Recently, for one of our project, we needed to transfer a website from one domain to another one. The problem appeared when we talked about google rank, page indexed, and SERP position. So, after a research on the web we came to the next conclusion: “No matter what, changing your domain name will affect your search engine rankings because each domain name is linked with several metrics (trust, authority, etc), characteristics (domain age, GEO location signals, etc) and above all the hyperlinks”.
You can substantially limit the damage done by following the next steps (advices from Google Webmaster Central):
- Pay attention to the TLD (.at, .com, .fr, .gr, .de) when you register the new Domain because is often used as a GEO location signal. When you purchase an aged domain, do a bit of research on the history of the domain, check the previous WHOIS records, check if the domain has any indexed pages on the search engines so you can exclude to be banned by one of the major search engines.
- By upload a “comming soon” page you will allow search engines to crawl and index the new website. This will help also the search engines to detect that your site isn’t a parked domain, but instead is a real website. Then register the new domain to the webmasters centers.
- If is possible don’t transfer directly all of your pages to the new location, but instead try moving smaller segments of it. This step is highly recommended, but optional, to avoid serious SEO problems (many changes at once can make it difficult to handle problems when they occur).
- The next step is to upload the pages/images/files of your website to the new website.
- Redirect the Old pages to the New ones. This action should be done on the page level, meaning that each page of the old site should be redirected to the new URL of the page on the new domain. It is recommended to use 301 redirects because in this way you manage to pass to the new website most of the metrics, characteristics and statistics (PageRank values, links, anchor text data etc) and also make the URL Redirection with the Apache URL Redirect Directive (htaccess file or in httpd.conf file).
- Use the Change of Address tool in Google Webmaster Console. After registering both the old and the new website to Google Webmaster tools you should specify that the old one has been transferred to the new address. The Change of Address tool works at the site level.
- Update the important Backlinks that point to your old website and link directly to the new pages. In order to get a list of all the Backlinks of your website you can use the Backlink Analyzer tool or Google Webmaster Tools console and focus only on the most important ones (top 100) and contact as many of these webmasters as possible about changing their links, including all the directories (Yahoo!, Open Directory).
- Make sure both the old site and the new site have been verified and have Sitemaps submitted at Google Webmaster Central, Bing Webmaster Tools and Yahoo! Site Explorer.
- Announce media and online marketing because your goals are to get as many new inbound links pointing to the site to attract a high number of branded searches for the new located site.
- Be patient and make sure you dedicate time to test everything before you transfer your whole website. Don’t forget to maintain the 301 redirects from the old domain to the new one and to renew the change of address every 180 days. Also, monitor your rankings for the content, comparing old to new over time. Monitor your Webmaster Central account for 404 errors and see how well Google is doing with your 301s.