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Traffic drop after domain name change... brand to non-brand

     
4:43 am on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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As an affiliate, I've run a branded website since 2007, with the blessing of the brand owner. For many brand related terms, pages from this site appeared on page #1 in Google. I also had some pages being shown as snippets or however they are called based on structured data, on the very top of results.
Then I was asked to give up on branded URL. So I moved it to a generic domain name (BTW, from .net to .deal). I did proper 301 and moved it in WMT Search Console (address change request) - on September 26 this year.
Traffic was ok for the next few days, and then started going downhill on September 30. It ended from 2-3K clicks per day to around 200/day.

Facts:

- in WMT, old domain is still being shown receiving traffic, 150-220 clicks per day.
- new domain is shown getting up to 10 clicks a day.
- all pages of the new domain's sitemap are shown as indexed.
- all structured data is shown as valid in the new domain, but nothing shows up in results like with old domain.
- traffic still converts, a few sales come every day.
- no errors that I'm aware of.
- no change was made to the site itself except the domain name change.
- 301 is setup at the domain name level, in Google Domains, with path forward on.
- if I do a test search for former prominent phrases, querying my site only, same pages show up in top spots, just like in the past.

Everything was transparent during the move. The only change I did outside the website itself was to bulk change links from a blog I control. There were a lot of links there, build up over the time.

Is it possible that branded domain could have such an impact?
Is there anything I missed here?
I did name changes in the past, but never brand to non-brand. I have never experienced anything like this.

Thank you
4:13 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Is it possible that branded domain could have such an impact?

Yes, especially nowdays. The brand name is certainly part of the context that Google is taking in consideration to select search results.

Even if there is no official reason, I think the TLD change has an impact too. Personally, I never saw "fancy" generic TLD in the SERPS.
5:47 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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These two statements can't both be accurate - though that may be what GSC shows:
I did proper 301
- in WMT, old domain is still being shown receiving traffic, 150-220 clicks per day.
- new domain is shown getting up to 10 clicks a day.

If each "old" page is properly redirected to its equivalent "new" page, then those 150-220 clicks per day are landing on the new domain. Of course Google won't count those as clicks on the new domain. What does your traffic show? If you are not getting the traffic from the old domain I would look at how your proper 301 was written. Have you viewed your access logs?

Now, IF the "old" domain is redirecting everything to the new domain's home page, then yes, people may go back to search results - and Google will start showing you soft 404 errors. This happens when people click expecting to land on the page they clicked on in the search results and find they are not on that page.
6:08 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Iím afraid you may be on a long road to recovery. Something similar happened to me at the end of June. Iíll go through it to give you an idea of the timescale and the complications Iíve faced that might have made things worse for me.

In my case I was switching to https, except it wasnít a straightforward move because I couldnít afford a wildcard SSL certificate, so I had to move all of my pages off subdomains onto my www site.

It absolutely trashed my traffic, I was at about 4K at the time, about half of which was from Google. (This is after suffering from an algorithm change in March that dropped me from about 10K). I dropped to about 800 visitors.

All of my rankings fell. Some pages disappeared completely for a couple of weeks.

I believe most of the traffic I lost was from very long tail and unique queries that use the ďneural matchingĒ algorithm, although thatís speculation.

Iíve spoken to a couple of SEOs online who think I might have been put in a spam sandbox because I have a lot of exact match backlinks, just as a result of the way people share my site. I am 100% white hat.

Iíve also considered the possibility of a mobile first ad related penalty, as Google ďhelpfullyĒ switched me to mobile first about four days after I initiated the site move, and a handful of my pages violated the 30% height rule (which I didnít know about) but I just donít know.

I made a lot of site quality improvements. Iíve honestly been working twelve hours a day ever since it happened.

I had a partial recovery during the mini core update on September 27th, and I almost have the same traffic as before the move to SSL.

Iím not sure exactly how it works but Google seems to need to respider and follow backlinks before it really understands that a site has moved.

Google has now respidered all 60k of my backlinks. I still donít have my rankings back. I was in position 1-2 for almost all of my pages. Iím currently in position 3-4 depending on the page, though Iím starting to see the occassional position 2.

Iím starting to get very long tail ďneural matchingĒ type searches back now, though that could be because Iíve made a lot of changes regarding relevancy and ensuring my topic coverage is a lot more comprehensive.

I believe I will have to wait for the next core update before I see a significant improvement. Iím just hoping it comes before Christmas so I can afford to live again!

Iíve read stories from people whoíve had bad site moves who said they just reverted back to their old domain and recovered their rankings and traffic.

If I were to do a site move again I think Iíd try and get a second site ranking with new content and then move things over a page at a time, as not to trigger any sudden shocks to Googleís algorithms and over-zealous spam sandboxes.

(I wanted to move my subdomains one at a time, except Google responded to the SSL certificate install on my www subdomain by changing all of my other subdomain addresses to https in the serps which broke the site for users because I didnít have the wildcard SSL, which forced me to do the site move all at once.)

I think if you have a lot of backlinks coming from one blog that could have triggered a sandboxing effect, if the sandbox is real.

It may just be a case of waiting it out. Iíve heard site moves can take six months to see a full recovery.

Edit: by the way I couldnít do an address change in webmaster tools because you canít redirect to specific urls. That may have made things worse for me.

[edited by: broccoli at 6:25 pm (utc) on Nov 12, 2018]

6:18 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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a long road to recovery

Something similar happened to me at the end of June.

I almost have the same traffic as before the move to SSL.

4 months is not what I would call a "long" road..

I couldnít afford a wildcard SSL certificate,

You could have simply get a free cert for each of your sub-domains. And with Let's Encrypt you can automate TLS certificate creation, so even if you have thousands of sub-domains this is not hard to do.

By the way, you are right about the fact, that it takes times for Google to re-calculate the "value" of pages / sites, after significant change. Google always said that it can take anywhere from two weeks, to 6 months (which I think is the average), to one year.
6:36 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Heh, it feels pretty long when you're going through it, working 12 hour days, and you can't afford to pay your bills! My adsense earnings are still well below (60-70%) of what they were before I made the move, even if I have most of the traffic back.

Yeah, a few people have told me about free certificates I could have used. I didn't know about them at the time, despite researching for days, and it turns out my creaky old Windows web server wouldn't have been able to handle more than one certificate anyway. I need to upgrade, but again, that needs to wait until I have enough money to do it. Tbh I wish I'd never done it. I should have moved the site to a new url structure very slowly, then added an SSL certificate months later.

Anyway, I keep making threads all about me, and I'm trying not to do that...
7:27 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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So I moved it to a generic domain name (BTW, from .net to .deal)


I don't care what ANY domainer says, keep away from such garbage, stick to com/net/org, info is good in Germany and cctlds.

This last 3-4 years I have even been converting eu, in, asia and quite simply dropping them. IME Google detests these, other search engines quite often like them yet they drive so little traffic it's pointless.
8:04 pm on Nov 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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What does your traffic show? If you are not getting the traffic from the old domain I would look at how your proper 301 was written. Have you viewed your access logs?


Thanks for pointing to this as i missed to mention it. Analytics shows all traffic for the new domain, 200+ visits from organic Google every day.

I don't have any logs for the old domain as the redirect is setup in Google Domains. I did have it setup in .htaccess at first, but decided to let Google Domains do it, to make it even more transparent and let it have the right picture in both Domains and WMT.

I'm yet to digest the rest of replies, thanks to all.