How to Successfully Migrate Your Domain Without Affecting Search Engine Rankings?
There is no denying that migrating from one domain to another is tedious, time-consuming, and resource-intensive. In addition, migrating a domain between domains or registrars can be challenging and frustrating. As a result, things go wrong even if you have the best intentions.
In its index, Google likes to see sites with a single URL that is not pointing to different places. This helps them identify what a site is about, not where its various pages are stored. When you migrate your domain from one provider to another, you can encounter problems if the domain has more than one address pointing to the same page. Thus, ensuring the successful migration of your domain helps you avoid any negative impact on your brand and website traffic.
This blog post covers the steps for migrating your domain and some tips for setting up seamless migration between different providers.
Domain Migration is the process of moving from one domain address to the other. You may need to move to a new or different domain address for multiple reasons.
You have rebranded and changed your company name and thus website domain address.
You need to change to a country-specific or international domain (from .biz or .net to .com or .eu)
You have been acquired or been bought by another company.
Irrespective of the reason, domain migrations can be tricky. Think of domain migrations as shifting to new office space after using an office address for years. With this shift, you have to physically move all your belongings to the new office. You also have to notify existing employees, customers, and all stakeholders of the move and let them know the new office address.
Domain migration is similar to the example above, as you need to
Digitally move all the content from your old domain address to the new one
Inform users and existing customers as well as stakeholders of the migration
Ensure search engines know that you have migrated to a new domain address
As with any drastic change, domain migration also affects your SEO. Thus, you must ensure that your domain migration process follows SEO best practices.
When migrating to a new domain, you need to consider two key aspects from a search engine's perspective.
You need to delete(or redirect) your old domain from Google's index
Google has to re-index your new domain and all the web page URLs
While migrating your domain, you must ensure that you do no harm to your website and do not violate any of Google's webmaster guidelines.
Google has two major concerns with domain migrations.
When migrating a domain, you risk breaking links and causing a temporary drop in ranking. Expect traffic loss and lost conversions or sales.
You also risk getting penalized by Google if you are not careful with how the migration is done.
To avoid penalties and rank losses, the best approach is to migrate your domain gradually. This means that both the old and new domains will work together during the migration process. This way, users can still be directed from the old domain address while all content is gradually shifted to the new address.
If this is done correctly, search engines will automatically update their index whenever a change happens on either of the domains. There will be no penalty for having both domains live at once, and there will be no loss of trust or link authority for either domain name.
This gradual process can take time depending on how many pages are being migrated, but it is worth it in the end because it ensures that there are no losses from Google's point of view and a user's point of view.
This gradual shift should be planned carefully and executed correctly to achieve SEO goals without incurring any Google penalties or rank drops while migrating your website's domain name.
A well-thought-out domain migration strategy can help you maintain your current SERP rankings and move in the right direction.
Domain migration is cumbersome and should only be undertaken if only essential. Before we move into how to begin your migration process, let us discuss when not to migrate your domain.
Do not migrate your domain if you are:
Changing your CMS (content management system)
Editing the design of your website (the look and feel, imagery, logos, etc.)
Editing your content (the copy on the website)
Changing the site's structure, such as removing/combining sections, editing the URLs, changing the navigation, etc.
A URL redirection may help you with some of these situations. However, these are all significant changes to the site. A domain migration and these changes will make it much harder to complete the work and spot what is causing any SEO issues.
Now that we know when not to migrate to a new domain let us look at the things you need to keep in mind before beginning your domain migration process.
Make sure you have a backup plan for your old domain name. For example, is there a way to redirect it to your new domain? If not, you may lose some link equity from your old domain name.
Do a quick audit to see if you need to fix any issues with your current DNS configuration before you migrate.
Find out if you can use your existing hosting provider or if you must switch to one of the registrar’s domain hosting providers.
Review the terms of service with your current domain registrar. Find out if your current registrar offers a domain migration service.
Find out if you will have to pay any fees for domain migration, and if so, how much.
Once you have answers to all these questions, you can initiate your domain migration process and conduct it efficiently and confidently.
The domain migration process involves several key elements, and we break it down into the exact steps you should take to ensure a smooth sail.
Before initiating a domain migration, make sure you have a plan to deal with any possible downtime. Let your customers know that you are aware of the migration and that there may be a brief downtime while the migration occurs.
Set yourself up to succeed by planning and trying to avoid potential pitfalls that may lead to issues with the migration.
Before you do anything else, make sure you know the history of your new domain. Has it ever been used before? Does it have indexed content? Has it had content removed? Any backlinks pointing to it?
Google’s Search Console gives you detailed and free info on what it thinks about your new site. Claim and verify your new domain in Google’s Search Console.
Make a complete list of URLs on your existing domain. Crawl your website like a search engine and find all the URLs in Google's index. This will only give you access to organic pages.
If you are conducting pay-per-click ads (such as Google AdWords), include any display URLs. Our goal is to have as complete a list as possible. This master list of URLs will be utilized to assess the success of your redirects and the site's performance after migration.
Once you have a list of all the URLs, make a copy of the content live on these URLs. For example, include the SEO copy(meta title and description), headings, body copy, images (with properties like alt text), links, etc.
Move all the content to the CMS associated with your new domain. DO NOT publish the content yet. We also do not want search engines to start crawling the new website (apart from maybe the home page).
Stop crawling and indexing the new domain website using the robots.txt file and meta=noindex tags. You can also password protect your new site.
In this step, we will look at how redirects and internal and external links are set up on our website.
Your crawl above should have given a list of existing redirects in place. You need to decide where these will point on the new domain website. Ideally, port any existing 301 rules to the new domain. Remember to avoid too many chain redirects by introducing new 404s.
Ensure all internal links and canonicals point to the new domain as well. Any XML sitemaps are updated with new links and uploaded to the new domain via GSC.
Identify and gather all external websites pointing to your old domain address web pages. You will have to test if the redirects were successful and check if the links point to new domain pages.
Set up new 301 redirects from the exiting domain address to the new domain. Add 301s to WWW and HTTP versions of the website to point to the new domain directly.
Use Google's change of address/domain migration tool to begin migration. While you are there, review the latest guidelines posted by Google around domain migration.
Ensure no developer copies of the old website. When left live and externally accessible, old websites are easy to copy or duplicate. Developers often canonical to live sites and can start ranking on search engines instead.
Test for SEO parity of all URLs. Check title tags, meta-descriptions, canonicals, headings, linking modules, schema markups, and whether site speed optimizations are retained. Ensure these are revised for domain changes.
Test it thoroughly and cut over everything cleanly all at once. You now want to submit the new site for indexing. Remove the indexation and crawling barriers set up before.
Once your new domain website is live, start changing all of your website's links to use your new domain name. Update your social media accounts and other places that link back to your old site.
It is not over once you've moved your website. As with our own health, monitoring and maintaining your site's health is still important after successfully launching it. Track indexing of your new pages, keyword positions, and ranking. Check new web pages for performance and any user experience issues.
Domain migrations can be challenging, but they are necessary from time to time. Therefore, preparing for your migration is crucial and following the SEO best practices stated above.
You want to make your domain migration process a smooth sail for you, your customer, and search engines. Follow the steps one by one and do not fasten the process. You want to be thorough since you do not get another chance at website domain migration.
When you see the results, it's just as rewarding. However, maintaining Google's good graces requires careful consideration and an even more cautious domain migration.