|Moving to a New Domain - Official Advice from Google|
Google's Offical Webmaster Blog has published a set of recommendations for changing to a new domain name. These two points in particular jumped out at me:
|If you're changing your domain because of site rebranding or redesign, you might want to think about doing this in two phases: first, move your site; and second, launch your redesign. To prevent confusion, it's best to make sure you retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days. |
The 180 days time period lines up well with some recent experiences reported here.
[edited by: tedster at 7:02 pm (utc) on April 17, 2008]
That first bullet point makes so much sense to me, but evey time I've suggested it to a client they resist. I think it just doesn't fit with what remains of their offline marketing sensibility.
So I'm glad to see this in an official statement - it just might help some "old media" types to think more clearly about their website.
|Test the move process by moving the contents of one directory or subdomain first .. check to see that the pages on your new site are appearing in Google's search results |
The move could take a really long time if you have to wait first for the new domain pages to appear in serps, this may "harm the user experience", plus they don't tell us what to do if it serps don't catch up..
|Finally, keep both your new and old site verified in Webmaster Tools |
So I guess no dupe content penalty there.
I can tell you from experience I moved a 7-year-old site to a new domain on January 7th of 2008. The domain is very similar except it's a non-hyphenated domain name (old domain was hyphenated). I changed the domain after picking up the non-hyphenated domain a couple years back that had expired (never a site on the domain looking on WayBack). The whois info on both domains are/were exact along with the nameservers (been the same for years). I finally decided to change it, and now realize I would never have done this if I thought it would take this long. I was able to get a few of the inbound links changed to the new domain name (dmoz, etc), but the site has probably 1400 or so backlinks and I didn't ask for the links, so I have no way of getting them changed. I redirected the old domain with a 301 to the new domain. Everything stayed the same including paths, page names, and design. Every page resolves to the same page on the new domain.
Everything was fine for the 1st couple of weeks, no drop-off in ranking or traffic. The site still has no PR (white bar, was previously PR5), ranks only for a couple dozen terms and used to rank for literally 100's of terms. Traffic is probably 1/3 if that of what it was at this time of year.
Again, after seeing how Google handles this 301 to a different domain with all else being equal I would think long and hard before doing this again...
Hmmm... how about unfortunates like us who often get commissioned to produce a new site, with new domain, where we have no access or control of the 'old' site?
Often our client can manage their old domain.
Should we point the old domain to the new site location and then change the domain after 180 days?
Very interesting since we've been considering a significant name rebranding and I've been very hesitant.
Interestingly a good customer of mine has done this recently with his site and everything was going fine until Dewey came along...now the new site has all but disappeared and all the old pages/urls are back in the SERPs.
|I think it just doesn't fit with what remains of their offline marketing sensibility. |
Yes, quite often they want to roll out the entire new identity in a package and make the announcement a big event.
One thought I've had... and this is not something I've yet tried myself... would be, if you can't move the old domain to the new one in advance of the rollout, to do a 302 redirect from the new domain name to the old with minimal publicity. You'd then have two instances of the site, dupe content to be sure, but duped under a domain that you'd eventually be moving to.
While this goes against a lot of instincts I have, the logic of it makes sense to me. Yes, you have dupe content... but in this case the potential link confusion is all going to get sorted out when you do move, drop the 302, and 301 the old domain to the new one. In the interim, you don't care if the new (unpublicized) domain gets a few links. Links to both domains will work, but the new one is unlikely to rank. I'm curious about reactions to this. It's not a new idea, btw, but I haven't seen it discussed for this situation. Years ago, as I remember, this was talked about as a way around the sandbox, and I've got to confess that, at the time, I was skeptical.
|To prevent confusion, it's best to make sure you retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days. |
I tell clients with a well-promoted domain to be prepared to retain control of the old domain in perpetuity and beyond. ;) As long as there are any link or bookmarks to the old domain out there, you want to have a 301 redirect from the old to the new domain in place.
Additionally, there are some very unscrupulous operators who buy up old domains and put unsavory content on them, along with a notice that the domain is for sale. "Blackmail" is what I'd call it. So, an established company or organization had best control what's associated with their historical web identity. 180 days, IMO, is absurdly short.
|One thought I've had... and this is not something I've yet tried myself... |
Ditto... I have not tried this, but:
When a change can be planned for, I would consider switching to the new look & feel FIRST, with a graphic indicating why the name is different and 'announcing' the move, maybe with a 90 day 'count down' timer?
'Thank you for visiting EXAMPLE.COM. You may notice our new look and name, because in DAYS:HRS:MIN:SEC you will be able to find us located at ILLUSTRATION.COM.
Don't worry, everything will still be as you remember it today with all the recent upgrades to our website included. The only difference will be the name you type in to visit us, so enjoy your visit to EXAMPLE.COM, and if you have any questions or concerns regarding our move, please let us know. CONTACT LINK'
Then you could use Robert Charlton's idea of a temp. redirect to the old domain for those who 'jump the gun'... (I think it's what he is suggesting anyway.)
[edited by: TheMadScientist at 10:08 pm (utc) on April 17, 2008]
180 days is indeed way to short. I've still a bunch of incoming links to a 301'ed old URL that's been handing out 301s for over a decade.
It doesn't help to have started a website in the dark ages of the web and taken your time to settle on a domainname I guess. Anyway I've 2 301ed URLs pointing to that one site and every so often a lost soul wanders in over those 301s, so 'm happy I can maintain them.
If you can, never let go of an old domainname you used for a while.
Similarly when redesigning a site keep the old URLs inside the site pointing to something useful.
Matt Cutts has mentioned several times over the years that moving to a new domain goes much better if it is the same folder and file paths, and the same content on the new site as was on the old, with the correct 301 redirect from the old site to the new site in place, to confirm ownership.
I see complete sense in Google's helpful suggestion - one made out of observation, no doubt, and one made most probably because the results would be useful to themselves.
If your new website mirrors exactly your old one, and, through the root .htaccess in your old site to the new url (in returning a 301 of course), visitors and spiders alike will find the exact same pages in the exact same place.
This is useful for two reasons: Your present customers, while still enjoying your website's existing function, will have time to update their bookmarks/links, making a two-step process out of the usual double-whammy 'new name, new learning curve' move imposed upon them by many webmasters; Second, Google would have only to make minimal changes to its listings to record your website's move.
When you do begin to modify your website, Google not only knows where to find you, but knows who you are (inbound links, former pagerank). The double-whammy move is a 'starting from scratch' of sorts, and of course it will take Google time to 'rediscover' your website - and longer to reinstate its former level of trust (pagerank).
<added> As for the domain name ownership - this should always be the client's! I know a few webmasters may be tempted by the 'retaining power' a domain name may have over their clients, but profiting from this is not at all (work) ethical. At the least, the client should be listed as the domain owner, and the webmaster as the administrator; the latter can still control the domain name's workings, the former will not feel roped into anything (added level of webmaster trust?), and there would be no headaches for future webmasters/name changes. Yourself included.
[edited by: Josefu at 6:28 am (utc) on April 18, 2008]
matt told me at pubcon to move the site (301) one directory at a time over a period of time so not to cause a big disruption. . im sure that would work, but i dont want to be the guinea pig..