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A Comprehensive Guide to Domain Changes

Rebranding & The SEO Implications of Relocating Your Website

April 28, 2023 | Posted in: Search | Web Design

Any seasoned SEO professional will tell you that changing your domain name will have purely negative SEO consequences. Even if you switch to a new name that includes keywords, moving your website off the location Google has known it to live will absolutely cause a drop in rankings and traffic. The duration of that drop depends on how well your SEO Strategist and Webmaster orchestrate the move. Even switching from a “WWW” address to a “non-WWW” address will rock the foundation of your SEO campaign and can have lasting effects if performed improperly. Despite the risk, there are times when a migration is necessary and specific steps must be taken to minimize the duration of that performance drop.

Evaluating Risk and Reward of a Domain Change

Do You Really Need to Change Domains?

What pops up in your mind when you think of your favorite brands? Think about Pepsi or Instagram, Starbucks or Apple. You’re picturing a logo, right? Not the domain name. When it comes to redefining a brand, it’s important to take note of the impact that a well-designed logo, color scheme, font choice, and imagery can have. The catchiness of your actual web address might not be as important as you initially would think. The majority of your traffic will come from search results so very few people will ever type it in. If there is any way you can live with your existing domain, our recommendation is to do that.

Picture a rebrand within the same “dot com” address: Different iconography and color combinations can evoke very different emotions and associations. Choose a fresh new color scheme that aligns with your brand message and values. Develop a logo that will work well in color as well as B&W, on light and dark backgrounds. Select different imagery or schedule a photoshoot to replace any stock photography currently in use. It’s amazing how different your existing website can feel without actually rebuilding or migrating it.

What Else is Connected to Your Domain?

Even if you’re okay with taking a hit to your SEO rankings, before you make the switch you will need to plan for anything else attached to your existing domain name. Do you have branded email addresses? Moving those might be more work than you realize. Google Workspace emails for example can be given a new “alias” but the primary domain cannot be changed without starting an entirely new business account. All of your employees would need to log into a new account and you’d be on the hook to either pay for two accounts or lose all historical email.

Any third party tools such a point-of-sale will likely have downtime if they are switched over and any tools that you or your team log into will need to be updated. Platforms like BILL or PayPal are resistant to allowing verified users to change their email addresses so you might need to spend a few hours switching every user account over. Authentication apps are also tied to specific emails and will not work properly if they are not reconfigured. Programming APIs might use absolute paths and connections can break during a migration.

I Still Want to Change My Domain Name…

If changing domains is important enough to outweigh the issues outlined above, doing so in the correct way will minimize the negative impacts and shorten the time it takes to recover from the switch.


Step 1: Launch an Identical Copy of Your Website on The New Domain

It may be tempting to make the move to a new domain at the same time you launch a totally rebuilt website, but doing so would increase the algorithmic chaos. Give Googlebot one thing to digest at a time. Move your old website to the new domain with absolutely no changes to page content or site architecture.


Step 2: Redirect the Old Domain URLs 1:1 to the New Domain

Put in place a 301 redirect from each individual page on the old site to the same URL on your new website. Do not redirect all traffic onto the new homepage! The goal is to show Google that the very same webpages now live at a new location. Telling them that oldsite.com/about has been moved to newsite.com will break that continuity.


Step 3: Notify Google Search Console About The Switch

Google has a Change of Address Tool that can be utilized by anyone who has verified access to both the old and new domain names within Google Search Console. The first two steps need to be completed before this process can be completed, but submitting a formal notification through the tool is the best way to prevent/reduce an irreparable loss of your site’s clout and credibility.


Step 4: Change Your Google Business Profile URL

Log into your Google Maps listing (officially called a “Google Business Profile”) and change your website URL to the homepage of your new domain name. Also update the “booking link” or “schedule link” to the same locations on the new domain.


Step 5: Update All Other Profiles Around the Web

Social media profiles, directories like Yelp, local chamber of commerce profiles, Better Business Bureau, etc. All of them need to be updated to your new website address before your SEO results can fully recover.


Step 6: Wait a Full Crawl Cycle Before Making Website Changes

Before modifying anything on your relocated website, it is important to wait for Googlebot to find all of the new page locations and flush all of your old domain’s URLs out of search results. This can take a few weeks but once the old domain is unable to be found in search results, you can safely resume modifying your website. Changing subpage URLs is not advisable but can be done at this time using SEO best practices when absolutely necessary.

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