how to protect your rankings when moving your website to a new domain nameIf you’ve been running a website for a while and you have invested a lot of work into building your site’s SEO ranking, then your web page would mean everything to you.

Moreover, it can be scary if you have to change your domain and move to a new address on the Internet. You’d naturally worry that the effort which drained your energy and creativity, could be lost in the process.

But take a deep breath because there’s really not much to worry about if you follow these practical guidelines. Google is also aware that digital managers and CEOs would occasionally need to change their domains. So they’ve made the transition a relatively easy and simple process, in order for you to maintain your SEO ranking and take the right steps.

Why you may want to change your domain name…

But first, why would anyone want to change their domain name? If you can afford it, it’s always better to stick with your current domain. But there are some situations that could force you to change your web address because it is absolutely necessary in the best interest of your business and brand.

  • A more appealing domain is now available: Do you remember when you wanted to register your domain and you created a list of your wanted web address, but your ‘perfect’ domain name was already taken? Perhaps it was available, but not with the more appealing and credible .com TLD. So, after unsuccessfully trying out several combinations, you decided to settle for a less appealing option. Now, imagine that domain name is available today. You definitely would not want to pass up the chance to grab it before it becomes unavailable again. Would you?
  • Your brand name has changed and you need to reflect this in your web address: This is just business logic. You certainly want to maintain a consistent brand name- offline and online.
  • You want to amalgamate several domains into one: You probably own several domains that deliver similar content, serve nearly the same audience or share other common elements, and you want to amalgamate them into a single domain.
  • You simply got bored with your domain and want to change it: Sometimes brands change names, logos, key messages and other elements as part of their general PR strategy. Perhaps you think that your domain needs a name rebranding; or that it needs some creativity to give it a desired brand effect.

Steps to protecting your rankings while changing your web address

  • Copy your current website and all content to your new web address

So you know you’d certainly need to redirect content and traffic to your new site, but before you take that plunge, you need to duplicate all of it and paste it on your new website. There’s a web tool that helps you to achieve this step simply and effortlessly.

You may be able to manually migrate your website and content, but the Duplicator plugin automates this process without hassle. It also includes an option to update all of your current URLs to your new web address.

  • Use a ‘301 Redirect’ to re-route your old site to the new one

Now, it gets tricky. You need the 301redirect tool to readdress people and search engines from your old site to your new site. 301 redirect informs browsers and search engines that there has been a change of address, so that they can re-route the same high-value links to your new page as your old web address.

To execute a 301 redirect, you’d need to access your .htaccess file located at the root folder of your website, using an FTP programme. Download the file, duplicate it and keep the original as backup in the event anything goes wrong with the redirects.

  • Inform Google of your change of domain

Now that traffic to your old domain is being rechanneled to your new domain name, you should formally notify Google of the change. Although Google would eventually figure that out on its own, you’d make the process easier and quicker, and ensure that you retain your SEO ranking by filling out their official form.

Simply go to Google Search Console, verify your old domain (if you haven’t done that already), then do same for your new site. After you’ve verified both sites, fill out the Change of Address form available when you click on the gear icon on the top right hand corner of the dashboard for your old web address.

  • Submit a new sitemap

The next step is to change your site map by submitting a new one to Google. That is also done on Google Search Console, after you’ve created an XML sitemap for the new domain. Click ‘Crawl,’ then ‘Sitemaps,’ and next ‘Add/Test Sitemap.’

  • Keep track of the Google Search Console for any issues

Since you’ve just made some major changes to your website, it’s a good idea to monitor the Google Search Console for any indexing errors that may occur. Regularly check Google reports and messages inside the Search Console and ensure that your new site is getting properly indexed and crawled correctly.

  • Update as many inbound links as you can

Now is a good time to shift focus to the sites linking to you and request that they update the links to your new web address. It looks like a herculean task to reach out to nearly everyone on this list, but the more, the merrier.

Your 301 redirect tweaks can get a good part of this job done, but it certainly looks neater and more structured when users can reach your new domain directly when they click on a link. And don’t forget to update your links on other web platforms that you have your content and brand presence, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and so on.

  • Let your web user know that you have moved address as well

This is also very important even though it does not have a direct effect on your SEO ranking. Letting your regular visitors and social media community know that you’ve changed web address helps to eliminate unnecessary confusion and ensures that they can locate the right URL in the future.

How do you inform your site users and web community? You could write a post explaining the switch of domain and/or create a 404 error page on your old site, so that users would know that you have moved addresses and become familiar with the new web address.

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