As a business grows and evolves, it might outgrow its domain name. It could be because of the need to rebrand, or you may want to update the domain name for SEO purposes as well to a shorter and more precise one.
Although it might look uncomplicated, changing a domain name for SEO might result in dire consequences to the business if not done right. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and site performance are crucial for many businesses, so it’s understandable that most marketers would worry about how changing a website URL will affect their rankings. For example, it might have taken a lot of time and effort to build a solid stack of high-quality links that could all go down the drain if anything goes wrong.
Fortunately, there are ways to change your domain names for SEO without affecting your website’s rankings and authority. This article discusses 8 steps marketers can follow to quickly and effectively switch their domains without any lasting effects on their site’s visibility.
Common Reasons for Changing Websites Domain Names For SEO
For any company, choosing a brand or domain name for SEO purposes is one of the most important (if not the most important) decisions they make for their business. But while they might want to pick a name that lasts a lifetime, it’s not always the case.
Here are some of the key reasons why brands might need to switch their domains:
- Growth: In some cases, a business can outgrow its domain name. For example, if the domain name is too niche and the business has expanded into other areas, there might be a need to change the name to accommodate the growth.
- Copyright issues: Copyright issues can seriously affect a brand’s reputation. So if a business discovers that the name infringes on other people’s intellectual properties, it only makes sense to change it.
- Rebranding: Sometimes, a business might need to rebrand to keep up with the market competition or to upgrade the brand’s identity. One of the easiest ways to rebrand is to change their domain names to reflect their new identities.
- The need to change to a shorter or simpler domain name: If the domain name is long and cumbersome, a business might want to change to a shorter and punchier name that is more memorable.
- Relocation. If the original domain has a location attached to it, a business might need to modify its domain name for SEO purposes if they want to relocate to a different region.
Risks Associated With Changing Domain Names for SEO
Typically, search engines have already indexed the pages available on your existing domain. Suddenly switching to a new domain name will inevitably confuse search engines, affecting your SEO performance and, ultimately, your site authority.
This loss can seriously impact a business’s online presence, which can also affect its revenues. This is because when your site is no longer visible online, new organic visitors will not find it and will end up with the competitors.
But fortunately, marketers can safely switch to a new domain without affecting their rankings. They can do this by following steps that keep the search engines, and visitors informed about the changes.
How To Switch Domain Names Without Harming SEO
Step 1: Select a Name With Lasting Power
The idea is to choose domain names for SEO that will last forever. The priority is to find a URL with a reasonable Top-Level Domain (TLD). Additionally, it helps to have a domain name that’s simple and precise and easy to spell, pronounce, and type.
Good and lasting domain names for SEO also offer flexibility. It’s not too niched down and allows a brand to grow and expand naturally without needing to change and rebrand again. A new domain name will cost you around $10-$15 per year.
Step 2: Do Your Due Diligence – Ensure That Your New URL Has a Clean Past
This step is very critical for brands that are purchasing already existing domains. It doesn’t apply to brands who register a new URL.
If you purchase a domain from an auction or someone else, it’s crucial to ensure that you do your due diligence not to carry a name with a tainted past. For instance, switching to a domain that promotes spammy and malicious content will negatively affect your SEO score. The search engine will likely view your marketing efforts as malicious, making ranking almost impossible.
Thankfully marketers and business owners can use tools such as Ahrefs Backlink Checker and archive.org to check the quality of the domain names for SEO before they purchase them.
Step 3: Audit Existing Backlinks and Search Performance
Before switching to the new URL, it’s always a good idea to check your current status on the search engine rankings. This is crucial for future comparisons.
It’s advisable to take the time to do a thorough audit of all the places where the old URL appears online. You can use the Google Search Console (GSC) tool to create your website’s off-page SEO profile. The GSC shows you a ton of information about your existing domain, including how many sites link back to the existing pages, how your domain is performing in search results, and how the search engine is indexing your site.
This step is crucial because it will provide the data necessary to tell marketers and business owners how hard the switch will hit their online marketing efforts.
Step 4: Migrate to the New Domain
Once the new domain is ready, and the site audits are complete, it’s time to move your business to its new home. The complexity of the process varies, and you might need to coordinate with your domain registrar or your hosting provider.
For instance, if the old and new domains use different hosting providers, you will need to export the website files from the old hosting servers to the new host servers. But if they share the same provider, the process is much more straightforward.
