There are many reasons why you may need to change your website’s domain name, whether it’s because you’re rebranding or switching to something entirely new. This can be an exciting time for your personal or professional site, but it can also be one of the scariest. After all, you’ve spent a lot of time and effort sending people to one location, only to compromise all that hard work by sending them somewhere else.
As crazy of an idea as this might sometimes feel, here’s the good news: it can be done. Many popular websites have gone through this exact same situation and not only survived, but come back even stronger. SEOmoz.com became Moz.com, BufferApp.com became Buffer.com, and Twttr.com became Twitter.com, just to name a few.
Though it certainly is possible, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some work involved; in fact, changing your domain name incorrectly can have disastrous results for your website. But not to worry — it’s not as difficult as you might expect! Here are 10 important steps to make sure you change your domain the right way and transfer all of the credibility that your old domain earned to your new one.
1. Buy your new domain early.
This one is fairly obvious because how would you change your domain name without having a new one to change it to? Besides this necessary reason, there is another reason why you will want to get your new domain well in advance: SEO.
The longer you have your new domain up and running, the more of a chance you will be giving search engines to crawl your new site. Once you’ve acquired your new domain, give it a ‘coming soon’ page telling search engines (and people) that a new site will be there shortly. This will give search engines something more substantial to crawl, and will also tell them that it is not a parked domain so they should pay closer attention to it.
2. Tell people you’re changing your domain.
Don’t treat changing your domain like a surprise party. A new domain should be something that your audience is expecting or, if done right, looking forward to. Some ways you can do this include:
- Tell people a new name is coming soon on your homepage.
- Post about the new name on your social media profiles.
- If you have an email newsletter, mention it there.
- Reach out to influencers in your field — you might even get some press because of it!
3. Create a sitemap of your old site.
Unless you have a single-serving site, chances are that your website has a lot of pages. A sitemap will provide a list of all of the pages that are on your website, which you will need in order to complete some of the next steps in this guide.
4. Do a content audit.
Now that you have your sitemap, go to every page on your website and find any mentions of your old domain. Make sure that your site’s text and hyperlinks are updated on the new site. This includes mentions within your site’s copy as well as links in navigational elements like your header and footer.
5. Set up 301 redirects.
If there’s one thing that search engines are sticklers for, it’s duplicate content. Google won’t automatically know that the new site belongs to the same person that owns the old one, so you need to give them a heads up. This is done through 301 redirects, which tell search engines that a link has permanently moved to another location. Your sitemap will be especially important here, which you will use to inform search engines what the new URL is for each and every page on your old site.
301 redirects are important for your visitors as well. People might click links from external sites, old emails or their bookmarks, which will not be updated to your new site. When someone heads over to one of these old links, a 301 redirect will forward them along to the page they were looking for under your new domain.
6. Update Google Webmaster.
Once you have set up your new site and your 301 redirects, the most important thing to do for SEO is to tell Google that you have changed your domain. This can be done using the Change of Address tool in Google Webmaster, whichwill allow Google to better index your new site while minimizing the impact that your old site’s rankings will have in search results. This will also help Google transfer all of the rankings from your old links to your new one, so you can keep all of the hard-earned credibility you’ve built for your website.
7. Update Google Analytics.
If you’re porting over your old Google Analytics code to your new site, you will still be tracking all of your site’s data; however, you will want to update your GA account so you know which insights are coming from the new domain as opposed to the old one. Things you will need to update include your domain URL, profile names and account name.Here’s a more detailed guide of where these can be found.
8. Keep the old site live for a little while.
Don’t use the day your old domain name expires as the launch day of your new one. You will need to allow for a transition period where people trying to access the old site will be able to discover your new one. Once your 301 redirects have been set up, there isn’t much harm in keeping the old one around. At the very least keep your old domain until it expires, but it might even be worthwhile to renew it for another year, especially if it won’t cost too much.
9. Create a new 404 error page for your old site.
A broken link might not sound too exciting, but there are a lot of ways to use a 404 error page creatively. In this scenario, you can make a new 404 page for your old site that tells people you’ve moved to a new location. This will teach lost visitors about your new domain quicker, because otherwise they would likely try to go to your old domain’s homepage in order to find what they are looking for.
10. Change your email addresses.
Once you start using your new domain name, you’ll probably want your email addresses to match that domain. More importantly, if you let your old domain name expire, then your email addresses that use that domain will stop working. If you use your domain for your email addresses, be sure to map them over to your new domain as well. During the transition period, you’ll also want to either forward emails to your new address or set up an autoreply informing people of your new inbox.
Know any more essential tips when changing your site’s domain? Please share in the comments below!