SEO Manual on How Not to Drop in the Search When Rebranding and Changing the Domain
Moving to a new domain is always a big challenge. It is important to transfer all files so that the site continues to function normally. You also need to prepare for the move in terms of SEO, so that the resource does not drop in the search results and does not lose a significant part of its organic traffic.
When to Move to a New Domain
Many website owners face relocation. This can be a change of hosting or CMS, a transition to a secure HTTPS protocol, or a change of a domain name. We will consider the last reason in more detail.
Moving to a new domain is most often needed in two cases:
- Business expansion: The site owner wants to scale the business throughout the country and understands that it is better to make separate pages for each region. A domain is bought for each city.
- Rebranding: A change in the brand name, design, positioning, or ideological component.
In this step-by-step tutorial, we’ll take a closer look at what to consider before rebranding so that your domain name change doesn’t ruin all your past SEO work.
How to Change Domain With Minimal Losses for SEO. Step-by-step Manual
Step 1: Backup
It is unrealistic to transfer a multi-page resource in one click. Careful preparation is needed. It starts with a backup. Before moving to a new domain, make a complete copy of the site. This way you can always go back to the working version if something doesn’t go according to plan.
Step 2: Choosing a Domain Name
The domain has a significant impact on the ranking of the resource. Google takes into account its age, the authority of the sites that were previously hosted on it, geolocation, and hyperlinks. Resale domains have one peculiarity. They can have a bad history. The former owner received a fine for non-payment or the search engine imposed sanctions on the resource. It is always important to check its history before choosing a domain. SEO experts recommend checking the new address just in case so that there are no surprises in the future.
Many different online tools can be used to check domain history, even Google Search Console. If you see that the sanctions were still applied, make sure that at the moment the address does not violate any search engine rules, and request a Google review. Read more in the article – Google Algorithms That Affect SEO.
Speaking specifically about choosing a new name, a good solution would be to combine the brand name and possibly a reference to your activity in the site name. This will increase brand awareness and over time Google will start showing the site. This can happen even if the user entered the wrong search term.
After you choose a name and make sure that there are no problems with the history of the domain, you can proceed with the move.
Step 3: Moving to a New Domain
Moving to a new domain means moving all your site files to a new address. If you change hosting, all files and the database must be exported to it. If the hosting remains the same, the migration will be simple. Many CMSs allow you to implement it through a control panel with an intuitive interface.
Step 4: Set up a Redirect
To avoid losing all your organic traffic when changing the domain, you need to set up a redirect from the old address to the new one. It is important to take into account that the redirection must be done not only from the main URL but from absolutely all pages of the resource. You need to take into account links with www and without, with HTTPS and HTTP. Use only 301 redirects to redirect traffic, 302 often leads to problems with indexing. More information in the article – 301 vs 302 Redirects.
Step 5: Update Information in Google Search Console
After setting up redirects from all pages, you can go to Google Search Console and use the Change Address tool. It is important that you are the verified owner of both sites and that they are managed from the same account. Otherwise, you cannot change the address.
Domain changes in Search Console are not instantaneous. Initially, the system makes several preliminary checks and asks to correct them if there are errors. If there are no problems with the key points of verification, then the migration process will begin. The old site will disappear from the interface in six months. During this period, it is recommended not to delete the redirects, as the connection between the sites will remain. After 180 days, Google will begin to perceive the old and new domains as two separate sites.
After changing the address, the robots will index the new site first. Even if you set up all redirects correctly, your resource will most likely still drop a little in search results. There is nothing wrong with that. You just need to wait for the search database to update and the site will return to its previous positions.
Step 6: Check Performance and SEO Parameters
Despite the fact that when changing a domain in Google Search Console, the system did not generate any errors. It is still better to check if everything is working fine. At a minimum, test the site manually. Enter the new and old address into the search bar and also try to enter queries for which the resource is optimized. Also, ask friends and acquaintances to visit the site. Maybe they’ll spot the mistakes you missed.
