July 10, 2010
Ahh, domain name changes. Because these can be so disruptive to a business’ online presence, we offer up these important key tips to help your site weather the ride.
1. Don’t Change Your Domain. And while we’re at it, don’t go casually renaming any website URLs or directories either. As we’ve mentioned before, Google’s algorithm determines the “importance” of a site by looking at what other pages link to it. When you change your domain name, you’re essentially starting from scratch again, wiping out however many year(s) of domain equity and link authority you’ve managed to accrue so far. (Note: this is code for saying you’re likely to experience a nice short-term – or even long-term – drop in positions and traffic.) Oh yeah – and this affects both SEO and PPC. Your paid campaigns will lose all historical data. You’ll be starting from scratch against all those other industry heavyweights with years of data to help position ads over yours. This can get very, very expensive.
2. Okay, okay. If you have to change it, then make the new name SPOT ON and PERFECTLY CORRECT for your business goals so you never do this to yourself again.
3. 301 Redirects . Before your new site goes live, take the time to create a nice list of all existing pages on your old website. Xenu’s link sleuth is one good way to go about this. Map out these 301 redirects on a page-by-page basis, and be sure to test all is working before you hit the switch. These will help transfer domain and page authority over to your new domain. This a non-negotiable step, and one of the most critical elements in preserving existing domain and link equity.
4. XML Sitemaps. Create an XML sitemap of your old site, to make sure all old pages are being indexed. Why the old domain? Because then you’ll ensure engines have old pages indexed, which they will then revisit later and see nice 301s pointing to your new URLs. When the time comes, create an XML sitemap of your new domain, to help engines discover new pages. Don’t forget to also mention your sitemap location in your robots.txt file.
5. Placeholder Site. Put a placeholder site up immediately – even if it’s just one page – to help the new site get indexed as early as possible. Tell people about it, and make the “coming soon” message compelling so it creates excitement and buzz.
6. Webmaster Tools. Make sure both your old and new domains are verified in Yahoo, Bing, and Google Webmaster Tools. Submit your XML sitemaps (both old and new) and use these tools to learn as much as possible about how engines view and interact with your site.
7. “Change of Address” Feature. Google Webmaster Tools has a nice feature that allows you to tell them you’ve changed your domain name. Use this tool!
8. Update Your Existing Links. Use tools like Yahoo Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools, LinkScape, and more to research your existing backlink profile. Then – update as many of these links as possible to point to your new domain name instead of your old one. This involves a lot of elbow grease, but it’s an important first step towards regaining the domain authority that your old site had.
9. And build even more links. Submit a press release that announces your new site. Announce new features via social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Send an email out to every single person on your email list announcing this change. Get in touch with bloggers or journalists in your industry. Hire a link building expert and a talented design and branding agency to help you make the most of your new domain name.
10. Be patient. Domain name changes take time to recover from. The number one thing that will make your recovery as fast as possible is accruing relevant, high-authority links to your website (both homepage and internal pages). Authoritative sites will often find a domain name change easier to bounce back from, because buzz builds around their brands naturally. To all of you: hang in there. Keep building high-quality content to attract links in the first place. Focus on building something excellent, and the rest will come in time.
Written by Sarah Mackenzie.