So you’ve decided to change your company name and want to move your website to a new domain. This is a risky process for your website traffic and ranking. You need to make sure that you don’t lose your current ranking with the search engines, that the value of your back links is maintained and your users don’t experience 404 file not found error messages.
There is a process that you can go through which will minimise the risk to your ranking and the disruption to your website visitors:
1. Upload a landing page on your new domain
Once you’ve bought your new domain name, upload a landing page with some content and allow the search engines to crawl it. It is easier for Google to process the change from a single landing page to a full website than a parked domain straight to the new website.
2. Test it out first with a small area of the website
Move the website in small chunks, and check that the ranking has been maintained before making the big move. If you move the first section and discover that the ranking has not carried over correctly or the pages are not getting indexed, it may be that the new domain had previously been used for spam and is banned by the search engines.
3. Redirect your pages
Set up 301 (permanent redirects) on all the pages of the website that you have moved to the new domain. This tells the search engines that these pages have been permanently moved and need to take their previous page rank with them. It also means that any pages that have been bookmarked by your website users will redirect to the new domain.
4. Moving your back links
It would be completely impractical to email every single website that links to you and request that they change the link to the new domain. However you should use your Google Analytics tool to discover your biggest referrers and your best links and make a request to the website owners to change the links to the new domain.
5. Keep hold of your old domain
Google recommends that you keep hold of your old site domain for at least 180 days. Keeping the web pages up on the old domain means that if anything does go wrong, your pages are still accessible.
6. Submit a new site map
Submit a new site map to the search engines to ensure that they find all the pages on your new domain. Check in Google Webmaster tools that all your URLs have been identified.
7. Tell them you’ve moved!
Use the change of address tool in Google Webmaster tools to tell them that you have changed domain (to do this you’ll need to register for Webmaster tools for your new domain and your old domain).
8. Check for broken links
You can also use your Google Webmaster tools to identify any broken links or pages where the 301 redirects are not working.
Moving to a new domain can be nerve-wracking but shouldn’t not affect your traffic and ranking, as long as it is done in a slow, measured way, following the above instructions.
For more information on moving your website to a new domain, see the Google Support pages Moving your site.