A simple step-by-step guide on how to move your website to a new domain and not lose those precious Google rankings.
Moving a website to a new domain is quite a big decision if your business relies on traffic from Google and other search engines. And many businesses will be put off from moving domains for the simple reason that they can’t afford the perceived risk.
We recently decided to move domains because of the availability of the TLD .design. And since around 75% of our customers come from organic Google searches we couldn’t afford the risk of screwing things up. Before the move we were ranking in the top ten for some pretty competitive keywords like “web design London” and “ecommerce development”. You’ll be happy to hear that we still are.
Here’s how we moved domains and kept seo positions
Disclaimer – There’s no guarantee that the same will work for you. This is what worked for us. It needn’t be said that if you’re unsure what you’re doing in any of these steps then I suggest you hire an expert to minimise the chances of screwing up. Things also change so make sure you are also following the guidelines from Google. You do need to know some technical stuff to make this happen and I’m assuming you have a designer/developer on your team to make things happen.
Step one – Copy the website over to the new domain
These are the important things we did from an SEO angle at this point:
- Blocked the new website design from robots.txt
- We rewrote many of our URL’s for improved SEO
- Because we had changed the URL’s structure on the new domain – we then had to add 301 redirects on the new domain from old URL’s to new URL’s.
- We then fully tested the site. Running scans like broken link checker. And making sure the website passed the Google Mobile test, pagespeed was good etc.
Step two – Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
I’m assuming you’re using Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools on the old domain. If you aren’t then you need to do this step for the old domain first – leave it for a month and then come back to this step and do it for the new domain.
Step 3 – Install a new Google Analytics tracking script on the new domain and verify in Webmaster tools
Add a new GA tracking script to the new domain and then add and verify it in Webmaster tools.
It’s going to give you an error warning because it’s blocked from robots.txt but that’s fine for now. We left our website for a month because we were busy but I don’t think that makes any difference – you can plough on to the next steps.
At this point you should be happy that the new website is good to go live and set aside a few hours to do the following steps in one go.
Step 4 – Remove the Robots.txt block on the new website
Simply remove the robots.txt block so that Google and other spiders can index the site.
Step 5 – Backup your old website
In the next step you’ll delete the old website so before doing that just make a backup of all your files and database.
Step 6 – 301 direct the entire old website to the new website
Easiest way to do this is via .htaccess. You want to 301 redirect the entire website to the new domain. This gist contains what you need to put in .htaccess in order to achieve this – obviously remembering to replace olddomain.com with newdomain.com.
Check to ensure all links are redirecting to new pages
After performing this sitewide 301 redirect via htaccess then just test a few pages to ensure they are redirecting to the new domain correctly.
Step 7 – Tell Google you’ve moved domains
In webmaster tools (for the old domain) you need to initiate a move of address so Google know you’ve moved domains. This is quick and simple and you can follow instructions from Google on the Change of Address Tool.
Step 8 – Submit the new site to index via webmaster tools
In webmaster tools for the new domain you should submit the site to the Google Index. Just Follow Google’s instructions here. If you’ve got a sensible site structure you should just have to do the homepage and then select Crawl this URL and its direct links.
Step 9 – Move Any Backlinks you can to the new domain
If you have control over any of your main/important backlinks (link from other websites) then I suggest you point them to the new domain at this stage. Not essential but it will speed things up a little.
Step 10 – Monitor Google Positions and Webmaster Tools for 404’s
At this point most of the work is done and it’s a case of monitoring and making sure everything is ok. Look for 404 errors in webmaster tools and monitor positions using either webmaster tools, Semrush or manually.
We found during the first week that Google had both the old and new domain in the search results which was great bonus. After a week just the new domain was showing. Our positions were below normal for that week but they climbed back up and were at their original positions after one week. There was no notable loss of traffic in the long term but we had reduced traffic for a week whilst Google did its thing. Not bad for moving to a fancy new domain.