How To Switch Domains Without Losing Rankings & Traffic

Posted on 06/03/2013 by Ben Wood

You may at some point decide to switch your website over to a new domain.  Switching to a new domain is often the result of a company re-branding, or a more desirable domain becoming available.  Whatever the reason for switching to a new domain, you should always consider the impact this will have on your website’s rankings for your businesses target keywords, which will have an effect on the amount of traffic reaching your website.

If you’re thinking about switching your website over to a new domain, pay attention to the tips I’ve outlined below to ensure you retain your current search engine ranking positions and traffic to your site.

Create a detailed list of all the pages on your current site

As I’ll go on to explain, this is essential for the creation of 301 redirects that will channel any visitors over to your new site from your existing site, once the new site is live. You can get a comprehensive list of all the pages and downloads on your site by using a handy SEO crawl tool called Screaming Frog.   This tool will also pull out a list of all the title tags and meta descriptions across your current site, which should be implemented onto the new site to ensure you don’t lose traffic for any keywords used on your existing site by removing them from certain page titles on the new site.

Build a holding page on your new domain

To ensure Google and other search engines are indexing your homepage as soon as possible, it’s always a good idea to build a holding page in preparation for your new site.  The importance of this has diminished slightly in recent weeks, as I will go on to explain, but it’s still a great way to let others know that you now own the domain and are in the process of constructing a new site.

great holding page example
The importance of creating a holding page in preparation for the full website being launched was mainly due to link building activity that was historically seen as essential prior to moving over to a new domain.  It was once thought that 301 redirects didn’t pass pagerank equal to direct links, meaning that direct links would have been needed to build the pagerank of the new site.  Ideally, webmasters would request that all existing directory links to their homepage would be changed over to the holding page on the new site, which would help build domain authority prior to the new site’s launch.  However, Matt Cutts this week released a video claiming that 301 redirects have just as much value as direct links.  This means that technically all the authority your current site has built up should be passed over to your new domain if you implement 301 redirects correctly.

Here’s the video from Matt:

Once all content is in place on your new server, check for broken links

Before rushing into pushing a new site live, it’s always a good idea to ensure all links are working as they should be.  This can be done relatively easily by using some simple link testing software like Xenu’s link sleuth.

Push your new website live

Once you’ve ensured that all the page titles and descriptions on your new site are as they were on the existing site and ensured that there are no broken links across the site, you should be OK to go ahead and push the pages live.

Add and verify the new domain in your webmaster tools account

Once your new site is live, you’ll need to add and verify it in your webmaster tools account.  You’ll then be offered a number of methods for verifying your new site.  There’ll be an option to upload a HTML file to your domain’s server, add a <meta tag> to your homepage or verify the site through your new sites Google Analytics account.

Build and implement a 301 redirect file

As Matt Cutts explained in the aforementioned video, 301 redirects pass just as much link ‘juice’ as direct links.  Therefore if your existing website has any number of inbound links pointing to it, creating 301 redirects to point both users and links to pages on the new domain is essential.  301 redirects should ideally be set up on a page by page basis to redirect traffic from pages on the existing website to relevant pages on the new domain.  If this proves too time-consuming then 301 redirect every page on the old site to the homepage of the new site.  301 redirects are set up by uploading a .htaccess file by uploading the sheet as a .htaccess to the root of your server.  More information on 301 redirects can be found here.

301 redirects
An example of a 301 redirect command

Finally, notify Google of your new site

Firstly, ensure that you create and submit an XML sitemap listing all the URL’s on the new website to ensure Google are aware of the structure of your new site, and how often each page is updated.  You should then use the change of address tool in webmaster tools to notify Google that you’d prefer them to start displaying your new site in the search results, in place of your existing site.

Once you’ve followed the steps above, you should see your rankings and website traffic slowly start to drop for your old domain.  This will be counteracted by an increase in rankings and website traffic for your new domain as the 301’s filter through the authority from your previous domain.

If you’re changing domain because of an overall company rebrand or site redesign, you might want to think about launching your new site in two phases: firstly, move your site; and second, launch your redesign.  This can make the process run a lot more smoothly and lessens the impact on overall user experience.

Hopefully, these tips will ensure you have a smooth switchover to your new domain.  If you have any questions please feel free to leave your comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

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How To Switch Domains Without Losing Rankings & Traffic

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