Move to a New Domain Without Losing Rankings (or Hair)

  |  March 19, 2007   |  Comments

How to keep a domain change from going horrendously wrong and landing your site in search engine hell.

I remember reading somewhere that moving house is the second most stressful life experience, following the death of your spouse. In certain SEO (define) circumstances, moving to a new domain can be like moving house.

Think about it. You've been online for a long time and built a great reputation for yourself. Search engine crawlers and end users love you. Both are frequent visitors to your site. What's more, other Web site owners think you truly are the real deal and bless you with link love in abundance.

Then, word comes from above (that's corporate, not heaven, by the way) that you're being acquired, merging, rebranding, or whatever. Now you, as Webmaster, are gifted with a new domain to move to. Let's throw in a complete redesign to make it even scarier.

What if it all goes horrendously wrong, and you drop of search engine heaven straight into search engine hell?

I had a client some time ago who brought me in as an SEO consultant to work with his team when they were launching a brand-new site. It was certainly foresight on his behalf, as much of what the developers were implementing would have created barriers to crawling and raised issues with achieving decent rankings.

One year later, after reaching some fairly dizzy heights at Google, the client (after a little rebranding exercise) instructed his developers to move to a new domain and redirect the traffic.

Did he tell me about this? No.

It was as if someone had switched off the lights. They just disappeared from organic search results.

But fear not, dear Webmaster, there's a way to go through this major upheaval without a single hair falling from your scalp. There are a number of ways to do redirects. Got a spare moment? Brush up on your Apache server manual. According to the manual:

  • permanent: Returns a permanent redirect status (301) indicating that the resource has moved permanently.

  • temp: Returns a temporary redirect status (302). This is the default.

  • seeother: Returns a "See Other" status (303) indicating that the resource has been replaced.

  • gone: Returns a "Gone" status (410) indicating that the resource has been permanently removed.

Plenty to chose from there. However (and it's a big however), only one of those redirects is really safe to use from an SEO perspective. Why's that? Because Google says so. And because Google is very important, we do as we're told.

A 302 redirect (the default) tells Googlebot this is a temporary move and it should continue indexing the old domain. Yet, this could lead to a duplicate content issue.

The powerful 301 redirect tells Googlebot this is a permanent move and it should start indexing the new site only. It must be said, these days Google also recommends you submit to its sitemaps feature at Webmaster Central.

To implement a 301 redirect, you must understand how an htaccess (define) is used. Unless you're a veteran Webmaster or an SEO pro, I wouldn't go messing around with this. Go through this exercise with as little damage as possible. There are serious risks if the process isn't structured and carried out with military-style precision.

Of course, there's a downside. In my experience, you may see your new site indexed in a matter of weeks, but it may be longer before your rankings bob back to the top. It certainly seems to be a quicker process if you're a larger, authority site that continually gathers links.

So you may want to think about a tactical, interim PPC (define) campaign during the move.

I wouldn't call the 301 redirect implementation an SEO case of "don't try this at home." But I certainly recommend you consult a professional who's been through the exercise before -- and has a documented system and process to follow -- before you tackle it on your own.

Meet Mike at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

ClickZ Live San Francisco This Year's Premier Digital Marketing Event is #CZLSF
ClickZ Live San Francisco (Aug 11-14) brings together the industry's leading practitioners and marketing strategists to deliver 4 days of educational sessions and training workshops. From Data-Driven Marketing to Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email, this year's comprehensive agenda will help you maximize your marketing efforts and ROI. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Grehan

Mike Grehan is Publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and Producer of the SES international conference series. He is the current president of global trade association SEMPO, having been elected to the board of directors in 2010.

Formerly, Mike worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies, handling such global clients as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Mike came online in 1995 and is author of numerous books and white papers on the subject. He is currently in the process of writing his new book "From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer" to be published by Wiley in 2013.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Search newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

BigDoor: The Marketers Guide to Customer Loyalty

The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is imperative to success, but fostering and maintaining loyalty takes a lot of work. This guide is here to help marketers build, execute, and maintain a successful loyalty initiative.

Marin Software: The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising

The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising
Latest research reveals 68% higher revenue per conversion for marketers who integrate their search & social advertising. In addition to the research results, this whitepaper also outlines 5 strategies and 15 tactics you can use to better integrate your search and social campaigns.

WEBINARS

Jobs

    • Internet Marketing Campaign Manager
      Internet Marketing Campaign Manager (Straight North, LLC) - Fort MillWe are looking for a talented Internet Marketing Campaign Manager to join the...
    • Online Marketing Coordinator
      Online Marketing Coordinator (NewMarket Health) - BaltimoreWant to learn marketing from the best minds in the business? NewMarket Health, a subsidiary...
    • Call Center Manager
      Call Center Manager (Common Sense Publishing) - Delray BeachWanted: Dynamic Call Center Manager with a Proven Track Record of Improving Response...