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How to Move a Domain without Losing Its SEO Value

| Posted in category Crawling duplicate content Google Indexation Search Engine Optimization Website Usability

Setting up a new website, we all hope that it is built once and for all. However, there may come a time when one has to move their domain.

There are lots of reasons why the procedure may be necessary. That can be a change of a domain name as the result of a rebranding campaign, merging domains after one company takes over another, etc.      

Whatever reasons for moving a domain are, it's important to undertake the process wisely and carefully. Otherwise, you are running a risk of losing all the authority you have been building for your initial website.     

This guide will teach you how to:    

  • choose a domain to move to;
  • prepare your current domain for the transfer;
  • actually move a domain;
  • redirect SEO value to a new domain;
  • organize the structure of a new domain;
  • monitor a new domain after migration.

Choosing a Domain to Move to

Some webmasters choose to buy a brand-new domain and build its authority from scratch. Others opt to buy domains that have already been in use.

The main reason for buying a second-hand domain is that it can be easier (and faster) to promote. You can buy such a domain via specialized services (e.g. GoDaddy, Flippa, DigitalPoint, Domain Name Aftermarket) or directly from previous owners (e.g. via contact forms).

However, prior to getting a used domain, you should carefully examine its history. Otherwise, you can unexpectedly run into issues.

Note that lots of second-hand domains may have been involved into illegitimate or spammy activities and have bad reputation with Google. So you need to run a detailed check of such a domain that has been around for a while before purchasing it.

To ensure that the deal is risk-free, here is a quick checklist to follow:

1. Check domain's relevance and reputation.

You can do that with the service called Wayback Machine. It is a historical archive that maintains snapshots of the entire webpage history. The service shows how a webpage and its content looked like at some point in the past. So, you will easily check if a domain was scammed and find out what type of content was hosted under its name.

This step is crucially important as it lets you avoid unpleasant surprises. Say, the previous domain owner was selling low-quality products – hence, if you purchase their domain, you will have to deal with his irritated customers.

Also, the previous owner may have had inappropriate, explicit content or content that is not relevant to your website category.

2. Check domain's backlinks and the quality they hold.

This is another important procedure that should be undertaken prior to purchasing a used domain. The point is that if a domain has nothing but spammy backlinks, that irreparably damages its reputation with search engines.

To check website inbound links, use SEO SpyGlass – the software will show you all domain backlinks and analyze them against a variety of important SEO factors, so you can estimate whether a domain is worth your investment.

In this video Mike Friedman shows how he uses SEO SpyGlass to see if a GoDaddy domain worth buying.

3. Check how stable domain traffic has been overtime.

With the help of SEMRush you can see domain’s traffic history and check whether there were some suspicious traffic drops. If they were, check whether they coincide with the dates when Google updated its algos:

  •   Panda – first introduced in February 23rd, 2011
  •   Penguin – first introduced in April 24th, 2012
  •   Hummingbird – first introduced in October, 2013

If that's not the case, most likely the previous owner utilized some forbidden SEO techniques that resulted in a website penalty.

When buying a second-hand domain, beware of its history! If a previous owner practiced shady SEO activities and created a lot of negative sentiment, you will inherit the domain's bad reputation together with the purchase. Always run a detailed analysis of the used domains to be on the safe side!

 

Domain Transfer

Transferring a domain is multi-step but rather easy procedure. This part of the article will teach you how to organize the process of domain migration and minimize all potential SEO risks.

Basically, the process consists of 3 stages: preparation, execution and monitoring.

Stage 1: Preparing an Old Domain for Migration

At this stage we will be gathering info about your old domain and figuring out what will be changed for a new one.

1. First, you need to create an .xml sitemap (in case you already have it on your site, skip this step). When a sitemap is created, submit it to Google or Bing Webmaster Tools. This will help you evaluate all your pages and decide which will remain the same, which need to be changed, and which you need to get rid of.

2. The next step is gathering ranking information and traffic stats (top 10 ranking pages, best ranking keywords, average monthly organic and referral traffic). You will need this data later, when the procedure of the transfer is over. By comparing these stats, you will see how your website performance has changed. Rank Tracker will be of great help in this task.

3. Finally, you need to check links that point to your old domain. Collect a maximally complete backlink profile of your old site (you may use SEO SpyGlass for that) and put all the fetched data into a summary table.

When done, sort out the links that have little or no SEO value and disavow them. As for valuable links, you should keep them, as they may work well for your new domain.

Ideally, you need to contact webmasters of each linking site and ask them to update links. If that is not possible, redirect all pages with valuable incoming links to a new domain – that can be done with the help of 301 redirect. Thus, SEO value of your old domain backlinks will pass to a new site. 

Stage 2: Executing Domain Transfer

First, you should register your new domain in Google Webmaster Tools. The procedure is pretty easy and won’t take more than 10 minutes.

Then, block a new domain from crawling by search engines. Blockage can be done by creating robots.txt files, applying robots meta tags or by requiring authentication.

That is needed to ensure that search engines will not be able to crawl your site while you are transferring and making changes.

When done, you can start moving your site to a new domain.

1. In case you are going to change your site structure, document each and every redirect – thus you will get a better control over all old and new pages and preserve the maximum of link juice. And as mentioned before, all pages that have good direct and referral traffic should be redirected to their analogues on a new domain with the help of 301 redirect.

2. Create a new robots.txt file that will set the same indexation rules as the one on the old domain. You need to make sure that the pages that were hidden from search engines’ crawlers on your old site will be inaccessible on a new domain as well.

Also, note that if some of your old site pages were blocked with the help of robots meta tags, the analogue blockage should be applied on a new domain.

3. Now it's time to run a complete SEO audit of a transferred website. Website Auditor will help you check your new site for broken links, HTML code errors, missing titles, 404 and other server response code errors. If such are detected, fix them.

4. Once you have checked that all content, URLs and links, you can create an .xml sitemap for your new domain and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools.

5. The final steps are disabling the blockage (so that search engines could access your new site, crawl and index it) and informing Google that you have moved.

Stage 3: Monitoring the Results of Domain Transfer

When you executed the transfer of your site to a new domain, it’s time to observe and monitor the migration.

First, check your new domain’s ranks and organic traffic. Determine which keywords are driving visitors and which ones don't work well. Compare the numbers with the stats you collected for your old domain. This will help you figure out what you are doing wrong and what are the underperforming site areas that need your attention.

Next, run verification of your site’s backlinks to check if they point to your new domain. If some links still point to your old domain, contact these sites and ask them to update the link info.

And remember! After the migration is completed, you should periodically audit your new domain, monitor how its pages are getting indexed, check domain’s traffic and rankings!  

* * * * *

When all the mentioned above is done, you can rest assured to remove the old domain and its database. Now you have a completely new site with the same content but a new domain name. Congratulations!

Bottom-line

The process of moving may be quite a long road. But if you do everything the right way, the transition process will be seamless and invisible to website visitors. And this guide will help you streamline the whole procedure and make it easier and better organized.

By the way, have you ever moved your site to another domain? Was it a positive or negative experience? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the topic in the comments.

 

Image credits: Nuno e Catarina (via Flickr), iam_sterdam (via Flickr).



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