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Google's "Moving Your Site" 301 Policy and Ranking Losses

 4:57 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I wanted to give a update to every webmaster that is interested in moving a site using a 301 redirect and google's policy regarding "moving your site". Before doing this to my site I couldn't find anyone with good information and I went on google's webmasters help section and trusted their information.

Google states "here are some tips that will help you retain your site's ranking in Google's search results"
google's moving your site [google.com] in the first sentence basically state's don't 404 by not redirecting correctly.

I redirected all my pages correctly and google's spiders did see it correct also. My site get crawled often and very soon after my rankings and traffic was cut in half.

I assumed this is normal and was sure it would return soon. Well my fellow webmaster friends, it's a 9 month wait before Google's filters decide to release you.

The traffic that google did give a lot of non converting terms - most likely less competitive terms - while generic terms don't think about returning to those for the 9 month wait.

No amount of SEO will help you before the algo releases you. I'm distraught about google's statement because my site had no penalties and was raking/sales doing well before URL change. If I had any idea I would of never done it. Anyone thinking of doing this and your business is based on organic search beware.

Google won't give much about their algo's info and I could find many examples of other people moving your domains so I hope this is helpful. WEBMASTERS BEWARE! IF YOU WANT TO LOOSE 1/2 to 2/3 of your business and traffic for 3 quarters of a year then move your domain with a 301 redirect.. Google you lie!



 10:00 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Hello mikus, and welcome to the forums.

In recent times I've had much different results than you report. Yes, there is often a dip in traffic following a domain name change - that's been noted since Google's early days. But recovery of traffic no longer takes 9 months, at least not in most cases. In fact I know of some cases where traffic was back within just a few weeks.

You mention 9 months - did your traffic finally recover at that point?


 10:41 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

In my case, switching from a hyphenated URL to the non-hyphenated version it took just about 3 months for traffic to show a significant recovery.

Unfortunately, neither Yahoo or Bing seem to handle the 301's as well as Google, and rankings on key terms has never been recovered in those SE's.

It is a risky move, but again, in our case the hyphen gave every sign of being a liability that we could not overcome, even though the domain had been in use since 1999. Very few hyphenated domains rank top 10 these days - another example of using a blunt instrument to clean up the SERPs in my opinion.


 11:51 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

The first thing I ask in these cases is, "Did you verify that every old-domain URL invokes a single 301-Moved Permanently" redirect to the correct new-domain URL using a tool such as the 'Live HTTP Headers' add-on for Firefox/Mozilla browsers or a similar tool with which you are familiar and which you trust to show all the details of the client-server transaction?"

If the answer is "No" or "No, but I saw it redirect in my browser," then I suggest using a server headers checker as described. HTTP protocol is a technical thing, and you have to get it right.

If the answer is "Yes, the headers checker shows a single 301-Moved Permanently" redirect response from the server, and the Location header sends me straight to the correct page," then ignore this and accept my apologies for posting. But I've seen far too many sites damaged by what appears to be a correct redirect implementation, but in fact is incorrect (such as a 302-Found) and is therefore returning a different status response, and giving unwanted signals to the 'bots. So I actually look at posts like this with an eye to how strong the 'redirect status verification' testing of the redirects is claimed to be.

I figure the more frequently a site is spidered and the more it is 'trusted,' the more shallow the traffic drop will be and the sooner rankings and traffic will recover -- assuming that the HTTP protocol signaling is correct.



 12:20 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the responses. I did in fact check my headers and they do correctly show a 301 permanently moved status. This is the second site I've encountered that a seemingly long delay in return of the "trusted" status.

jdMorgan - I will be happy to send you URL's if you're interested?

I have decent pagerank and backlinks throughout the site. I did the 301 redirect, change of address in the webmasters tools and submitted the sitemap again. I even submitted a re-inclusion request to make sure the new domain wasn't bad.

Maybe my situations is unique and google usually doesn't treat 301's to a new domain this harshly but I wanted other webmasters to be aware. I would love for enough webmasters to be aware that google actually knows that we are aware. Hopefully they don't make the delays longer.. ha!


 1:12 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's obvious that your site took a much harder hit than most (but not all), so the question is, "Why?" We've discussed this here before, but AFAIK, have never come to an adequate conclusion about the cause(s).

If you've tested the headers with a good tool that's guaranteed to show all the "steps" (some do not) and you're getting a single 301-Moved Permanently redirect to the correct new URL in every case, then we can cross that off the 'suspect' list -- It's easy enough to find, because it's one of the very first in the list.

