Changing your main domain without losing SEO value
How to increase the chances of keeping your website’s original search engine ranking when changing your main domain.
Search engines take the age of your domain name into account and interpret age as a credibility indicator. Your website’s current SEO value is by and large connected to its main domain, which means that in a worst-case scenario a new main domain could put you back on square one with regards to your search engine ranking.
Sometimes the reality is that you, despite search engines, need a new main domain for your website. So, what does that really mean? That the SEO value you have accumulated throughout the years suddenly disappears? Not necessarily.
Coming up: we give advice on actions you can take to increase the chances of keeping your website’s ranking in the search results, by transferring the SEO value from the old to the new domain. Hence these are actions that are good to be familiar with when you change your domain name. The first step is good planning and a good strategy for the implementation itself.
It is important to point out that it really is all about the user; that is, your website visitors. Google’s (for natural reasons there is a lot of focus on Google in this post …) starting point is their users, and a website gains its rank in the search results based on how relevant Google deems its content to be for the visitors. This means that your goal should be to make the domain change as smooth as possible for your users. One of the most important aspects of losing ranking as a result of a domain name change is therefore to ensure that your visitors continue having a positive experience when they visit your website, for example by avoiding error pages (a.k.a. 404 pages).
Advice to take with you in the strategy for changing your website address:
1. Register your new domain
If you purchase an already registered domain, ensure that it has no bad history with Google, for example. A good way of finding out the domain value is to check PageRank. There are several tools for this on the market, for example from Moz or by installing an add-on from Google in your browser.
2. Redirect the content of your old site by using 301 redirects.
Simply put, 301 redirects are about permanent directs – this gives the search engines a greater incentive for transferring the “SEO value” from the redirected address to the new one. Here it is important to prioritize the user experience. Each page should be redirected to a corresponding new page: the page on the new address that content-wise best reflects the original page. This can be a lot of work, but in the long run it pays off. Google has a good video about 301 redirects here.
3. Verify your website with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Ensure that both your new and old websites are verified with Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a great tool for anyone who is managing a website, and it provides insights about, among other things, crawl stats and server errors (what Google finds when crawling your site) as well as what search terms your website shows up for. Do the same with Bing Webmaster Tools.
4. Change address
Tell Google that your site has a new address. Instructions for how to do this can be found here.
5. Ask Google to crawl your new website
Ask Google to crawl the new website by using the “URL Inspection Tool”, which can be found in Google Search Console. You want to ask Google to crawl your new site so that Google can start indexing the new domain, instead of the old one, as soon as possible.
6. Submit a sitemap
Help Google find, crawl, and index your new domain by submitting a sitemap using Google Search Console. This makes it easier for Google to find pages on your website, and it will increase the process of getting your new domain into the search results.
7. Follow up, measure, and evaluate
Look over your visitor statistics in Google Analytics, but also crawl stats, server errors and similar reports in Google Search Console. To follow up and continuously evaluate will increase your chances of understanding what changes give what effect, and it also gives you the prerequisites to discover errors before they result in unwanted consequences.
– Don’t change everything at once
Google recommends not to implement all changes at once, that way you will have better control over things if something goes sideways. Divide your actions into different phases. For example, move the website to the new domain in phase 1 and launch your new content in phase 2. This will make the process more seamless for your users. Also, try to avoid changing URLs to begin with, that is, try to keep the same page structure at least initially. Avoid changing the link names.
– Keep an eye on your links
Keep an eye on your links – internal (links on your website that directs to other pages on your website) as well as external (links from other websites to your website). Google recommends checking the links with tools for detecting broken links. A good free alternative is for example BrokenLinkCheck.com. For external links it could be worth it to contact their owners and ask them to update the link.
– Keep your old domain
Keep your old domain for a considerable time after the change and use 301s to redirect it. This way, visitors who visit your old domain will still be able to find you. There are also several security-related reasons to keep your old domain, one is regarding email and ensuring that it is not grabbed by another party.
– Be creative with your 404 pages
Don’t turn your error pages into dead-ends, do something creative with them – and, most importantly, have them direct the visitor to the right page.
– Google itself provides instructions for changing your main domain, and we recommend you read them. If you have access to an SEO partner, it is a good idea to involve them in the process.