There are a variety of reasons to move domain, maybe you’re rebranding, merging or looking to move TLD. Either way, once you’ve decided that you’re going to move, there are some things to be wary of to ensure you’re not going to cause any long-term SEO damage.

Can you move domain without losing SEO?

In short, yes of course you can change your domain without losing ranking in the SERPs. It takes time to pre-plan and strategise, but it’s worth doing for a seamless crossover. Before you start thinking about moving domains, you need to understand what makes that domain rank, we’ll briefly discuss some of the ranking factors of domains and how we can transfer those over to the new domain.

Link Juice

While there’s no definitive answer as to how Google handles 301’s in terms of “Link Juice”, from our experience, the more relevant the 301, the more juice is passed. When we redirect to a new domain and each redirect is done responsibly, then the majority, if not all of the link juice should be passed.

Speed

I can’t stress how important speed is when we talk about SEO. With that in mind, when you move domain you need to make sure that the speed of the new site is as fast if not faster to ensure you maintain ranking positions in the SERPs.

How to change domains without losing traffic

Once you’ve gone through the new domain registration and you’re ready move, it’s time to put a plan in place.

Timing

Timing is everything! We built out a site for a client that had some fantastic organic search terms. After putting the correct redirects in place and launching the site, they asked us to move domain. It was really important that we didn’t move on this straight away, we had just launched a new site with a brand new sitemap and bunch of 301 redirects. It was decided to keep the current domain for a minimum of 6 months before moving the domain over.

Pre-Planning

As with everything in marketing, a well thought-out plan with fail-safes is essential to ensure disruptions to business is minimal. Every domain move is different and as such, a unique strategy should be designed before moving. You should think about long term and short term goals and create a strategy based around those.

Submission

You don’t want to keep the new domain live for too long before migrating the old domain over. Before you transfer it over, it could technically be classed as duplicate content. Register the old and new domain with Google Webmaster Tools (and Bing Webmaster Tools too). Redirect the old domain to the new domain (using the pre-planned 301s). You’ll need to re-submit the old domains sitemap with Google and Bing, this will make the search engines crawl the site and see the 301s.

After all redirects are in place and the visitors will only be able to see the new domain, you’ll need to submit your “Change of Address” to Google and Bing. This lets the search engines know that you’ve moved permanently and to treat the new domain as if it’s the old one.

Monitor

We use software like SEMRush to monitor both old and new domains to make sure that everything is working correctly and traffic and visibility is crossing over. It’s also important to pay attention to the Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools and fix any errors that may appear in there. If you follow all these steps you should see a cross-over in traffic and visibility within the SERPs with minimal disruption.

Real World Example

We recently carried out a full domain transfer for a site that was ranking extremely well for a competitive keyword set. This was part of a re-branding exercise and was complicated further by acquiring 3 other domains to merge together. We put together a well-thought out plan and broke the transfer into 3 phases.

Phase 1 – Merge Acquired Domains

The 3 other domains that were acquired didn’t have a massive amount of ranking power, but they had “local niche” ranking power. We created subdirectories for each location on the original domain, and redirected appropriately. This allowed the main domain to ranking locally in each niche and gave the main domain a small boost in authority.

Phase 2 – Domain Migration

We waited another 6 months to make sure that the 301s of the merged domains had settled in. We followed the steps outlined above and migrated the domain, submitted our changes to Google and tested, tested, tested.

Phase 3 – Domain Monitoring

After every big move, we monitor all the domains thoroughly (including the merged acquired domains). We’re on the look out for pages that are not ranking, pages that are ranking but 404 and any anomalies that shouldn’t be happening. On this occasion, there were no errors to fix and it created a very symmetrical graph (if you’re graph-nerd, like me, this will make you happy!).

How to Migrate domain names - SEO

Summary

Done well, with a well thought-out plan, there is no reason why you can’t move domains without losing traffic. In the real world example above, we actually saw an uptick in average position and visibility across all their targeted keywords. The that Google has handled this domain migration ensured that there was no traffic loss, it was either showing the old domain and redirecting you or showing the new domain.  If you’re looking at one of the new TLD’s and you’re worried about moving over, or you’ve acquired a competitor and want to amalgamate both domains, then get in touch.

AUTHOR

Will Lynch

Will is Head of Marketing at ELS Media. He can be found fixing Google penalties, optimising eCommerce sites and creating automated email marketing strategies.