What reasons can you think of that G might not have "trusted" your site as much as you like?



 1:38 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

We also have had good results but we use modrewrite in the .htaccess file

Again, in your .htaccess file

RewriteEngine ON
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ newdomain/$1 [R=301,L]

where the word newdomain above is the complete URL of your new site including http://

The above example will re-map every page on your old domain to a new one and issue a 301 status code (permanent redirect). So a request for
any page at the old domain will go to
the same page at the New URL

we have seen ranking right where it should be in a week with this.


 1:55 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yeah, one thing to look at here might be the little technicalities of the redirect, possibly not leaving the old site, but arriving at the new one. IOW redirecting to http://example.com/ rather than http://www.example.com/ or http://www.example.com rather than http://www.example.com/ the former will initiate a second redirect if there is www canonicalization in place on the new domain and the latter will result in a second redirect from http://www.example.com to http://www.example.com/.

Also, did you redirect page to page or did you consolidate on the root or certain pages on the new site? IOW when you say you redirected all the pages do you mean you redirected each individual page to a corresponding URL on the new domain name?

3rd Had the new domain name previously been used? I'm guessing it had since you did a reinclusion request, but did you look at the history via archive.org or anything to see what type of content (or spam) it previously hosted? I know I remember reading here somewhere MC (I think) at a PubCon (I think) advised to NOT EVER bother to buy a banned domain, because it was very difficult (next to impossible) to get it back in the results, and I think similar thinking applies to buying penalized domains. Did you buy one of those type of domain and redirect there?

ADDED: Sorry, we've all forgotten our manners, except tedster...
I did anyway. Welcome to WebmasterWorld!


 2:35 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

jdMorgan - I use firefox http live headers too.

I too use .htaccess redirect. Here is what I used:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^olddomain.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.olddomain.com$
RewriteRule ^/?(.*)$ "http\:\/\/www\.newdomain\.com\/$1" [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^newdomain.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ [newdomain.com...] [L,R=301]

I checked with archive.com and shows no history whatsoever with the new domain.

My pages are all indexed still but it's the rankings stunk. I could find my pages fairly quickly after the 301 but it's where google placed them. They slowly moved around over 6 months but not released until after. I thought I covered my basis and can't think "WHY" it would react in this way. It's definately a google trust issue but why I can't for the life think of it. I really don't know much of how google handles the 301's because I never really wanted to do this in the past.

I can't call why this is the case. I could see why it could happen if a penalty site redirects to a new domain and tries to bypass the penalty but google logs redirects and I'm sure a penalty site will move the penalty to the new domain. This isn't the case.

Google is to harsh at times. They can turn lives upside down.


 2:38 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Sorry it put bbcode in the second rewrite rule.. It's not actually what was used.

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ www.newdomain.com/$1 [L,R=301]

with the http:// in front of the www.

Also my store is a 1200 page ecommerce site. My theory is that google does honor the redirect somewhat but they state "rebranding" and site redesign. I believe they want to give time for the "rebranding" before releasing fully into the index. They don't completely remove you but slow things down. It's just a time filter they put in for the rule. I think it was shorter in the past, but now it's 6-9 months.. Just a theory..

[edited by: mikus at 2:53 am (utc) on Feb 12, 2010]


 2:49 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^olddomain.com$ [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.olddomain.com$
RewriteRule ^/?(.*)$ "http\:\/\/www\.newdomain\.com\/$1" [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^newdomain.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ [newdomain.com...] [L,R=301]

If the preceding is actually what you have in the file, the following is a more efficient and correct way of doing thing, assuming for some reason the two sites use the same .htaccess file.

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www\.)?olddomain\.com$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^(www\.newdomain\.com)?$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newdoamin.com/$1 [R=301,L]

The . (dot) should be escaped in the condition and on the left side of the rule, but not the right. Also, there is no need to escape the / character. () are used for grouping, and the ? character means 0 or 1 of the preceding character or group of characters, so (www\.)? means with or without the www.

You only need the / on the left side of the rule in the httpd.conf file, so if you are using httpd.conf for your redirects you will want to change what I have on the left side of the rule to: RewriteRule ^/(.*)$ if you use the .htaccess you can leave the /? out and you will get the same result.

[NC] means No Case, and all modern browsers lowercase requests before sending AFAIK, so IMO it's really unnecessary where it was.

