Considerations for a Domain Migration

Clients who are working on website redesigns frequently ask us if they should also change their domain name. Many times, it’s because they’re seeking something that’s more relevant to their business or closer to their business name in order to increase brand recognition. Those are perfectly valid reasons to consider a domain migration, but I always caution our clients to give the decision some extra thought. This is because there’s no single “magic switch” we can pull to make a successful domain change. They always involve a lot of moving parts, and while some are obvious, others are not. A domain switch requires a lot of work, so it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly.

If you’re thinking about changing your domain, here are a few things to keep in mind before you vote yay or nay:

Minimize Variables

From the SEO side of things, any time you make a change to your website, you should try to minimize the number of variables in play. Doing so will prevent a major shock to the search engines as they try to figure out what has changed with your site. It will also make it easier to diagnose the cause of any issues that may arise. This is the primary reason why I advise clients undergoing a redesign to hold off on a domain change. A new site design and a new URL are, in my opinion, too much for the search engines to process at once. Instead, I advise clients to proceed with the redesign first, then come back to the domain migration after things have leveled out. Their chances of a successful domain migration will be much higher in the end.

A Solid Redirect Plan

I can’t emphasize this enough—the core of a successful domain change is a solid 301 redirect plan. If you do decide to get a new URL, get your web design and/or SEO company involved as soon as you can. This part of the process takes a lot of time and careful planning to avoid disaster down the road. If you need a refresher on 301 redirects, check out my previous post all about them. In short, you’ll need to ensure that each page or section of your site gets redirected to its new URL so that users and search engines can still find your content after the switch.

During a domain migration, just like a site redesign, you want to preserve as much of your site’s linking power as possible, and 301 redirects are the best way to do this. Still, you’ll lose some link authority, as redirects pass 90-99% of link “juice.” Bearing that in mind, it’s also a good idea to directly contact the webmasters of your most important linking sites and ask them to update their links. This will ensure that you get all of the linking power they can send your way, but again, it takes time, work, and planning.

Letting the Search Engines Know

Next, you’ll want to be sure that you inform the search engines about your site’s move. Both Google Search Console (aka Webmaster Tools) and Bing Webmaster Tools have features that allow you to do this. In Google it’s the change of address tool; in Bing it’s the site move tool. First, make sure you’ve verified your new site in both tools. You can then work through the address change tools. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve submitted important pages on your new site for indexing and that you’ve created and submitted a new sitemap.

Letting Your Audience Know

While changing domains, you might be inclined to focus on the search engines, but you can’t forget your audience. After you’ve checked off all the technical to-dos, you should let your audience know that they can find you at a new domain. You can advertise your new URL on your social media channels, in your email newsletters, or even in your store/office. It’s also a good idea to update all of your print collateral (think business cards and letterhead) to reflect the new domain. This is, after all, a change in branding.

Manage Expectations

It’s common to experience a dip in traffic and rankings following a domain switch as search engines adjust to your new site. I almost hate to say this, but it’s a good idea to expect and prepare for the worst. That way, if you see traffic and rankings taking a substantial hit, you’ll be ready to pivot and get things back on track.

Think it Through

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times when a domain migration can benefit your business and times when the benefits outweigh the risks. Be sure that you think the decision through, though, and can plan for the switch accordingly to minimize those risks. You’ll be glad you did!