Changing your website’s domain name can have a serious implication on organic traffic as well as SEO and is generally not advisable from the SEO perspective.
Why? Because every domain name is associated with many metrics (authority, trust, etc.), features (domain age, signals, GEO location and others), and not forgetting the all-important hyperlinks. Below we will show you the risks of changing your domain name to a new one and we’ll offer a description in detail of the steps one should take to reduce search engine traffic losses.
Note: The changes discussed below need you to have at least a basic grasp of the different web technologies available and how they affect your status in SEO. We strongly advise you not to carry on with any updates below unless you now your stuff when it comes to technology.
Register your new domain or buy an old one
The first thing on your to-do list should be to purchase a new domain. Please note that your domain TLD (.com, .gr, .fr, .de, etc.) is used as your GEO location signal and using a new TLD will definitely affect how you rank on search engines.
Also, you should be extra careful when it comes to purchasing an old domain. There is always the risk that the domain you’ve chosen might already have been banned by one of the most used major search engines. Do your research on the domain’s history, check the WHOIS records available, check if your domain has pages that are indexed on search engines, use a system like Archive.org to check how the site looked in the past etc. Also, make sure you add the new domain in Bing’s and Google’s Web Tools so as to view stats and check if there are any warnings about those sites. If you believe that your domain’s been banned because of spamming, consider filing a request for reconsideration which can be a great idea before you change your site.
Upload a page on ‘coming soon’
Uploading even just a single HTML page on the freshly purchased domain a few days/weeks before actually moving to it will allow the website to be indexed on search engines. In addition, keep in mind that most search engines try looking for parked domains by using many different classifiers. As a result, by placing some content in your pages and mentioning that it will be the location for your new website, you actually help search engines realize that your domain is a real site, not a parked one.
Transfer the small parts of your site (Optional)
Do not transfer all your website’s pages directly to the new location, but instead try moving the much smaller sections of it. What I am talking about is, you might want to move a certain subdomain and test to see if that transfer was a good decision. A few weeks later after you confirm that your SEO rankings have indeed not been affected negatively, you can now move the rest of the site. This also applies to when you want to combine many different sites into just one domain. You can begin with the one receiving the least amount of traffic and then move on to the others. Even if transferring small parts of your website is optional it remains highly recommended because it can help the user avoid serious problems with their SEO.
Upload your website pages to your new Domain
The next thing you need to do is upload your old site’s images/pages/ files to the new website. If you happen to make changes in the paths, folders or structure on the new site, make sure you note this down because you’re going to need this info on the next step where you will be mapping the old website’s URLs to your new ones.
Redirecting the old pages to your new ones
Once you upload content to your new site, you’ll need to put in place redirects from your old site to the new one. Please note that this needs to be on the page level, which means that every single page of the old website needs to be redirected to the pages on the new URL on the new domain. This needs to be proper. Make sure you map every single page to the new URL systematically. We don’t want all of them just redirecting to the homepage.
I strongly suggest you use 301 redirects because you will then manage to pass most of the characteristics, metrics, and statistics (PageRank, links, values, text data etc.), to the new website. Nonetheless, please note that the specific redirects I am referring to are only used for permanent changes. If you plan to undo the change in the future, you may consider using a 302 redirect. (However, 302 redirects usually don’t pass PageRank, text data or any other information to new target pages).
Using the Change of Address tool
You should make use of Google’s change of address tool. Yes, you need to register both your old and the new sites and also specify that the new address where the old one no lies. This important tool works at website level, meaning that it helps Google spiders understand that the transition happened for the entire domain and not just for one or two pages of the site.
Update the essential Backlinks
301 redirects are known to pass text data and PageRank, but it is highly advisable that you try and update the most vital backlinks (those from reputable sources) that point to your old site and link directly to new pages. Of course contacting every webmaster that links to your site is tiring, so you should focus on the most important ones alone instead. If you want that list of your site’s Backlinks, you can use Google tools to help.
Be patient & Keep it updated
Changing the name of your domain is one of the most major updates you can do to your site. You need to be patient and dedicate time to test everything before transferring your whole site. Also, ensure you renew your old domain names at regular intervals so that they don’t expire. This way, you won’t lose any PageRank or traffic that’s coming from old backlinks. Lastly, you should keep the 301 redirects from your old domain to the new and renew the change after every 180 days.
If you follow the above steps closely and test the update thoroughly, you end up reducing losses from organic traffic and you won’t affect your SEO. Remember: Never change your domain name unless you really have to.