In the second ruleset I switched from a positive match to a negative match, which may need to be adjusted if you need to use subdomains other than www, which could be added like this:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^((www|another-sub-domain)\.newdomain\.com)?$

The ! at the beginning means NOT, and the bar character means OR, so the preceding rule says if the HTTP_HOST is NOT www.newdomain.com OR another-sub-domain.newdomain.com OR empty then redirect to www.newdomain.com.

If the sites do not use the same .htaccess (or httpd.conf) file, then in the oldsite.com .htaccess the following should be sufficient:

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

As far as the rankings go, what type of keyword inclusion did you change from, to WRT searches?

Did you change from somenonsenseword.com to keyword.com or keyword-keyword.com to betterkeywordwithoutthehyphen.com?

[edited by: TheMadScientist at 2:54 am (utc) on Feb 12, 2010]


 2:54 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Well that code is far from perfect, but it doesn't have any really 'fatal' flaws in it.

From the form of that code, I presume that it's all in the same .htaccess file on the same server. If you use no additional domains or subdomains other than this "www" subdomain, and you have no plans to use any additional sub/domains any time soon, then you could replace all of that with just:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^(www\.example\.com)?$
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L]

where "example.com" is your new domain name. Everything that's now missing in this code wasn't needed, and this code actually corrects several more non-canonical hostname types, such as FQDN domain, appended port numbers, and casing errors.

I've been unfairly "whacked" before -- although it was by AltaVista back in the late 90's. I know it doesn't feel very good. But Google is a business, concerned with their own bottom line and not ours. Their systems are as fully-automated as possible, and I have it on good word that there is no "sympathy module" in all of their automated algorithms...



 2:56 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Old: www.keyword
New: www.keyword

[edited by: tedster at 3:21 am (utc) on Feb 12, 2010]
[edit reason] no specific domains, please [/edit]


 2:56 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Oh, yeah, I got going with correcting errors and didn't just eliminate the second ruleset... LMAO. Nice catch jdMorgan.


 3:05 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'll post this generically:

Although those two are similar in lettering they are IMO very different in interpretation by an algorithm...

The first is multiple occasions of a thing (noun, noun).
The second is a singular action or event (adjective, noun).

The first could be defined generically as 'thing' 'occasions' where the second could be defined generically as 'type of' 'occasion'.
There's a big difference to an algo in those few letters and what they mean when you put them together IMO.

Here's another way of looking at it:
The first could be a business name... The business is 'thing occasions'.
The second is what you had or hope to have... 'type of occasion'.

They're two different definitions IMO.
One domain is an is the other is an action or event.

I hope this is making sense to someone besides me, because IMO they are really two totally different domain names with two totally different 'definitions' even though they contain the same root words.


 3:20 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Very interesting thought. I never looked at domain names in that manner related with algos. I really never put much thought into those domain names either.

Thanks for everyone's help...


 6:13 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Are there others that have also had this same experience? I own an old hyphenated domain that does rank page one for most of the terms needed, but recently purchased a very brandable keyword domain in the same genre, and wanted to use 301 as well as GWT to switch the website over.


 6:14 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Are there others that have also had this same experience? I own an old hyphenated domain that does rank page one for most of the terms needed, but recently purchased a very brandable keyword domain in the same genre, and wanted to use 301 as well as GWT to switch the website over.


 6:23 am on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I met matt at pubcon and asked the same question. He said not to move the entire domain at once. He said I should 301 one directory at a time so not to disrupt all of the traffic and rankings.


 4:36 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Sandyeggo - In the google webmasters help section under their "moving your site [google.com]" topic state

"We recommend that you move and redirect a section or directory first, and then test to make sure that your redirects are working correctly before moving all your content. "

I do agree with matt's for my store moving some products over and some not doesn't work or make sense. Google state's above it's more for text purposes so you don't 404 out your content. In their first 2 sentences of the topic it states help retain your rankings. Sadly it comes from google and if matt is saying different they need to reevaluate this their 301 topics..


 6:25 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I've moved a 3 different sites over last five years. The 2 most recent (12 & 18 months) took a dip but recovered within 30 days.

Is it not possible that an algorythym change took place in the weeks after your site moved, or was hit with a penalty/filter, and that was the cause for delay in recovery?


 9:59 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

No clue really.. I can't call it is why the frustration. I've been told every case is unique too. My rankings come and go they just didn't seem stable. If it is a penalty filter I requested a re-inclusion about 4 months into the change. I didn't see a change after either. To me it's the "google trust filter" that my site was lacking because I'm in the results and ranked on some terms but total traffic is 1/2 to 2/3rds down.

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