Transferring a website to a new domain name

So your business name has changed or for some reason you need to transfer a website to a new domain name.
  • So what is the best way to transfer your website?
  • What are the issues involved with such a transfer?

Why change domains

  • your business name may change
  • your old site may have a penalty on it and may not be showing on the search engines. Only when you have exhausted all avenues of proper search engine optimisation should you consider changing domains. It is more likely that there are SEO issues that can be fixed. If you merely change domains, you are as likely as not going to have the same issues with the new website.
  • your business may outgrow a domain name. If your domain is product name or category specific, your business may have grown to include other products or categories. Consider keeping those specific products on the old domain.

Your rankings on the search engines may suffer

A website ages with time, and Google recognises this by better rankings on its search. For some search phrases it can take 6+ months for a website to start showing up for its search phrases. With a new website, you will have to again wait for the website to age. It is most likely that your search results will suffer as a result for that first 6 or so months.

New Possible Strategy (updated 24 April 07)

There is a new strategy where you 302 redirect all your old websites pages through to the new domain. Frank has summarised the issues well on his blog post Header Redirects. Google sees the 302's and still allows the old url's to be used on the Google results. This allows time to get links for the new domain and wait out the 6+ month sandbox period. Once 6 months or so have passed, you can change the redirects to 301 redirects and so delete the old domain from Google. Google does not pass PR through 302 links. In this way, you may retain good search engine rankings on the old site till the new site is able to get out of the sandbox and have good rankings in its own right.

Telling the Search Engines of the change

Google and the other search engines have a cached copy of the old websites pages. They need to be told that the old site has been moved. You also need to retain the benefit of the links to the old website where possible. People following old links and search results need to be able to find the new domains pages.

A good strategy is firstly to have the new pages with the same url structure as the old website. Then create an htaccess file in the old website that 301 redirects all the old pages to the same url on the new website. Where page names have changed, specific redirects may be necessary. With the 301 redirects, you will retain the benefit of the old links (PR and anchor text value).

Google will follow the redirects, and delete the old url's from its index, and replace with the new url's.

However, it is unlikely that there are external links to all the old websites pages. Google will not have your old website to spider to have links to all the pages on the old website. Therefore, it is good practice to have a page on the new domain that has links to all the pages on the old domain. Google will then see the links, and see the old pages, and the 301 redirects from them to the new pages. Another way is to include the old url's on an xml sitemap on the old domain. Google and the other search engines will spider the xml sitemap, and so see the redirects and make the transition.

Having multiple domains with the same content

Don't just park the new domain on the same space as the old website. You need to make sure that the website is able to be accessed by only one domain. If you have multiple domains parked on the same webspace, you need to have the appropriate 301 redirects so that only one domain has the website content.

Ask people who link to you to change their links

A website builds up external inbound links, and all these will need to be updated over time to the new website. You can use the Google link:domain.com command to show your sites inbound links. But this will only show a small number of the links. Google Webmaster Tools shows more of the inbound links, including links into each page on your website. You are even able to download these to a spreadsheet. Just be aware that it does not show all url's.

Please contact SearchMasters for consulting advice on how to best manage the transition between domains for your websites.

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