So you’ve outgrown your domain name and decided to move onto something new. It could be that the old domain is no longer reflective of your brand, your company has changed its name, or you’ve decided to adopt one of the new top-level domains being offered like .bank .tech or .baby. In any case, the time has come and you’re moving on.
Just like in the real world, moving online is not as simple as just showing up at your new place. If you just up and move without taking the proper steps, you’re going to lose all the authority you had for any keywords you were previously ranked for on search engines. You wouldn’t move into a new house with getting your mail forwarded and letting your crazy cousins know your new address, would you? Okay maybe not that second one. In any case, follow these steps to make your move as painless as possible.
Packing up your old site
There are several changes you’ll want to make on your old website before your new site goes live. There are two types of changes you want to make: those that benefit visitors, and those that benefit search engine bots.
To benefit any visitors who may have your site bookmarked, or are accustomed to typing in the URL directly, you’ll want to set up 301 (permanent) redirects to the new corresponding URLs. For example, you will want to have sitename.com/pages/loans_index1.aspx redirect to newsite.tech/auto_loans/low_interest_loans.aspx and not just the new home page. If a page on your old site has no direct corresponding page on the new site, let it go to your home page or a customized 404 page which has a link to the new site. The 404 page will let the visitor know about the new site, and will let bots know that the page is no longer relevant. Also, just like moving out of an old house, you’ll want to step back and think about all the memories you made on your old website. We sure had some good times.
Prepping the new site for move-in
There are two things you’ll want to make sure are set up on the new site in order for it to be properly indexed: a robots.txt file as well as an XML sitemap. The robots.txt file should initially allow all crawling activity, minus pages or directories you absolutely know you want to block such as your CMS login directory. You can always go in later and update your robots.txt to block specific content, but at the outset you just want to let as many pages as possible be crawled. You also want to have an XML sitemap that includes all URLs of your new site that should be crawled. Many newer CMS’s have an automatic XML sitemap as an option – which is great so it can always keep up with your site updates. Including both the old and the new will indicate to the bots that you’ve moved to the new site, since the old URLs are now redirecting.
You’ll also want to claim your new domain in Google and Bing’s Webmaster Tools. Once you do, you’ll be able to see if there are any penalties against your new domain, as well as set up some advanced settings like geo-targeting and URL parameters. Webmaster Tools even has an option to let Google and Bing know you’ve moved from one site to another, which is a very helpful part of the process, but you’ll want to take all the steps listed so that your indexing carries over as quickly as possible.
When your site goes live, you will want to ensure you are properly pointing all of your domains to your new domain. You want to ensure you are using 301 (permanent) redirects for each domain and each domain variation (e.g., www.domain.com, http://www.domain.com, https://www.domain.com, domain.com). Next you will want to submit your site to be reindexed in your Webmaster accounts. Be sure you tell Google and Bing which domain is preferred and they will get on the bandwagon pretty quickly from there. Then, you should keep a close eye on those Webmaster accounts so you can be alerted to any crawling errors or pages being accessed that shouldn’t. You can also monitor your index status for your important keywords to ensure that the steps you’ve taken to maintain relevance are working.
Enjoy your new home
Now that you’re all moved in, you’ll want to get the word out that you’ve got a new place. Keep in mind that it could take days or weeks to get back to where you were indexing organically, so you’ll want to look for other channels to drive traffic in the meantime. Promoted posts on Facebook are a great way to generate chatter, as well as visits to your website. You’ll want to pay attention to visitor comments, especially if the domain change is timed with a new website design. A paid search campaign is another great way to show up for your keywords while the new site regains relevance, and can continue to run in conjunction with your SEO strategy. You’ll also want to make sure all your branding and advertising reflects the new domain.
Sounds easy, right?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll put the word out to all your friends that you need help moving. Unlike moving into a house, you’ve got a reliable friend in ZAG Interactive who can help with the heavy lifting. We don’t work for beer and pizza, but we can definitely come to an arrangement. Whether you’re looking to rebuild your website, move to a new domain, market your site to new visitors, or all of the above, shoot us a message and we’ll develop a strategy you’ll love.