7 Steps on Transferring Domain Names without Hurting Your Ranking
Changing a domain name can bring with it a huge array of issues for the website's owners and, in turn, the business. Among these worries is the complete and irreversible loss of search engine ranking. After all, this ranking continues to get websites most of their traffic and business.
So, is it really possible to change your website’s domain name without making a mess of search rankings? The short answer is yes. The long answer is a series of chronological steps that follow in this article. So please read right through to the end of the article.
Before we begin with the steps you’ll have to take in this process, let’s first look at why a website owner might decide to migrate to a new domain name. Because once you understand the reasons behind such a drastic step, you might also see how to avoid the need ever to change a domain name. Here we go with the reasons people sometimes change their websites’ domain names.
Why Migrate a Domain Name?
Reason 1: A complete business overhaul
Let’s say someone started a small business that eventually became so successful that it has branched into different categories. To illustrate this, let’s take the example of a fictitious website called bestbooksonline.com that used to sell books online. Over the years, their business and clientele grew to a stage where they now sell stationery, electronics, and home decor, among other things.
The name bestbooksonline.com doesn’t match the business anymore. This would require them to completely rebrand so that people would become aware of their new products and services.
Reason 2: The need for a modern-sounding domain name
A content creator could have started their website with a domain name like johnsmithdesignonline.com. The name may have worked in the past, but it does sound quite the mouthful now. Moreover, Mr. Smith may have found a newer domain extension like .Online and want just to call their website jsdesign.online.
Reason 3: Penalty issues with the existing domain name
Depending upon the ownership history of a domain name, search engines might start levying penalties on it by indexing it as spam. This is terrible for the website – in terms of the traffic it receives and the lack of credibility it faces in its audience’s minds. Once the penalties have hit high levels, there’s no saving that domain anymore. This means a complete shift to a new domain.
These are just three of the many reasons a business owner might decide to shift their website to an entirely new domain. With these facts established, let’s get to the steps you need to take when migrating your website to a new domain without hurting search rankings.
How to Migrate Website to A New Domain that Doesn’t Affect Ranking
1. Take some time to finalise your new domain
Let’s assume that at least one, if not all, of the reasons listed above apply to your website. So, even though it isn’t ideal, you’d have to consider changing your domain name. But remember a few things before you cash down and buy that new domain name.
For instance, remember to keep the new domain name short and memorable. Neither your audience nor Google like long-winded domain names. They are often prone to typing errors. Worse still are domain names that include unnecessary special characters or numbers. In the end, you must remember that the harder your audience has to try to remember your name, the lower their odds of placing your website, much less interacting with it in any meaningful way.
2. Consider new domain extensions
Migrating your website to a new domain name without hurting its ranking may have started as a problem. But with the proper knowledge, you can quickly turn it into an opportunity.
Take, for instance, a domain extension. Most new websites have great trouble registering domain names of their choice because the most commonly known .com extension just doesn’t have those names available anymore.
On the other hand, new, more modern domain extensions are far more readily available to register instantly. Moreover, these new domain extensions also tend to bring more character and meaning to your domain name. For instance, content creators who simply want their online presence reinforced with a website would be better suited to use a .Online extension than a .com. On the other hand, e-Commerce businesses would benefit significantly by using the .Store domain extension and letting people know they’re a store. And depending upon your website, you could use any of the dozens of new domain extensions from .Site to .Tech to .Space and much more!
The only thing to remember is that the new domain extension you choose matches your website and business offering.
As we saw earlier in the article, a domain’s checkered past can often lead to the entire website and all its contents being indexed as spam by search engines. The result is a catastrophic loss of traffic for the website. To avoid this with your new domain, check out everything you can about its ownership and the kind of content it has hosted in the past. This step only applies if you buy a domain from another business or at an auction. If you’re buying a brand new domain, you could skip this step and move on to the next one.
The easiest way to check a domain’s past would be to get to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Here, you’ll get a clear picture of all the pages hosted on the domain in the past. Comb through the results to look for spammy or black hat type content. Should you find something sketchy, be sure to either skip the domain name entirely or check with Google if the penalties can be lifted.
4. Review your existing search rankings and analytics
Before you begin overhauling everything, it’s a good idea to understand the existing rankings on your current website. This will give you a clear picture of where you stand now and help you compare your analytics once your domain migration is complete.
There are dozens of ways to get these statistics. The most reliable (and free) tool is Google Search Console. It will be able to show you all sorts of information, such as problems in usability, how Google is indexing your site, your domain’s search performance, etc. Using tools like SemRush, you can get a list (and status) of backlinks leading to your current website.
5. Perform the migration
With all the analysis and research done, it’s now time to migrate your existing website to the new domain name. Remember that this can be a hugely complicated technical process for someone with little experience in content management systems. This is why we suggest you bring on board a web design team with all the technological know-how about hosting servers, necessary redirects to new domains, cloning the entire website, and staying true to the existing sitemap.
6. Redirect your website to the new domain
This is one of the most crucial steps you’ll take in ensuring that you don’t hurt your SEO ranking while migrating your website to a new domain name. Redirecting will ensure that all traffic is driven from your old domain to the new one. Moreover, this is also the step that lets Google know that they should update their index to reflect that your website and all its content have moved to a new domain.
The critical thing to remember here is to redirect every page of the website, not just the home page. This will allow external links to your website to direct users to the correct part of the new website.
Finally, you want to let Google and other search engines know about your domain name change. For this, you’d again hop over to the Google Search Console. This is a fairly straightforward step with submitting a change of address and the revised sitemap to the tool.
7. Perform post-migration SEO best practices
You’ve taken every step necessary to move your website to a new domain name without hurting your ranking. But there’s still one crucial step left in the journey. And that is to take all the SEO actions necessary to keep your SEO game up and running.
For this step, you’ll want to ensure that everything on the internet and offline that points to your website now reflects your new domain name. Some of these places would be:
Moving your website to a new domain name isn’t always an ideal thing to do. But it can often also be an unavoidable one. If you find yourself in a position where you absolutely must do this, remember to follow all the steps given above. This will ensure you can migrate your website to a new domain name without hurting search rankings or traffic. The easiest way to follow these instructions is to bookmark this page, so you can always return to it later. If you're looking to migrate your domain to another registrar, Vodien's domain transfer service makes it fast, secure and safe.
Rebecca Scott is a Sr. Content Marketing Specialist at Radix Web Services. A marketing enthusiast, she describes her role as one part creative explorer and one part strategic alchemist. Her contributions feature in publications related to social media and online marketing.