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How to Change Your Domain Name & URL and Keep the SEO Ranking

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of changing your domain name and explain how to do it properly, so you don’t lose your SEO ranking.

Changing the domain name is a relatively complex task. It requires some technical and SEO knowledge. If you don’t take the time and effort to make this move properly, you might end up with unwanted issues and a drop in your SEO ranking.

This guide covers multiple aspects of site migration, keep reading if you plan to do any of the following:

  • change the domain name
  • redesign your website

We’ve seen multiple examples when users rebranded their business, launched a new website, and partially lost their organic search traffic. This happened because of improper migration.

To avoid this, you need to make sure that you carefully plan the migration in advance and perform the domain switch in a proper way. 

Here are the steps you need to follow, to ensure that you migrate your website to a new domain correctly.

Step 1: Planning

Identify the reasons why you’re migrating the website. Some of them might be:

  • Rebranding
  • Launching a new business
  • Moving to a new geographical location

Create a roadmap and set up your goals. Define what you want to achieve with this major move. Identify the issues you have with your current website and make sure you address them. Fix all the major issues before you migrate.

Make sure you backup all your data. This is important, as you can use it as a reference once the migration is completed and restore the data if required.

Avoid migrating your website during the peak season. You don’t want to lose traffic and sales if something goes wrong.

Step 2: Preparation

You will need to crawl (read/scan your web pages and store important pieces of data) the most important pages/posts of your website and make sure that you document your existing performance. This is required to be able to reproduce and compare the current performance and results.

You can use Google Search Console and Google Analytics to save the list of all your pages, their titles, top organic keywords, top organic pages, their performance, etc.

Another useful tool is Screaming Frog. It can extract plenty of on-page SEO data about your pages. The free version allows you to crawl up to 500 pages. If you have a large website, you might want to get the pro version.

Also, in this step, you will have to define your SEO specifications. Some of the most important SEO aspects to keep in mind and migrate/improve are:

  • URL structure
  • Meta tags (titles, descriptions, etc.)
  • Open Graph tags (for social media)
  • Structured data (also known as rich snippets or rich results)
  • Canonical and meta robots tags (to avoid duplicate content issues)
  • Textual content
  • HTML headings
  • Main & secondary navigation
  • Internal links
  • Sitemaps
  • Redirects
  • Media files (images, videos, etc.)
  • Site speed

Important note: your primary goal is to make sure that all these SEO elements stay the same on the new website. If you plan a major redesign or restructuring, make sure that you don’t remove important parts of your content, markup, meta tags, etc.

There are times when you don’t want to clone/replicate the old website. In this case, make sure you compensate for all the changes and launch a better site in terms of SEO (work on all of the aspects described above). For example: if you’ve noticed that your old website is slow, improve the loading times for your main web pages and migrate.

Now that you know what are the most important elements of on-page SEO, it’s time to identify your top-performing pages. These should be on your priority list. You need to check them first, after migration.

You can create a list of pages similar to these ones:

  • Top performing pages in organic search for the last 12 months (Search Console)
  • Top performing pages by the number of leads/sales for the last 12 months (Google Analytics)
  • Most viewed pages for the last 12 months (Google Analytics)
  • Most linked pages from other websites (Search Console)

Pay extra attention to these top pages and make sure you migrate them properly.

Step 3: Migration

Important note: we’ll assume that you don’t need to change your hosting and only move to a new domain name. If you want to change the hosting as well, the process is slightly different (in this case you will need to migrate all the site files and database).

You can migrate your website manually or with the help of plugins.

Migrate using a plugin

If you use a WordPress website, here’s a list of common migration plugins that you can try.

Pretty much any of the plugins mentioned above will allow you to export your existing website, move it to the new website, search and replace the URLs for the new domain.

Alternatively, you can use the Flo Launch plugin or create your new site in a staging environment (if your hosting provider has this option). 

Migrate manually (advanced level)

If you know what you’re doing and have a technical background, you can perform the migration manually. 

In this case, you’ll need to back up and migrate all files to the new website.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Back up all your data
  2. Point the new domain name to your hosting (same folder as your current website)
  3. Update the domain name by performing a search and replace in the database (here’s a useful tool for that). Most hosting providers offer built-in search and replace functionality.

Step 4: Redirects

At this point you need to redirect the old website to the new website.

Setting up permanent 301 redirects is vital for both SEO and user experience. These redirects will help search engines discover your new website and your users land on the new domain.

To set up a permanent 301 redirect, you need to edit the .htaccess file of your old domain and insert a snippet of code into it.

Here’s an example of code for redirecting the old domain to the new one, placed on top of the .htaccesse file:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine On
  RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^olddomain.com$ [OR]
  RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.olddomain.com$
  RewriteRule (.*)$ http://www.newdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]
</IfModule>

You can also use a redirection plugin to achieve the same result, although this is not the recommended option as you can easily break things if you lack the technical background.

It would be helpful to create a list of old URLs and new URLs. This way, you will have the full list of URLs and create redirects if required.

The best practice is to redirect the old URLs to the exact same new URLs, or to the URLs that are highly related. For example, if you have an old About page, it should point to the new About page and not the Home page.

Step 5: Let Google know

Once you migrated the site, you need to notify Google about the change. This is required, so Google can crawl and index your new website and remove from index all legacy pages from your old domain.

Google Search Console has a handy Change of Address tool. To access this page, select a verified property in your Search Console account and follow the instructions.

Note that it might take a few weeks or even months until Google will fully update the index with the new pages.

Step 6: Test and monitor

First, make sure you set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console for your new website. For this, you will need to add new properties in both Analytics and Search Console.

Then, refer to the list of top pages you saved earlier and check the redirect manually. Make sure that your popular pages and posts are redirecting properly and there are no broken links.

Keep an eye on your Search Console account and check the following:

  • Monitor the number of indexed pages
  • Check for possible errors (404 errors, duplicate pages, redirect errors)
  • Monitor mobile usability errors
  • Monitor Core Web Vitals report (for site speed issues)
  • Submit your new sitemap in Search Console
  • Use the URL Inspection tool to check if specific pages have been indexed

Check your Google Analytics account and make sure your stats are looking good and there are no major drops. Monitor the traffic, engagement metrics, goals, behavior reports, etc.

Conclusion

And you’re done! You’ve successfully migrated your website from an old domain to a new one. With the help of this article, everything should run smoothly on your new website, with little impact on your SEO and organic traffic. Remember, SEO is a continuous process, so keep analyzing, optimizing and improving your results, and you’ll surely succeed!

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