During the move, you need to closely monitor the traffic. Use the standard Google Analytics tool for this. Read the related article – The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics. From time to time, watch the traffic on the old and new site in real-time. See if your users are experiencing a 404 error. With PageSpeed Insights, you can check the availability and performance of your new site. More information in the article – Google PageSpeed Insights: How to Score 100% of the Point.
Step 7: New Life
Is the migration over? Is everything working? Excellent! You can go further and create mail on a new domain, replace all addresses in contacts, update profiles on social networks, and launch new advertising campaigns for the brand. The new address must be indicated wherever it is mentioned. If you have regular partners who link to you, contact them and ask to update the links. The rule of good form is to send a letter to all subscribers with an announcement of a change of address.
Common Mistakes When Changing a Domain and How to Avoid Them
Everyone who moves from domain to domain for the first time most often makes a number of typical mistakes. Let’s list them to make your migration faster and easier. Pay attention so that the change of the domain name does not affect the SEO practices.
Mistake 1: Move an Entire Site in One Go
If you have a small landing page, then of course you shouldn’t break the moving process into several stages. If there is a huge multi-page site, the webmasters advise you to first move part of the site pages, check if they are indexed normally, and move the rest of the pages. For the first stage of migration, it is worth choosing web pages. The content practically does not change and is consistently ranked for certain queries.
The larger the site, the more errors can occur during migration. It is better to move to the new domain in stages in order to understand at which step the failure occurred.
Mistake 2: Moving in the Middle of the Working Day
This is obvious, but many people forget that it is better to move when there is minimal traffic on the site. Look in the analytics on what day and time of day you usually have the least number of visitors and schedule a migration for this period. This way you can avoid many problems, in particular those related to indexing.
Mistake 3: Stop Paying for Your Old Domain Immediately
It is better not to delete redirects for six months after the move. It is even better to pay for the old domain for a year. As there were cases when the address of the former domain was bought out and then used for fraud.
If you change your name, people may continue to search for you using the old brand. Therefore, it is important to develop a whole strategy on how to notify users about the rebranding. Use the support service, email newsletters, PR articles, FAQ section, social networks for this. In general, all the notification channels that you have.
Mistake 4: Doing Nothing with SEO
It’s not enough just to watch for traffic during the move. You can make it easier for robots to crawl and index pages on a new domain. You need to update and resubmit your Sitemap.
Webmasters are advised to prepare Google robots and site visitors in advance for the move. After choosing a domain, you can mention the new address in the content on the old site, make several external publications, and update the metadata.
It is best to preserve the internal site structure and URLs when migrating when possible. This will help significantly reduce the chance of any indexing errors and simplify redirection.
After changing the domain, it is important to start active SEO work. Many are waiting for the site to occupy the same positions in the search results and do nothing. Immediately start engaging in search engine optimization. Work out the structure, update the content, add new pages, continue to engage in external optimization. That is, use all the techniques of classic SEO.
Successful SEO Rebranding Case Study
Among the most successful examples of rebranding and domain change from an SEO point of view is the case of Salesforce.
In the summer of 2016, Salesforce bought the Demandware brand. As soon as this happened, an inscription appeared on the website of the purchased service: Demandware, a Salesforce company. Below was a button where they offered to download a press release to find out the details of the deal.
Almost immediately, a new brand was mentioned on all landing pages of the resource, and notes about a deal appeared in the news. Gradually, the site began to change its appearance. At the beginning of 2017, not a trace remained of the visual component of Demandware. There was a Salesforce branding style everywhere, and the old domain redirected users to the new address. In total, the move took approximately eight months.
Rebranding is normal and should not be feared. Almost all large companies once went through this. For example, Google used to be called Backrub, Dell was PC’s Limited, Sony was Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, and Starbucks was Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spice, Il Giornale Coffee Company. It’s good that these companies decided to change domains and names. Since it’s hard to imagine anyone saying, “Meet me at Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spice.”