How to avoid losing traffic when moving to a new domain
I was fortunate enough to work with a website earlier this year that was in the process of moving to a new domain and the complexities involved. If you are about to rebrand or are thinking of moving to a new site at some point later this year, the following best describes how to move domain and minimize traffic loss during the process.
1. Upload a „coming soon“ page for the new domain
By uploading a page on your new domain with relevant keywords weeks before you officially move, you allow Google to crawl and index the site – You’re telling search engines that your new site is a real site and not just a parked site. This should usually be completed 6-8 weeks prior to the launch.
2- Map website with current URLs on old site and new site
One easy-to-manage process that allows you to track each page is to use a simple spreadsheet that shows all the old page URLs in one column and the corresponding new page URLs in a second column. Every page on your old site should have a corresponding new page on your new site and you can smoothen the process by taking control over the correlation process, instead of the resuting 404 errors.
3. Uploading new pages to your new site
The next step is to upload pages, images and files to your new site. Any changes in structure, folders and paths should be noted in the mapping of URL spreadsheet (Step 2).
4. Redirecting your old site to your new site
Once the content has been uploaded from your old site to your new site, we will need to place 301 redirects at page level, meaning that each page on your old site should be redirected to the URL of the new page on your new site. For example, myoldsite.com/folder to mynewsite.com/folder.
Start with part of the site first with a 301 redirect (best to use low traffic content) so you can review if the move went as planned. If not, then you will need to pause the move and find out what went wrong. 301 redirects are used as they pass on 90-95% of pagerank, values and links.
5. “Change Address” in Google Webmaster Tools and XML Sitemaps
After registering your new site in Google Webmaster Tools, you will need specify the change at site level under “change of address”. This way, you are explicitly telling Google that the transition has taken place for the entire site and not just for specific pages. In addition, new XML sitemaps will be need to be submitted. XML-sitemaps.com is a great tool for doing so.
6. Search Marketing Campaigns
Google Adwords will play an important role during the rebrand and support the transition to help minimize search traffic loss. When you move your new site might not entirely be indexed, meaning high ranking keywords may drop below the first page. Google Adwords is the fastest and most reliable method of being visible for keywords that may take longer to re-rank. Ensure you allocate a budget pre-rebranding move to cover the costs.
7. Inbound linking to your old site
Review the most important links (80% of traffic) using Google Analytics and Google webmaster tools and ask webmasters to point to your new site. These can be found under Traffic Sources and Referral in Google Analyitcs, and Inbound Links in Google Webmaster Tools. Once your new site has content, use a tool such as Xenu to make sure you don’t have any broken links.
In addition, you can contact directories that your old site was submitted to and update inbound links. However, do make sure these directories have not been any part of the recent Google updates. And although not as common practice as they once used to be, it might be worth submitting your new site to Yahoo, Business.com and DMOZ.
8. Notify your customer base
At least one-two weeks before the rebrand, you should notify customers and vendors through the website, email marketing and automated welcome emails. This allows enough time for customers to understand the move, and perhaps why the move is necessary. Being transparent is a great way to increase customer loyalty.
9. Post- rebranding your new site
Matt Cutts (of Google) suggests waiting until both Googlebot and your web visitors have found the new site before turning off your old site (if you turn it off at all). This process can take up to 6 months and it highly recommended to revisit Google Webmaster Tools after 180 days to re-confirm the change of address.
Changing domain is among the biggest updates you can do to a website. You will need to ensure thorough testing is done at each level and if you have any concerns, pause the move and analyze the issues. It’s better to pause and identify these issues than risk going live and then see your traffic disappear from search.
Have you moved to a new domain lately? Is there anything I may have missed that you found was an important step in the process? Suggestions are welome in the comments section below.