all the pages on your website that you need to consider – keep details of URL structures, on page optimisation elements and internal linking structures
- Map required redirects – like for like pages where possible when there are direct equivalents. This is simpler when a website structure remains identical and gets considerably more complex when there is a platform change
- On development server, ensure all links are updated to point to their final destination URLs, rather than linking to old URL structures to avoid these passing through redirects. This is particularly pertinent when moving to HTTPS
- With HTTPS migration ensure that rel canonical and rel prev/next is updated to HTTPS versions of URLs
- Register and authorise new domain with Google and Bing Webmaster Tools
- Transfer on page optimisation elements if pages are being imported to a new CMS/platform
- Streamline and optimise page load elements in development server environment
- Consult with website hosts regarding required website technologies to ensure that the server can handle all website functionality and additional load
- Check there are no robots inhibitions stopping search engines indexing the site. Make sure you’ve checked the following factors which are often implemented on development servers to prevent indexing:
- Meta Robots
- X Robots
- IP Restrictions
- Implement redirects with correct 301 Redirect Permanently response code
- Test the header status of all the redirects you earlier mapped to ensure that they all function as planned
- Regenerate and submit a new sitemap for new URL structure
- Submit an old sitemap with URLs that now 301 redirect (remove from the site and webmaster tools after a month or so)
- Re upload any disavow files from the old domain to the new domain’s Google Webmaster Tools account
- Check and test analytics tracking, events, conversions and goal completions
- Crawl website to resolve integrity issues looking for:
- Broken Links
- Chains of redirects
- Links to development server URLs
- Monitor Google Webmaster Tools crawl errors to identify any problems not found you’re your own crawls
- Use the Google Webmaster Tools console for the old domain to notify them that the website has moved to a new URL
- Review page load speeds on live server
- Audit your content to determine content how performed. Review the following factors:
- Visits to Page
- Social Shares
- Comments and Interactions
- Links from External Sites
- Is it linked in the navigation structure of the site
- Is there substantially similar content on your site?
- Is the content quite light/flimsy in terms of depth/length
- Does that content still serve a useful purpose?
- Is the content out of date?
- Determine what needs to be done with existing content- create lists of content:
- To be retained
- To be merged
- To be discarded
- Determine which URLs to retain for merged content and plan redirects from the rest
- Map redirects from discarded content to similar pages or category pages for that content
- Transfer legitimate comments to new versions of pages
- Check redirects from removed and merged content
- Ensure comments have transferred appropriately
If you’ve changed brand names, then you are going to want to update all your social properties to reflect the changed name. There is no point changing a company name or domain whilst leaving the social profiles with old branding.
- Review social media websites to ensure that the update brand names are available
- Where possible, claim these ahead of time or be prepared to switch these over
- Update Profile Pictures and Backgrounds
- Alter business descriptions to reflect new names and any changes to branding.
- Update URL on the accounts to point to the new domain without redirects
If you get the preparation done properly by completing all the “Before” steps and by picking up any issues that might have slipped through the cracks with the “After” steps, you should experience a smooth website migration.
It is highly likely that there will be disruption to your websites visibility and traffic in the days following any type of migration, but following these steps will reduce the impact of this.
One final note – this best practice guide assumes that there are no issues on the website with regards to manual penalties or algorithmic inhibitions such as Google’s Penguin or Panda updates. If one of these is the reason you want to change domain name, then following these steps will bring that specific issue to the new domain in the long run.