How To Move Domains Without Losing SEO Value

No matter what your best intentions are when you set up your initial website, there may come a time when you need to move it for one reason or another. Maybe you simply want to switch hosting providers to take advantage of a great deal, or maybe you’re planning to change everything about your site—including your domain name—as the result of a rebranding effort.

Whatever your reasons for moving your domain, it’s important to undertake this process carefully in order to avoid losing all of the authority you’ve built up to your initial website. For example, if you’ve been carrying out extensive link building efforts to your old domain, it’s important that you not lose the SEO value passed through these links just because your URL has changed.

To understand how to move your domains successfully, let’s look at two different scenarios, as well as the accepted best practices for each of them:

1 – Changing Hosting Providers

There are plenty of reasons to change your hosting provider, whether you’ve outgrown your initial data package, find you’re not getting the up-time the service promised or want to save money by switching to a less expensive provider.

As your domain name isn’t changing in this example, you don’t need to worry about losing SEO authority during the move.  However, it’s still important to carry out this process carefully, as mistakes in the process can result in unnecessary down-time for your site.  Here’s what you need to do:

  • Sign up for your new hosting account before you cancel your existing plan.  Processing changes to the hosting account associated with your domain can take several days, so don’t cancel your current plan until the transfer has been completed successfully.

 

  • Although it isn’t necessary to move your domain name from its current registrar, your new web host may offer you an incentive to do so.  If you do plan to move your domain name, indicate your intent to your new hosting account.  If not, you’ll need to update your domain name registration with the name servers of your new hosting account (consult the new host’s help section for more details).

 

  • If you do initiate the process of transferring your domain name registration to your new hosting account, the new host will send a message to your old host in order to confirm the trade.  You may need to produce an EPP key code or confirm your intentions in some other way, depending your hosts’ protocols (keep your eyes out for email messages describing the actions you’ll need to take).

 

  • Once your new hosting account is set up, you will be given an IP address on which you can edit your website before any domain name changes are processed (whether or not you’re moving your registration).  Make a backup copy of your existing site files and recreate them on your new hosting account.

 

As soon as your domain name changes are processed (typically 2-7 business days), your site will be up and running on your new hosting account with no down-time or lost SEO value.

2 – Moving Your Site to a New Domain

In the first scenario, we talked about moving your existing site to a new hosting account, but what if you’re starting from scratch and want to move your existing content to an entirely new domain?

This scenario most commonly occurs as a result of re-branding efforts. For example, if your company name changes or if you find that the domain you chose originally is too narrowly-focused to encompass how your site has grown, a change might be in order.  But if you plan on porting over much of your old content, it’s important to provide the search engines with the necessary information to ensure they’re able to process the transition correctly.

Generally, this is done through the use of 301 redirect codes.  There are two types of redirect codes that are commonly used in web development—301 (which indicates a permanent move) and 302 (which lets the search engines know the move is temporary).  The transition to a new domain is nearly always a permanent move, which is why the 301 redirect code is used in this case.

Of course, implementing the correct redirect codes is only one part of the domain moving process.  Here’s how the entire process looks:

  • Start by making a copy of your old domain’s sitemap, as well as saving a backup copy of all files from your old domain.  You’ll use the sitemap later on when notifying the search engines of your domain change, but you may also find it useful when moving your site over to its new domain.

 

  • Rebuild your site on the new domain.  Begin creating new content as quickly as possible, paying special attention to link bait style articles that will help build up backlinks to your new domain right away.  At the same time, build a new 404 page for your old site that points visitors to your name.

 

  • Register both your old and new domains in Google’s Webmaster Tools (if you haven’t done so already).

 

  • Create your 301 redirects using one of the following techniques:
    • PHP header redirects.  If your site is small, add the following code to the header of every page on your site.  All pages using this code must be saved as .php files for the script to perform correctly.

<?
Header( “HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently” );
Header( “Location: http://www.new-url.com” );
?>

    • .htaccess redirect.  Alternatively, consider adding the following code to your site’s .htaccess file (if one exists) in order to carry out a site-wide redirect.  In this example, “/old/old.htm” represents the original folder path and file name, while “http://www.you.com/new.htm” gives the new path and file name.

redirect 301 /old/old.htm http://www.you.com/new.htm

    • Apache mod_rewrite module (if your site is large).  This method is quite a bit more complicated, but will allow you to redirect all pages at once.  For complete instructions, check out SEOMoz’s Redirection SEO Best Practices page and the Apache URL Redirecting Guide.

 

  • Once your 301 redirects are in place, resubmit your old sitemap to Google and Bing, which will cause the search engine spiders to index your 301 redirects and make note of the changes.  You should also complete Google Webmaster Tools’ “Change of Address” form to notify Google of your domain change.

 

  • After these steps have been completed, submit your new sitemap to the search engines.  Then, watch the Google Webmaster Tools account for your new site – once your site has been indexed, your account will be updated and the Diagnostics section will list any errors that have occurred.  Also, keep an eye on your search engine rankings throughout this process, as any drops could indicate URLs that aren’t redirecting properly.

 

This process isn’t an easy one, and considering the stakes at hand should your new site lose any of the SEO authority built up at your old domain, it’s not a bad idea to hire a qualified web developer to manage the process for you.  By working with someone who is knowledgeable about the process of moving domains, you’ll ensure that all the hard work and effort you’ve put into your old site won’t be lost throughout the transition.

(Image: 12th St. David)

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