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Changing domain, think I have it sussed, but just want to check.

     
9:52 am on Aug 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Hi Everyone,

We're coming towards the end of a brand review and it looks like we might have to change our URL (despite my loud protestations of 'Don't change the name!'). I've been doing a fair bit of research and my plan is:

1. Keep hold of the old domain and keep the old site live for at least 6 months

2. Do the URL and design changes on different dates

3. 301 each page from the old site to the new site

4. add the new site to the same WMT account as the old site

5. register the change in WMT

6. try and get as many of our external links as possible changed ot the new site

7. tear my hair out as we lose traffic and revenue for a while


I have a few questions:

1. How long should I leave it between going live with the new URL and the new site design?

2. I have to put together and impact projection for our board. I'm expecting organic traffic to drop, but by how much and for how long? (I know that's a bit of a 'how long is a piece of string' type question - but if anyone's read anything on this or had some experience then some shared wisdom would be greatly appreciated).

3. Is there anything I've missed form the action plan?
7:58 pm on Aug 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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First, congratulations on some excellent upfront planning. You're off to a very solid start. Here's my take on your three questions

1. Don't fix a time period before changing the page templates - watch your server logs. When almost all search traffic is arriving directly, then you're established in the new location and can make template changes

2. I've guided several domain changes in the past year, and some have been smooth as silk. It is possible, when every detail is handled well, to see very little traffic loss and to be cooking along within a week or two.

So it's very important to make sure you don't introduce technical problems at the beginning of launching under the new domain. Sites that do have often ended up digging themselves a deep hole - especially if they try to fix something and make it worse instead.

3. If you're changing servers, make absolutely certain that all your technology is working on the new domain. Test before launch, and test after launch. Then watch your Webmaster Tools account like a hawk!

Remember to generate new xml sitemaps, and don't just trust that the script spit out the URLs accurately - do a hand review.

Avoid chains of redirects - for example, the old domain should make any canonical changes as part of the 301 to the new domain. Don't just redirect the url "as-is" and depend on another canonical redirect on the new domain to add the "www" or strip the query strings. One redirect will preserve as much of your ranking power as possible. A chain of redirects starts to leak.
7:59 am on Aug 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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@tedster - do you agree with doing the site design and the domain change at different times?

I'm thinking a big HTML change may well have an impact on our SERPs, but maybe it would be better to take it all in one go rather than spread the pain?

Then agian, doing them both at the same time could eb worse than the sum of their parts?
9:45 am on Aug 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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doing the site design and the domain change at different times?


Are you keeping the same site url and content structure on the new doamin or going for a complete re-design AND url change etc?

There's a huge difference if, basically, a brand new site is to be uploaded on the new domain.
3:00 pm on Aug 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Yes, I do agree with splitting the html changes from the domain change. From an SEO persepctive, I'd prefer do the html change first, and when it's clear how that has affected search traffic I'd do the domain change. However this may not be the wisest from a branding perspective, so there could be a trade-off decision. Whichever order, splitting the two changes will be extremely useful in knowing whether the html changes are problematic on their own.

The question from James_WV is also important - are you keeping all the same filepaths when you change to the new design?
2:31 pm on Aug 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Sorry guys, I was away for the day...

@tedster / @husky_pup - thanks a lot for all the info / help.

Yep, I'm keeping the same filepaths during the move - there may be a few title tag changes along the way, but that's going to be about it - all content etc will remain the same.
3:10 pm on Aug 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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all content etc will remain the same.


In my expoerience there is a much easier method and I have done this several times now and there has been absolutely no loss of backlink traffic and the rankings only took a few weeks to re-establish themselves on the new domain.

If you have the facility at your domain registrar you can point the old name at your new name, don't forgot to do both with and without www if prompted.

If the facility is not free of charge it should only be a few Dollars.

All you need to do is upload all the site content to the new name and as soon as it has propagated globally point the old name at the new one and delete all trace of the old site.

Doing it like this means any backlinks will automatically go immediately to the new domain url without any hassle and the search engines love this method.

Leave the old domain pointing at the new one for as long as you can, forever if you have no need for it, however I have found that usually it's ok to reuse after 6 months or so BUT IF you do have a lot of good backlinks I wouldn't re-use it if at all possible.
4:07 pm on Aug 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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wow, thanks for that tip Husky Pup - hadn't thought of doing it that way before!

Just in case though - anyone else have any thoughts on that method?
6:32 pm on Aug 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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...anyone else have any thoughts on that method?

Take a look at my comments in this 2008 discussion, in which I suggest using a 302, essentially what HuskyPup is suggesting...

Moving to a New Domain - Official Advice from Google
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/3629305.htm [webmasterworld.com]

While I still haven't tried it myself, I've come to feel that if the client isn't looking for a big flashy rebranding premiere of the new domain, you should use a 302 for a while, gradually build a reputation on the new domain, and then follow that up and change the 302 to a 301.

The logic of this is that while you'd normally want to avoid a 302, because it would show the site on both domains and potentially split your link vote, in this case that would be fine. During the 302 period you should try to build some natural links to the new domain, and if you get some inbounds to the current (old) domain, that won't hurt because, in this case, everything will eventually get redirected to the new domain.

Note, btw, that I'm extremely adamant about keeping control of the old domain more or less forever. Once you've done the 301 and pointed your old domain to the new IP using your A-records on your DNS and added the necessary code to your .htaccess, you can probably take the old site down in a week or so. The important thing is to have both sites operating simultaneously during DNS propagation.

But six months is not nearly enough, IMO, to keep the old domain pointing at the new hosting space. In part, it may depend on your business model and the kind of reputation you've built up for the old domain. Again, I suggest "in perpetuity and beyond".