Usually, this process doesn’t require the help of a professional web developer. However, if you’re worried about getting things right, don’t hesitate to hire a developer with SEO and web marketing skills.
Step 5: Set Up Redirects
Once the site is moved to the new URL, it’s important to set up permanent (301) redirects to send Google bots and your website visitors to your new URL. This reduces broken links that could damage your SEO and negatively affect your business.
Redirects help Google understand that your site has permanently migrated to a new URL and that it should update its index accordingly. Although it might take a while to reflect, any SEO signal will slowly be transferred to the new site location.
If you’re using WordPress, the quickest way is to set up redirects with a WordPress plugin, such as Redirection. However, you can also use other methods if you’re comfortable accessing your website’s core files.
Step 6: Update Online SEO Tools & Search Console
After you move your site to the new URL, you need to update your online SEO tools. For example, you need to verify your new domain on your GSC to continue monitoring the site’s performance like normal.
Additionally, update the site’s Google Analytics account to reflect the new website’s location. Repeat this process for all other SEO tools vital for your website analytics.
This is also a good time to revisit the list created during the initial site audit (Step 2) and update the domain name of your new website. Also, update all previous mentions of your old name on all your official documents. It might mean changing your email address and email destination for all your contact forms on the website.
You might also want to change the name on:
- Google My Business listing
- Your email signature
- Social media profiles
- Business cards
- Ad campaigns
- Other online accounts
Step 7: Testing, Testing, Testing
It can be hard to tell if something is broken without testing it, so it’s essential to test and retest everything to ensure it’s working.
Here are a few things that you should test for at least a few days:
- Check that Google Analytics (GA) is properly tracking metrics on the new domain in real time. You can do this by frequently loading the site on a private tab and checking if these visits are recorded. If there is no record, something is broken and must be fixed.
- GA also shows if there are any 404 pages on the new site. Under the All Pages tab, check for any “Page Not Found” titles under Site Content. If there are some, it means there is a problem with the redirect.
- GSC is also important for checking the health of the newly redirected site. Typically, it sends an email if there is a problem with any of the pages, but it also helps to monitor it constantly for changes in the metrics. For example, it shows page errors on the coverage report if any of the pages goes down for some reason.
Other useful tools for testing a newly migrated site’s performance are:
- PageSpeed Insights (to monitor the performance of the site)
- Uptime Robot (to monitor that the sites stay up)
Step 8: Try and Reclaim As Many Links As Possible
Some links will not update automatically, so try to reach out to the sites linking to your old domain and request them to link to your new site. This process is popularly known as link reclamation.
Although it might be time-consuming, it can be helpful for your website as a link directly to your website is more effective than a link through a redirect. It measures this trust in your new URL to search engines, so every link reclaimed plays a vital role in maintaining your site’s authority.
Final Thoughts: The Importance of Choosing the Right Domain Names for SEO
Changing domain names for SEO is sometimes inevitable. It might be necessary to help grow your business and your revenue. However, it can sometimes come with various complications. For instance, it can cause severe and irrecoverable damage to your SEO rankings and site authority.
However, if you follow the right process, you can switch to the much-needed new domain name with minimal SEO damage to your site. By following the above steps, a business can reduce the damage and confidently rebrand – a delicate operation that might be critical to a business’s online exposure.
Will Changing the Domain Affect SEO?
Unfortunately, yes. Changing to a new domain changes every page’s URL, and Google will need to recrawl, re-evaluate and re-index the pages afresh. It can affect your ranking and site authority significantly. However, by following the best practices discussed in this article, you can change your URL and rebrand without causing too much damage to the site’s ranking.
Does Changing to a Shorter Domain Help With SEO?
Probably not. The belief that a shorter URL is beneficial for SEO is a myth. However, shorter domain names for SEO come with a variety of other benefits. For instance, it makes it easier for users to pronounce and remember it, plus search for the URL on the search engines. It also makes it easier for them to use it seamlessly in their conversations, which can be a good way to market a brand through word-of-mouth.
How Do I Change to a New URL Without Losing SEO?
Following these steps can help brands change their domain names for SEO without losing their site authority:
- Use a name with lasting power.
- If buying a new URL, ensure that it’s clean.
- Keep track of all stats on the existing and new URLs.
- Carefully migrate your site to the new URL.
- Set up permanent (301) redirects.
- Update all your online SEO tools with the new domain name.
- Test and retest the new domain.
- Reclaim as many backlinks as possible.
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full-time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.