How To Change A Domain Name And Retain Rankings – SEO Checklist

As a top SEO agency in London, we are often asked how to change a domain name without significantly impacting SEO performance. Switching domains is a major step that can have a significant effect on search engine rankings for months or even years. However, by following the best practices in this guide, you can ensure a more seamless transition, preserve your domain authority, and quickly recover from any ranking drops that do occur.

Stage 1 – SEO Preparation Before The Domain Name Change

1. Age the New Domain

Create a simple “new website coming soon” page on the new domain, and get it indexed by Google by setting up a Search Console property for the new domain and requesting that the new holding page is indexed. Ideally, do this at least 6 months in advance, so Google starts recognising your new domain and it’s no longer a brand new domain by the time your full website is migrated to it. During this period, begin building links to the new domain, including changing the website address on major online directories such as your Google business listing on maps, your Apple Maps listing, Bing Maps listing, Yell.com business profile, etc.  Ensure your holding page directs people to the current website on the old domain for the time being, so that anyone visiting it from any of these referral link sources can still browse to your current live website on the old domain in just 1 click.

2. Inform Google via Search Console

Use the Change of Address tool in Search Console to tell Google about your new domain. This helps Google’s algorithms understand your move and minimise any temporary disruption to your Google search engine rankings.

Screenshot showing how the Google Search Console change of address tool works
The “Change of Address” tool in Google Search Console.

3. Comprehensive Site Audit

Conduct a thorough audit of your current website:

  • Crawl Your Site: Use tools like Screaming Frog to identify all the URLs on your site.
  • Backlink Inventory: Tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush help compile a list of all the backlinks pointing to your site.
  • Performance Metrics: Record your site’s current performance metrics (traffic, bounce rates, conversion rates) to use as a benchmark.
Screaming frog
Crawl of the UClimb site in Screaming frog

Stage 2 – Execution

1. Implement 301 Redirects

301 redirects ensure that anyone who visits your old site (including search engine crawl robots) gets seamlessly redirected to your new site. This helps the Search Engines find replacement URLs to match the old URLs more quickly, and helps to preserve (or transfer) any domain authority coming from links pointing to your old website pages.

  • Page-by-Page Redirects: Redirect each old URL to its new equivalent to preserve your search rankings.
  • Wild Card Redirects: For large sites, use wild card redirects to manage groups of URLs, for example ensuring everything under “/blog/” on the old site points to “/blog/” on the new one – the symbol for a regex wildcard redirect is the * (asterisk) symbol – if you are not familiar with regex redirects see this help article by WP Engine.

2. Update Your Sitemap

Create a new XML sitemap with your new URLs and submit it to Google via Search Console. If your website is WordPress, SEO plugins such as Yoast and Rankmath can help automate the sitemap generation. This helps search engines navigate your new domain efficiently. Also, update your robots.txt file to direct to the new sitemap location.

3. Update Internal Links

Make sure all internal links within your content and navigation point to your new domain, and update canonical tags to reflect the new URLs.

4. Update Structured Data

If your site uses structured data, ensure all domain references are updated. This maintains your rich snippets in search results.

5. Inform Your Audience

Announce the domain change through blog posts, newsletters, and social media. This transparency maintains trust, ensuring your audience continues to follow your content. Consider creating a FAQ section about the change to address common questions.

Stage 3 – Post-Launch Monitoring And Optimisation

1. Monitor Analytics

Keep a close eye on your analytics for any significant changes in traffic patterns:

  • Traffic Drops: Identify and address any significant drops.
  • Indexing Issues: Ensure all new URLs are indexed correctly.
  • 404 Errors: Fix any broken links.

2. Check Backlinks

Reach out to websites linking to your old domain and request updates to the new one.

3. Update Online Listings

Ensure all online directory listings, social media profiles, and other platforms reflect your new domain. Tools like Moz Local or Brightlocal can streamline this process.

4. Regularly Audit the New Site

Continue to audit your new site regularly:

  • Broken Links: Use tools like Broken Link Checker to fix any issues.
  • Redirect Chains: Avoid unnecessary redirect chains that can slow down your site.
  • Performance Metrics: Compare new site performance against pre-move benchmarks to gauge success.
Broken Link Checker
Broken link check on the UClimb site.  Only one of these links was broken at the time of crawling, which demonstrates how these tools can give false flag results at times.

 

UClimb website audit
Audit of the UClimb website in SE Ranking.

5. Patience and Persistence

Expect a temporary drop in rankings after changing your domain. Be patient and persistent with your SEO efforts. Over time, if you’ve followed best practices, your rankings will recover and potentially improve.

Conclusion

Changing your domain name is a significant move. By following these steps, you can ensure a smooth transition and maintain your SEO performance. Proper planning and execution help preserve your hard-earned search rankings.

Key Steps Recap:

  • Preparation: Age the new domain, inform Google, and conduct a site audit.
  • Execution: Implement 301 redirects, update sitemap and internal links, update structured data, and inform your audience.
  • Post-Launch: Monitor analytics, update backlinks and online listings, and conduct regular site audits.

Consult resources from SEO experts like Yoast, SEMrush, and Moz for additional guidance. Following these guidelines will help you change your domain name confidently while retaining your SEO rankings and ensuring continued online success.

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