Let’s set the scenario: You set-up a website a long time ago and at the time were only able to acquire a domain ending in .xyz; it’s been a year now and your website is actually doing really well. You’ve gained loads of authority from various mentions online and have put your heart and soul into the site.
Now you’ve noticed that the .com version has suddenly become available and you decide to buy it. Now, what do you do? Most people end up leaving their old domain behind and starting from scratch on their new one, and with that they leave all the hard work they’ve done on the previous site behind also. To prevent this, you should always perform a proper migration to transfer the SEO authority.
This article will detail some of the basic steps that are necessary to take when making this migration. This is usually carried out for rebranding purposes and it’s important to note that changes to your top-level domain (TLD) will NOT make any impact on your potential rankings.
It’s also important to note that no two websites are the same and no two migrations will be the same, so whilst this guide will give you a good idea of how to a migration should be done we always recommend consulting SEO experts before making this sort of move.
First you need to understand what each TLD means:
gTLD (generic top level domain) – These are domains that end in .com or .org
ccTLD (country code top level domain) – These are country relative, e.g. for Germany this would be .de – see full list here.
sTLD (sponsored top level domain) – These are domains which represent a community or organisation as is managed by the IANA
Again, as mentioned above the TLD is not taken in as a ranking factor and will not make an impact to rankings apart from cases where it’s updated to a ccTLD where it may be favoured due to its geo targeting.
Step 1 – Prepare Your New Website
When migrating to your new site you want to make sure you have something to migrate to. Ensure that you have moved all of the content from your old site to your new one and tested it thoroughly for any issues, bugs or missing content. You can do this on your new domain but be sure to block the new site via robots.txt (see example below) to prevent it from being crawled until ready. Alternatively, you can always test on a development server that is password protected, noindexed and blocked via robots.txt which you can push when ready.
Step 2 – Prepare Your Old Site
Crawl your old site using a tool such as Screaming Frog to get a list of all current URLs and prepare to map them to the new location. This will be important later on when setting up the 301 redirects to your new pages.
Step 3 – Prepare Tracking
Set-up Google Analytics tracking on your new site, verify the new site on Google Search Console and add in any other tracking script that you require to ensure that when you site goes live you are minimising the loss of data caused by the migration.
Step 4 – Redirect
This part is crucial to get right. First, I would add rel=canonical tags to all the old pages pointing to the new domain. Then, depending on your set up, you can implement a 301 domain redirect at the DNS or htaccess level, or handle URLs separately. This entirely depends on the size of your site and we would highly recommend getting an experts opinion on this if you aren’t experienced in doing this.
If you are successful in setting up the 301 redirect, the next step is to notify Google of the change. You can do this through the Change of Address option within search console.
Step 5 – Update Your Links
– Sitemap links
– Internal links
– Email signatures
– Social media
– Directory listings
Step 6 – Let the World Know
– Resubmit sitemaps on both domains
– Request robots.txt review in GSC
– Fetch and Render, and request indexing for home page and all links pointing from it
– Manual resubmission to Google
– Push out announcements on other channels to start driving traffic to the new domain
Step 7 – Links
– Contact websites which currently link to your site and request an update to the URL
– Start link building practices for the new URL to help drive new authority
Step 8 – Test, Monitor and Look for Issues!
No migration is bound to be perfect. There may have been things that were missed initially that need to be fixed post event. To ensure that you are noticing and fixing any of these issues as soon as possible ensure that you are doing both a manual check on the site to check for any anomalies as well as using the wealth of SEO tools out there to check for things like:
– Remaining 301 redirects from old domain internally
– Crawl errors or 404 pages
It’s important to remember that a domain change is massive and getting it wrong could potentially harm your visibility, which is not easy to recover from and could end up costing you a large amount of money.
If you are planning a move like this and would like our help or advice, feel free to contact us!