Changing your website domain can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to maintaining your hard-earned organic ranking and traffic. With careful planning and execution, it is possible to transition with minimal impact on your site’s performance in search engine results. I do have to say, that in every single case of domain migration we have seen (whether managed by us or by another party) there has been a drop in ranking and traffic, and this should be carefully considered before deciding to do the migration.
Just in case you didn’t hear it, I will say it again – you should always expect a drop in organic traffic and rankings after a domain change.
However, some circumstances force a domain migration. This may be a change in a brand name, or a change in TLD e.g. from .co.uk to .com. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to change your domain while preserving your SEO efforts as completely as possible.
Step 1: Notify Google Search Console (GSC)
The first step in the process is to inform Google about the domain change through Google Search Console. This ensures that Google recognizes the change and updates its index accordingly. Access your GSC account and add the new domain as a property, specifying that it is replacing the existing domain. You can read about this process here. If you have a significant amount of traffic from Bing (yes, it does happen), then you should consider using their Site Move tool as well.
Step 2: Clone the Site Onto The New Domain
Next, set up the website for the new domain. This should be an exact duplicate of the existing site, but with the internal links all changed to the new domain.
Step 3: Implement 301 Redirects
This is normally where things get sticky. To seamlessly redirect traffic from the existing domain to the new domain, set up 301 redirects for each page on the site. This can be done through your hosting provider’s control panel or via .htaccess file if you’re using Apache server. It’s crucial to set up page-to-page redirects to ensure that visitors and search engines are directed to the equivalent content on the new domain. Make sure the sitemap from the existing domain also redirects to the sitemap of the new domain.
Step 4: Update Sitemap
Generate a sitemap for the new domain and submit it to Google Search Console. This helps Google discover and index the new pages on your site more efficiently. Make sure that the sitemap includes all the relevant URLs from the new domain.
Step 5: Maintain Redirects for at Least 6 Months
To give search engines ample time to recognise and process the domain change, keep the “old” domain hosted and the redirects active for at least six months. This extended period ensures that both users and search engine crawlers have sufficient time to adjust to the new domain.
By following these steps diligently, you can successfully change your website domain without sacrificing all of your organic ranking and traffic. Remember to monitor your site’s performance closely during and after the transition period to address any potential issues promptly e.g. pages with incorrect redirects. As I said before, you should be expecting to see a drop in organic traffic and rankings in the period immediately after migration. By following this plan, you should minimise the impact, and regain the majority of your traffic within 6 months of the migration.