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Expectations while moving to a new domain

4:24 am on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I'm about to move my website from www.oldwebsite.com to www.newwebsite.com. All pages are in php written in search engine friendly way. So my plan is to produce a 301 for every www.oldwebsite.com/X/Y/Z to www.newwebsite.com/X/Y/Z and my questions are:

1. Whether or not every page should return a) 301 and no html or b) 301 plus the html

2. My expectations should be that a) G's traffic will remain the same and get redirected, b) G's traffic will drop, c) both sites might get sandboxed

I will be moving close to 50K pages. I currently get around 1400 uniques a day, half of them from G, 30% returning visitors and the rest from everywhere else. Website is two years old.


11:58 pm on Nov 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I know I can give an answer to 1: Once the server sends the 301 code, that's all it sends, so there's no need to include the content - in fact it may not work if you try. The 301 status code means "Get the content over there, not here".

2: Probably B and half of C. The 301s will work while the present results are in the SERPS, but once G realizes that you have moved, it will stop listing the old domain. The new domain will most likely be sandboxed, and you'll lose traffic.

12:07 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Changing a domain that attracts 250,000 people a year through Google should only be considered for very good reasons. I'm assuming that your daily traffic volume is at least reasonable in your business area (as that could be seen as tiny or huge depending on the area).

I would be thinking more along the lines of IF it's neccessary, rather than HOW to do it.

It's possible that it could all go well, but it's quite likely that there will be hiccups along the way (some of these could be so big that they endanger the viability of the business associated with the domain).

If you must do it then 301's are best implemented as just headers (no HTML). Expect a traffic drop/stop and sleepless nights.

Best of luck.

12:39 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

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You *will* get a drop in traffic.

The absolute best case is that Google takes your current results out of the index and the new pages go into the index at the same time. Google credits your 301s within a month, and takes another month to recalculate everything else.

Since the new domain is not the old domain, it will not get any benefit of any age related factors. You also have a new domain that is suddenly appearing with 50K pages.

If you are lucky, Google will recognize that it simply a new domain name on an old domain. It isn't the sort of luck that I would want to bet a business on.

1:11 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

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The new domain may take a year to get going, but it may be much quicker. Beware of Matt Cutts' warnings about "big sites just appearing from nowhere" on their spam radar.

The old domain will rapidly have most of its URLs dropped to Supplemental, and most of those will remain visible for up to a year.

Any place those Supplemental Results appear in the SERPs is not a problem. Your redirect will be feeding the visitor through to the exact required page anyway.

Prepare for quite a few months of bumpy ride.

4:36 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

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I would strongly consider having a GWT account that ties the old domain to the new one. You don't need to submit an xml sitemap unless you like that idea, but the crawling data alone could be valuable -- an giving Google a solid reason to trust the new domain could only help.

We moved a domain 20 months ago from the .org to the .com of the same "rightmost non-generic token" (in Hilltop language.) The old owners had allowed the domain to fully expire -- there was a clear break in the Whois history and the new ownership was clearly the same as the .org ownership. We did a domain wide and url-specific 301 redirect and the new domain's url structure exactly mirrored the old.

And still there was a major dip in traffic and an 8 month quarantine from the trust filters. Reports I've heard this year are that the process can be much faster, but I would still pull out all the stops and give every possible trust signal. Where possible get inbound links changed -- especially deep inbound links. Get new IBLs, both to the domai root and to deeper pages. A Press Release might help a lot.

For an earlier domain move, back at the begining of the so-clled sandbox effect, we did not use 301's, we placed dumb old "we have moved" links on every page. To my memory, that changeover actually went faster (5 months), although I'm not recommending it. I just wanted to mention it as a cautionary tale about the magnitude of what you pla on accomplishing.

I think the WebmasterWorld community would very much appreciate a few updates as the process moves ahead. I'd love to hear that Google is handling domain moves more smoothly and rapidly than in the past - but whether it's better or worse, whatever happens for you could be very helpful information for other businesses.

8:48 am on Nov 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

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From MC, a year ago:

Now letís talk for a minute about moving from mattcutts.com to someotherdomain.com. All other things being equal, I would recommend to stay with the original domain if possible. But if you need to move, the recommended way to do it is to put a 301 (permanent) redirect on every page on mattcutts.com to point to the corresponding page on someotherdomain.com. If you can map mattcutts.com/url1.html to someotherdomain.com/url1.html, thatís better than doing a redirect just to the root page (that is, from mattcutts.com/url1.html to someotherdomain.com). In the olden days, Googlebot would immediately follow a 301 redirect as soon as it found it. These days, I believe Googlebot sees the 301 and puts the destination url back in the queue, so it gets crawled a little later.
2:38 am on Nov 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Great thread!

We "were" planning to split our site into 3 sites (3 separate subjects) to reduce risk of a repeating a SERP drop (i.e. Lose a third of the business instead of all) and make SEO easier.

You have changed my mind. Going to concentrate on keeping what we have clean.


11:32 am on Nov 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Here's my 2c:
If the content remains the same, 301 should be ok, and the SERPs should soon be alright again.
If you're redesigning and changing content while moving, say bye bye rank.
4:22 pm on Nov 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

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Well, we did this for one of our client 2 weeks ago. Here is what we experienced :

We have set a sitewide 301 redirect in a htacces file located on the server root. The new domain name is brand new.

3 days later, the old domain name disappeared from the SERPs.

2 days after, the NEW domain name is back in the SERPs, ranking 3rd instead of 1st... Since then , the new domain name is climbing again in the SERPs for the different keywords targetted.

During the process, we lost 40% of our traffic. Now we are 20% below what we used to have, but within a few weeks / months, we expect to get back to normal.

Note that we did not make any changes while doing the 301. We only changed the different internal links to the new domain name. Note also that both of domain name are registered in google's webmaster tools under the same account (maybe that helped somehow).

Backlinks & TBPR are not transfered yet and only 30% of the pages are transfered to the new domain name.

It's too soon to claim for victory, but so far it's smelling good...