Brittney Sheffield / Digital Marketing / April 30th, 2014

5 SEO Tips for Changing Domain Names

If you’ve ever changed your company name or the name of a service, you know how many little details you need to sort out: new business cards, new signs and new promotional materials. New everything. But what about changing your online presence? While printing up a new batch of business cards for each employee can be done in a week, changing your web address, or domain, is a much more complicated task. Believe us – we did it last week.

Switching your website’s domain name is a daunting task, but it’s crucial to do it right. You’ve spent years building a reputation online and getting links to your old domain, and those don’t have to go away. But no matter how careful you are, something is bound to slip through the cracks. It’s important to make a list, know what needs to happen when and stay organized. Here are steps you should take to hold on to all of the SEO benefits you have reaped even after you’ve switched your domain.

Analytics Tracking Code

When you switch your domain you need to have tracking codes set up properly so that you can quickly spot issues and continue to monitor the success of your website. Be sure to account for all of these things before launch:

  • Google Analytics
    • Make changes in GA to indicate your domain name is changing. To do this in GA click Admin > Account > find the property you are changing the domain for > click Property Settings > Default URL.

    • Link your Google Webmaster Tools account after updates are made in Analytics.

    • Marketing Automation tools
      • If you use marketing automation tools on your site be sure to check your account settings and identify all of the areas that will need to be updated so that activity on your new domain is tracked properly when you make the switch.

  • Google Webmaster Tools
    • Make the proper adjustments using the Change of Address Tool to indicate that you are updating your domain name.

    • Add the new site to GWT and verify ownership.

    • Submit your new sitemap when the domain is switched.

    • Fetch as Google Bot to force Google to index your site.

  • Adwords
    • If you run paid campaigns update your ads that are currently running with links to the new landing page and update your domain name in the ad text as well.

    • Relink your new Analytics and GWT account to AdWords for tracking purposes.

Measurements

Before you switch your domain, pull and record rankings or visibility for keywords and landing pages so if anything starts to slip your team can work to recover.

URLs and Subdomains

When you switch domains you need to think about how the structure of your URLs will change. You also need to be prepared to switch over any sites you may have on Subdomains. When 352 changed its domain, that included several project management tools for example.

  • URL Structure
    • Identify how your URL structure will be changing if at all. The easiest way to change domains is breaking it up into chunks. Either first change the top level domain (TLD) itself (e.g. 352inc.com) and do a one to one 301 redirect for your TLD and then change your URL structure or content at a different time. Or do the opposite. Change your URL structure that follows your TLD, then the TLD itself. By separating these changes out you give search engines and users enough time to adjust for the changes, and it saves you the headache of trying to accomplish large changes at one time.

  • Error monitoring
    • Work with your website developers to set up a way to monitor all errors that are displayed to a user. This should should be visible in Google Analytics if errors hit an analytics-tracked page.

  • 301 Redirects
      • Work with your support or development team to set up 301 redirects from all of your old pages to your new pages. This step is critical. As you can imagine, if you are not changing your URL structure beyond TLD this step is much easier. In that case you only need to redirect your TLD.

    this-is-very-important

For example when 352 changed its domain from 352media.com to 352inc.com we did not change our URL structure so a page that once lived on 352media.com/blog now lives on 352inc.com/blog. If we had updated our URL structure to something like 352inc.com/digital-blog then the redirect would have been more complicated. For more tips on this check out these great domain migration tips from Ruth Burr at Moz.

  • Subdomain Identification
    • If you host websites on your domain, you’ll want to make a list of those and decide when you will be switching those over to the new domain.

    • If you use something like WordPress for your blog you’ll need to update a few settings. Be sure to have those updates made before the switch.

  • Robots.TXT and Sitemaps
    • Be sure to redirect all of your Robots.TXT and Sitemaps to the correct location on your new domain so that search engines can properly locate and crawl those pages on your site.

Branding

When you launch a site on a new domain there can be many instances of brand mentions that need to be updated. Use this list to help you get started, but the circumstances of your brand’s domain change will dictate the actions you need to take. Our switch came shortly after we changed the name of our company, so we had quite a few updates to make.

  • Updating Name Mentions
    • If you’re like us and your domain name change was inspired by the change of your business’ name, then you’ll need to update online mentions of your old name to your new one. Don’t forget about your social accounts, Google Places, internal blog links etc. Use a tool like Fresh Web Explorer to identify all of the places your company is mentioned, and don’t forget to have your employees update their email signatures and social media profiles.

  • Branding Materials
    • Update all physical branding materials that mention your old name or domain. This may include:

      • Tradeshow materials

      • Powerpoint templates

      • Letterhead

      • Business cards

      • Envelopes

      • Decals

Backlinks and Mentions

One of the biggest fears when launching a new site or a new domain is losing all of the link juice you’ve previously acquired from other credible sites. The previous steps mentioned in this post are definitely required (I wasn’t kidding about those 301 Redirects), but to cover all the bases take these steps as well.

  • Launch a “Coming Soon” page
    • If your new domain isn’t redirecting to your current domain, you should launch a “Coming Soon” page with a few sentences about your business until you make the switch. This will give search engines something to crawl before you go live.

  • Pull Your Backlink Report
    • Do this several days before you switch over your domain. Use tools like Open Site Explorer and Google Analytics Referral Links to identify all of the links and anchor text that should be updated.

    • Prioritize this list according to links from sites that use your old company name (if applicable) or domain and have the highest domain authority. I like to use Excel and color-code my list, marking everything red that needs to be switched asap.

open-site-explorer

  • Contact Webmasters
    • Unfortunately this process is tedious and must be done manually. You need to contact webmasters individually to get your links and anchor text updated. Be nice, because they’re doing you a favor. Keep track of the messages you send and the links you get updated by color coding items that are in progress and completed.

For extra assurance that the domain switch will go smoothly, keep a running checklist between you and your support team – or whoever will help you with the more technical aspects of switching domains. You can never be too prepared when you’re getting ready to migrate your domain, but if you stay organized and on schedule you can minimize the stress.

  • http://twitter.com/brittneysheff Brittney Sheffield

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  • Portman

    Very useful stuff there! I also got your link to the “Shameless plug”
    and realise I might be doing some of that stuff without realising. I
    gotta stop!! I love what I call “blog-surfing”, just searching through
    tags to find a good read. I always come back with something good! go here

  • sainterest

    Hello
    Everyone,

    If someone
    of you can help … I have a problem with my page http://jakiprezent.pl/
    since I’ve changed the domain.

    In august
    we’ve moved our website http://iprezenty.pl to http://jakiprezent.pl. It’s quite big site – about 6 mln of
    url’s indexed of old domain and full of unique content (large descriptions of
    categories and 8 blogs) working with.

    During
    this process of changing we have had few problems with our webdevelopers
    who by mistake have introduced duplicate content (descriptions of categories).
    During 2 weeks, until we’ve realized it, site was indexing with this
    duplicate content. Our positions have broken down systematically. From top 5 of
    many phases we are in the and o SERP’s.

    Do you can
    help what can we do in this situation?