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Moving part of an established site to a new domain

 1:30 pm on Mar 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

I searched and found some topics about this on webmasterworld, but they are very old so they may be deprecated. That's why I open a new topic.

I have a well established multi-language website and I noticed that local domain names (like my_domain.co.uk) are better then global ones (like my_domain.com). I think they rank better in SERPs and users tend to click more on a local website. Moreover, I think users remember easier local domains and are more likely to return&link to me.

I intend to move one language of this website onto a new domain. I was thinking to do 301 redirects from all old pages to all new pages and of course update the sitemaps accordingly. This way, Google should understand that my pages changed location and will index the new ones. But, it will probably exclude my webpages from SERPs, at least for a period.

Do you think that a few local domains are better then one big international domain in this case?
How can I do this move, in order to make it as painless as possible for my site?


[edited by: tedster at 6:02 pm (utc) on Mar 25, 2011]
[edit reason] repair format problem [/edit]



 5:11 pm on Mar 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Matt Cutts recently published a video where he encourages the use of a separate domain for each language as the best solution. How should I handle localized content? [youtube.com]

For best results, make sure you use 301s in a technically sound manner:

1) No canonical issues on either domain.
2) All redirects are one-step only - for example, you DON'T want this:

example.com/page.html > www.example.com/page.html > www.example.fr/page.html


 5:15 pm on Mar 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

For best results, make sure you use 301s in a technically sound manner:

Having just done something similar, I cannot emphasize this enough.

Oddly enough, when I messed up some 301s, I was NOT able to recognize it from my server logs. Instead, I only found out about them after a week or so in my webmaster tools admin.

so I would kindly suggest don't just rely on your server logs to find mistakes.


 5:21 pm on Mar 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Lots of ways to introduce canonical errors, too - see [webmasterworld.com...]

I really like the canonical link tag as protection against all of them - even though I handle as many as possible on my own server. However, errors in the canonical tag can also create a disaster so again, technical precision. When the technical side is nailed down securely, domain moves can be relatively painless these days.


 5:48 pm on Mar 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

However, errors in the canonical tag can also create a disaster so again, technical precision.

To wit, my the canoncial tags on my ecommerce site use the format:


You just plug in the token that calls the product_code and it automatically populates the canonical tag. No brainer, right?

Unless of course you use the product_NAME token instead of the product_code token, since the product NAME has all sorts of spaces in it and will give you a 404 error.

So in webmaster tools, I saw about two hundred crawl errors that said something like this:

mydomain.com/Really Nice Widget.html

And I had no idea where google bot was coming up with these URLs. "Googlebot must be crazy," I thought to myself. I even looked at the on page links on the pages that webmastertools said were pointing to these bad URLs.

It wasn't until I looked at the source code and then realized that the canonical link tags were all messed up that I realized I had blown it again...


 12:16 pm on Mar 31, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thank you very much for the answers. I solved canonical problems, set 301 redirects (hope without errors), set the canonical tag... and went live yesterday. Till now, it seems ok.
I will let you know about the traffic changes (SERP positions) in about 1-2 month (to allow Google enough time to digest the change).


 4:07 pm on May 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

It past 1 month after I moved a section of my website to a new domain (see the discussion below).
During first 2 weeks, the traffic was stable and google searches that found my new domain increased (as the old pages redirected to the new ones).
After 2 weeks, it had a sudden drop. Traffic dropped at 30% and google search referrals near to 0. And it remains at this level, with no sign of returning up.
So, I got it, probably my domain was send to the "sand-box".

But what can I do, in order to avoid this?
- create a blog (or any other content) on the new domain, promote it, wait for a few month and only after move the old content there.
- Keep it as a redirect to the old domain for a few month, try to obtain incoming links to it and move the content later.
- Keep the content on both websites for a few month with the canonical tag pointing to the old and try to obtain incoming links. After a 2-4 month, change the canonical tag to the new domain and 301 redirect the old pages to the new ones.

What do you think about this? Could it work?
Do you have any other suggestions?

[edited by: realwahl at 4:45 pm (utc) on May 4, 2011]


 4:17 pm on May 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Just to make sure there's a complete understanding of what the canonical link element will and, more importantly in these cases, will Not do:

Will: Work intra-domain. Or, iow within a domain, including subdomains, a canonical URL will be used as a 'strong indication or hint' as to the 'preferred URL' for the content. EG example.com to www.example.com is fine and will be recognized.

Will Not: Work across domains. Or, iow a canonical link element on example.com will Not be used if it points to some-other-example.com.

It sort of has to be this way for security reasons, imo, because if a person does not have server access to set a 301, in some situations there may be a reason other than the host not supporting it, such as limited access, and if it was supported cross-domain then an unauthorized person could effectively move a site without permission, so it's great 'on-domain', but not effective cross-domain.

This is just a clarification, because I see it's use recommended quite a bit, and I thought this was a good thread to point out the limitation for readers who might not understand: To move to a different domain you really need to use a 301.


 5:11 pm on May 4, 2011 (gmt 0)


Google has supported the cross-domain rel="canonical" link element since 2009.



 10:24 pm on May 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Oh, ugh ... I must have had the date wrong on the video I watched the other day (I thought it was recent, but there were about 50 I went through ... Rainy day I decided to spend 'at the movies' ) ... Many thanks for the real deal ... [Shakes Head, Feels Dumb! lol]

I actually think the 'old way' was 'safer' for site owners, but eh, well...

You know the worst part about that is: Now I have to go back and check the dates I have for the videos I watched ... Grrr ... Thanks again for pointing it out, I'd much rather 'have it right' than be 'off a bit'.


 9:51 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

Some other tips, been there, done that.

