As your business grows and evolves your once-perfect domain name begins to lose its appeal. You feel that your domain doesn’t reflect the new branding efforts you’ve put in or the direction or name of your business has changed. You’re feeling a need to move to move your website over to a new domain but aren’t sure of the impact this will have on your SEO.

For whatever reason you’re moving your domain, the change does come with consequences and will have an impact on your search visibility. But it doesn’t have to be permanent and there are several things you need to be aware of when you migrate your website to a new domain.

Before Making The Switch

If you are on the fence about changing your domain, consider these aspects that will be impacted by the change:

  • Age of the Domain – How old your website? What’s your Domain Authority (DA)? This is a major ranking factor, so when you migrate to a new domain all that authority you’ve spent years building up will disappear. Even with a 301 redirect, you will only get about 80% of that authority back.
  • Backlinks – You’ve spent countless hours cultivating links to your website. To keep those valuable links you are going to have to notify each of those Webmasters to update their hyperlinks.
  • Email Addresses – Every email address associated with your company will need to be changed, plus redirecting all the emails being sent to your old email address.
  • Offline Marketing Materials – All of your business cards, brochures, and anywhere that has your old URL on it will need to be reprinted

If you are committed to making the leap, here’s what you need to do to minimize the effects on your SEO.

The New Domain Pre-Launch

Domain migration will have an impact on your website’s search visibility, but with proper planning, it doesn’t have to have disastrous effects.

Find Some Quiet Time

The first thing you’ll want to determine is when are you going to make the switch. Because a drop in organic traffic is unavoidable, you’ll want to find a three or four week window where organic visits are low. Take a look at your analytics and see when your domain transfer will have the smallest impact on your visits. If you’re an e-commerce platform, then after the Christmas rush might be a good time. If you’re a community centre, then maybe in the middle of summer is your time to switch.

Download Your Backlink Referrals

Download the list of backlinks to contact the webmasters about your new domain after you’ve switched to the new URL. You want these websites pointing directly to your content, not coming through a redirect. 301 redirects are good, but not great. These permanent redirects will pass about 80% to 95% of its value (depending on who you ask), so you want those websites pointing to your new domain so you get the full value of those backlinks.

After The Launch

If you were moving to a new home, you would need to let the right people know, for example, your family and friends, the bank, and the post office. The same goes for your website. You need to let your search engines, customers, and partners know where they can now find you online. Once you have made the switch, you are going to have to get busy and notify the necessary folks.

What You Need To Do On The Search Engines

Submit a Change of Domain

After you have migrated your content to the new domain you will then need to notify each of the search engines. This will be done using Bing’s Site Migration and Google’s Change of Address. Follow the step-by-step guides to get things running.

Rely on your XML sitemap

This needs to be updated with every new link and submitted to Google and Bing as soon as your new site goes live. This will give search engines the guide they need to index all of the new pages.

Handling new pages or new URLs

Submit these individually and crawl all of their links. Fetch as Google and Submit URLs (for Bing) will get those new pages crawled and indexed quickly.

Monitor Broken Links

Over the coming weeks as the search spiders explore you site, monitor the 404 errors in Webmaster Tools. From this list, update the location of the error links and redirect the soft URLs to their active counterpart to avoid future problems.

What To Do About Backlinks

Contact those Webmasters Linking To Your Site

With list of backlinks you will contact each webmaster individually about your domain change — don’t send a massive group email. If you want a response make it as easy as possible for the webmaster, be sure to include the webpage that link is on and your new link.

You’ll also need to update:

  • Google My Business
  • Bing Places
  • Social profiles
  • Directory listings
  • Email addresses & signatures

Additional Updates

Update Google Analytics

The first thing you need to do is check that your Analytics tracking code is on all of the pages of your new site. Then you’ll need to update your Analytics account with the domain name and profile names. Be sure to confirm that the data is also flowing properly to GA. Some additional resources from a Moz discussion.

Update Google AdWords

If you are running an AdWords campaign you will need to update all of your ads with the new URL details. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of getting your account suspended. To avoid losing all of your campaign data, make a copy of all of the ads and change the destination URL and display URL for the copied versions. Then pause your old ads. Some more info on the best practices.

There is a lot to cover when updating your website to a new domain, and when done right you will hardly see any changes in your organic traffic. Do your research and have a plan in place to cover any mitigating circumstances. And if you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out.