Who wakes up and changes their domain name in the first place?
Perhaps someone who’s discovered a competitive advantage in the act. Anyways, if you fall in this category, you don’t need to lose sleep over the matter. It’s possible to change domain names without hurting your site’s SEO.
How can you go about that?
Well, it’s fairly simple. You will learn all about it in this guide.
We’ll cover topics such as the reasons to change your domain name, how to set up a 301 redirect, and the steps to ensure a smooth transition. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the confidence to change your website’s domain name with minimal disruption to your SEO rankings.
Reasons to change your domain name
If you’re doing everything right, your website’s SEO rankings are probably in a good place. Which means you’re benefiting from rich, organic traffic; you rank for some of the best-performing keywords; your brand name is atop many SERPs; and you’re getting a steady flow of leads/sales.
Ideally, you want to maintain this status.
So why change things? Why embark on a journey that might distort your rankings and hinder you from enjoying the above-listed benefits?
Well, the reasons aren’t farfetched.
It might be because you’ve rebranded and want a new domain name that truly reflects your brand. It could also be because you want to expand internationally and need a domain name that’s more recognizable in that country. Or maybe you’ve had to relocate and need a new URL that reflects your new address. Another reason could be that you want to change your domain extension and need a name that’s not already taken.
In fairness, everyone has their reason for wanting to change their domain names. Whatever your reasons are, I’m sure you’re convinced you’re doing the right thing.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Change Your Website’s Domain Name
- Choosing a new domain name
Before beginning the process of changing your domain name, it is important to have the new name penned down somewhere. The reason we say this is that domain names can be hard to come by. Currently, there are over 360 million registered domain names. Anyone looking for a new domain name today would have to do a lot of work.
How to pick your new domain name
To pick a new domain name you should factor in what your current brand name is, where possible, with new extensions such as .co/net/uk/in. You should also consider what terms you want to rank for and how you can optimize your new URL for those terms.
If you’re changing your domain name to expand internationally, make sure your new country-specific domain name has the same meaning as your original domain name. If rebranding, you want to ensure that your new domain name reflects your brand’s old identity.
With more than 80% of buyers saying they consider trust a deciding factor in their buying decisions, you don’t want to give people a reason to doubt your brand.
- Setting up a 301 redirect
Once you’ve got your new domain name and have setup your site on your new domain you’ll need to set up a 301 redirect.
What’s that for?
One way to think about it is to tell search engines that you’ve moved office and and to redirect humans to your new location. You can think of 301 redirect as a directional signpost placed in front of your office telling customers that you’ve moved shop and also how to get to your new shop.
Furthermore, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that tells Google and other search engines to retain your previous rankings and traffic for your new domain name. In other words, a letter to Google reading, ‘I’ve only changed domain name, my content and offerings are still intact. Please don’t tamper with my rankings.”
If you’re using WordPress one option is to simply use the free Redirection plugin. If you’re not using WordPress or would rather get the job done manually you’ll need to setup a permanent server-side 301 redirect by updating the .htaccess file on your old domain’s web hosting account to redirect your old domain to your new domain. Here’s a tutorial on 301 redirects by InMotion Hosting. If you’re not comfortable doing this task yourself ask your help web host for assistance. If your web host isn’t helpful maybe it’s this is a good time to consider a new web host while you’re already making some changes.
- Updating internal links
Once you’ve set up your redirect, you’ll need to update your internal links. Make sure every link on your website that links to your old URL redirects appropriately. You can use SEO audit tool such as Wayback Machine to find every instance of your old URL to update your links.
Once you’ve updated all your internal links, you can be sure that your website is fully functional with the new domain name. You can use Google’s URL inspector to check if you’re unsure whether you’ve updated all the links.
You can also use Google’s redirect checker to ensure that your redirects are set up correctly. In 2019, Mueller talked about how internal links help your rankings in a Google Webmaster Hangout.
- Updating external links
You’ll also want to make sure that your external links are updated. This includes links on social media, your email marketing campaigns, or even links from other blogs. You can use tool such as Ahrefs to find every instance of links to your old domain name and correct those links appropriately.
Since content and links are the primary ranking factors for any website link building can be one of the strongest parts of the equation in the long run for your website’s SEO.
- Changing your URL structure
Once your website’s internal links and external links are up to date, you can change your URL structure. If you want to keep the same URL structure but use a new domain name, you’ll want to keep your URLs as short as possible.
This is especially important if your new domain name is longer than your old domain name. You can keep your URLs short by restructuring your content’s hierarchy and removing unnecessary words.
- Submitting a new sitemap
Changing your domain name might mean that you need to submit a new sitemap to Google Search Console. If you’re changing your domain name, you should make sure that you submit a new sitemap that reflects your new URL structure. This will allow Google to update your new domain name in its search results. You can use Google’s URL change tool to update your sitemap(s) quickly and easily.
- Monitoring SEO performance during the transition
As you’re going through the transition, you’ll want to monitor your SEO performance. You can do this by checking Google’s search console to see how your traffic and rankings are performing. You can also use tools such as Ahrefs or SEMrush to see where your traffic and rankings are coming from.
Once you’ve changed your domain name, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not losing any traffic. You also want to make sure that your rankings are as high as possible. If you’re seeing a drop in your traffic or rankings, you can use Google’s URL change tool to help you correct any issues.
The importance of keeping your content consistent
Whatever your reasons for changing your domain name, one thing is certain: You don’t want your website visitors to feel confused by the transition. You must ensure that your website’s content is consistent throughout the transition.
If you’re rebranding your business, you want to ensure that your website still reflects your old identity. If you’re expanding internationally, you want to ensure that your website still communicates your brand message.
A website is more than just a piece of content. It’s your business in written form. If you ever have a reason to tamper with it, make sure you do it right.
With the tips in this article, we believe you’re well-equipped to change your site’s domain name anytime you desire to without the risk of altering your immediate rankings or long-time SEO performance.