- AFTER redirects are in place include BOTH the new pages AND the old pages in your sitemap. Let Google see the new but ensure they see the old and can learn about the 301's. When the old url's are out of the Google cache you can remove them from your sitemap.

- DO NOT attempt to use noindex type meta tags on old urls.

- DO NOT add the old category/folder/articles etc to your robots.txt file.

The point being you want Google to have access to everything until it sorts out your 301's. If you start blocking content your risk losing built up history for it before Google has migrated all your pages in their database. I'd also suggest not relying on Canonical but that's a personal preference.


 10:54 am on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

Google has supported the cross-domain rel="canonical" link element since 2009.

It wasn't even a Cutts Video ... (I think I watched too many in one day. [Note to self - easy on the rainy day videos] lol) ... It was close: They started (Dec 2009) 2 months after this one was uploaded (Sept 2009): [youtube.com...]

I didn't remember going back that far on most things, but I watched that one as an 'after thought' and got my notes off a bit I guess ... Oops!


 1:48 pm on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

I would use local domains for sure. No doubt. Both for users and search engines. Just give the local content a little more professionalism and tells your users that you actually take them seriously and acknowledge that they are "local".


 4:15 pm on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

What is the impact of the move of a part of a website on the current website, especially if that section of the site attracts good backlinks?


 5:45 pm on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

That backlink power no longer circulates within the original domain - there is no mechanism for it to do so. This certainly can cause a drop in rankings if there is not sufficient support for the remaining pages. However, for many sites the greatest backlink strength is for the domain root, so that will, most of the time, sustain things rather well.


 8:16 pm on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's amazing Google's bias towards 'local sites' and country specific domains.

My default search engine is Google.ca (I'm Canadian). For one fairly competitive keyword we're #40 or so on Google.com and #2 on Google.ca. Google appears to somehow be recognizing we're a Canadian company (although we try to give the impression we're American for the most part) probably from our whois info.

I run into this problem a lot when searching for various things on Google. It delivers Canadian results even though I might not necessarily want that.

I imagine the bias for language based content is even heavier.


 1:12 pm on May 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

@Sgt_Kickaxe - when you did it, did you experienced a similar drop in trafic? If so, how long did it took to regain the position?

AFTER redirects are in place include BOTH the new pages AND the old pages in your sitemap. Let Google see the new but ensure they see the old and can learn about the 301's. When the old url's are out of the Google cache you can remove them from your sitemap.

This is what I wanted to do. But a few days after the move (301s), I saw in webmaster tools the notice "When we tested a sample of URLs from your Sitemap, we found that some URLs redirect to other locations. We recommend that your Sitemap contain URLs that point to the final destination (the redirect target) instead of redirecting to another URL". I repeted the test now and I got the same notice. At this point, I see no reason to keep the old sitemap.


 5:11 pm on May 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

It has always been Google's guideline that the Sitemap URLs should resolve directly and not redirect. This is the first I've heard about notices in Webmaster Tools, but it certainly doesn't surprise me.

When I've worked with moving parts of sites (and I've done a lot of that) we always generate a new Sitemap and verify it before we submit it - as 100% of URLs show a 200 OK response. Sometimes a website has a lot of dynamic churn, and then we test the automatic Sitemap generation to ensure that it doesn't list redirects or 404s, 410s.

I know some webmasters report success by including those non-200 URLs in their Sitemap, but I can definitely report success by NOT doing that. By success, I mean no traffic loss at all in some cases, or only a few day's disruption.

My advice is either don't have an xml Sitemap at all, or submit one that includes only "good" URLs.


 10:26 am on May 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

@ realwahl - Any improvement in traffic seen?

This is something I wanted to do for years but never did out of fear of Google. Considering I have been hit by Panda and a lot less reliant on them now, this is probably the right time to move away!


 7:08 pm on May 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

After 7 weeks, my traffic on the new domain dropped from 100% till 10%. During this time, my overall site traffic (the other languages) increased by 15%. I see no error in webmaster tools and I am not aware of any.

I keep on thinking on what tedster said and I can not understand what is the difference between what he did and what I did. The only thing that comes into my mind is that... this language was never really promoted, so it has very few incoming links. Can it be that all it's power was provided by the main site and when I moved the pages, they lost it all?


 8:28 pm on May 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

That sounds like a good analysis to mean. PageRank still does matter.


 8:27 am on May 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

tedster, you said "...I can definitely report success [in moving sites]... By success, I mean no traffic loss at all in some cases, or only a few day's disruption." and also "PageRank still does matter".
I agree that PageRank matters, but if I am moving a part of the website on a new domain, generally the old website has some PR, but the new domain has no PR (it's a new domain). So, I can't understand what did you do, in order not to have traffic loss (from Google).
Did your new domain already had a good PR? If so, how did it achieved it? Did you created new content on the new domain a few month before the movement and promoted it, in order to give it its own importance/traffic?


 2:28 pm on May 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

generally the old website has some PR, but the new domain has no PR (it's a new domain)

The minute Google processes the 301 redirects, the URLs on the new domain acquire real PR, even though it may not show up on the toolbar for months.


 4:24 pm on May 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

Just to add nlmy experience / thoughts...

I did this too and traffi has increased steadily (about 10% per month) since I moved the content to the new domain, however...

I had already "prepped" that domain with relarlted conten for about a year before moving the existing content over.

If I were to do this in the future, I would look for a site that has good backlinks that is about to expire and see if I could purchase the domain name and contents from the owner. Then i would see about adding my content to that site. This might be difficult, because anybody who has a site with good backlinks is probably not going to want to sell it, but if you try hard eniugh, you might be able to find one.

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