How To Change Your Domain Name (URL) Without Losing Traffic Or SEO Rankings (A Complete Step-By-Step Process)

Considerations before getting to the nitty-gritty of domain switching

  • Consider keeping the exact same URL structure while switching domains. Both you and Google have a lot to do when you switch domains, and it will make your lives much easier if you consider keeping the same website structure while you do this process
  • Consider keeping the same website platform during a domain switch (Content Management System – CMS). Switching a CMS can do things like add new suffixes to your old URLs and make replacing things a lot harder then if you keep the platform the same for now.

Pre-Domain Switch Steps

  1. Conduct an SEO audit first.
    1. Download data on your organic search rankings, backlinks, and any pertinent SEO data before making the switch. This way you can compare how your site is doing after the switch.
  2. Create a spreadsheet of every URL that currently exists. You can do this with a tool like Xenu. This table would include what kind of redirect you plan to set-up, whether that page will exist still on the new site, if the page needs to be updated (design or copy), and what the new URL is going to be. Below is a sample table so you get a clearer idea of what I mean:
Original URLRedirect ActionWill This Page Exist On New Site?Does This Page Need To Be Updated (Design or Copy?)New URL
  1. Handle all of your redirects you had set up prior to the new domain change. Sometimes these redirects include any other domains you had redirecting to your old domain, or any specific redirects you had set up.
    1. First, backup your current .htaccess file or httpd file depending on what software you use to do this
    2. Make sure you don’t have any weird redirect loops set up (ie: the old domain redirects to a page on the new domain that then accidentally redirects back to some page on the old domain). Take the time now to clean up any old redirects you have set up.
  2. Verify all versions of the new domain in Google Search Console. Do this before you do the actual domain switch. Set up each version of the domain on your Google Search Console account, and check for any important messages from Google.
    1. Verify the www, non-www, and non-www https versions of the new domain
  3. Contact your hosting provider first to let them know that you plan on switching your domain and ask them for any advice on the processes. It’s good to be on their radar during this technical transition, then when you are making the switch they can be on hand to help you with any inevitable issues that arise.
  4. Backup your site before making the switch in case anything weird happens. 
    1. Ideally, you would get your hosting provider doing this for you because you have wisely chosen a hosting provider that does this kind of thing for you. If not, you can try a WordPress plugin that does that sort of thing such as UpdraftPlus or WP-Migration (the premium version); however, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a hosting provider that takes care of these kinds of things for you.
      1. If you are using a third-party plugin or service to backup your sites other than your hosting provider, make sure that you update your domain settings to the new domain. Otherwise your site will not be getting backed up when you make the switch.

How to Switch Your Domain Without Losing SEO Rankings or Breaking Things

  1. Check to see if your new domain has any pre-existing SEO penalties using the following sites:
    1. https://ismywebsitepenalized.com/
    2. https://web.archive.org/
    3. https://ahrefs.com/backlink-checker
  2. If it does, file a reconsideration request to Google stating that you recently bought this domain and are starting a new business under it.
    1. File the request here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9044175
  3. Audit your old domain so you have a benchmark of how you were doing from a SEO perspective before the switch. Use Google Search Console to check the following things:
    1. Export your reports for the past 3, 6, and 12 months from Google Search Console. Export your performance report, index coverage, Sitemaps, and mobile usability reports.
  4. Migrate your site with the help of your hosting provider. I will say, Flywheel hosting (my preference for managed WordPress hosting) makes this SO EASY. You will need to work this out with your particular hosting provider but here is a general summary of what to do with Flywheel and Google Domains (our preferred set-up for clients):
    1. Go to the DNS records of your new domain and make sure to add your hosting provider’s IP address set up for your site.
      1. If you are using Google Domains and Flywheel hosting (our preferred set-up for our clients) then you will need to add the following three (3) lines to your DNS records:
        1. Line 1: Name (@); Type (A); TTL (1h); Data (The IP address listed under your domains in your Flywheel account)
        2. Line 2: Name (*); Type (A); TTL (1h); Data (The IP address listed under your domains in your Flywheel account)
        3. Line 3: Name (www); Type (CNAME); TTL (1h); Data (The new domain without the www. For example just boopdigital.com)
    2. Go back to your Flywheel account and add the new domain name to your list of domains. Click ‘add domain’ and enter the name (ie: boopdigital.com) set the toggle option as ‘primary domain.’ 
      1. This will let Flywheel know that this is your new main domain. This will trigger a new SSL certificate to be created for that domain, trigger Flywheel to set up all of your 301 redirects on your behalf, and trigger them to do a search and replace for your new domain on your WordPress site. If you don’t use Flywheel you will need to do all three of these things manually.
        1. Manual 301 Redirect instructions:
          1. This will send the user to the correct page, but will also tell search engines that the page has permanently moved and transfer the link credit to a new page
          2. You can create a “wild card” redirect in your .htccess file that will transfer everything on a domain-name level (automatically adds a 301 redirect to all of your old domain URLs and pushes them to the new domain with the same URL).
          3. Use a 301 checker to make sure everything is being transferred properly
  5. It’s important to note here that you will not want to just get rid of your old domain. You will most likely want to keep it as long as possible, if not forever and have it alway redirecting to the new domain. This ensures that you don’t lose any SEO rankings. This takes a long time to take effect for search engines, and also there may be tons of places linking to your old site that you won’t even necessarily remember or know about.
  6. Go to your new WordPress admin panel and change your website’s site title to the new name of the site for SEO purposes. If you have a site built on divi, you will find this setting under the ‘theme customizer.’ (Most of our clients have Divi sites as a starting point).
  7. Double check that your search and replace (that Flywheel conducted) worked correctly. To do this, you can download the plugin ‘Better Search and Replace’ which is free for WordPress. You can download it here. Please note that you NEED TO REMEMBER to backup your site before running any kind of search and replace functionality on your site. If you mess things up, then at least you have a backup you can return to. Flywheel members can always manually backup their site on their account as much as they need to.
  8. Inform Google of your change of address once everything else above has been completed. This lets Google officially know that you have switched over. You won’t qualify for a change of address request unless you have set up all of your redirects, switched your domain, etc.
    1. Request the change of address via your Google Search Console account. You will need to have a Google Search Console account set up for both the old domain and the new domain to do this. It is free and easy to set one up, and invaluable for SEO performance review, so make sure you have it.
    2. In your Google Search Console account for the old domain, go to the ‘Settings’ menu option and choose ‘Change of Address.’ Select the new domain name and confirm the change. Google will do the rest.
  9. Reconnect Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics (GA). This will allow you to see search queries, landing page info, and geographical data from GSC directly in your Google Analytics account. If you switch domains then you need to reset this whole thing up again.
    1. Hop into Admin settings for Google Analytics and connect right to the GSC site. It will be at the bottom of your property settings options. Click the “Adjust Search Console” button.
  10. Make sure your Google Analytics account is working properly. 
    1. When you log into your GA account, you can see live users. Try logging into your site on a different browser and see if your own traffic is showing up. This serves as a good test to make sure things are working.
    2. After about a week you can check to see if your traffic is the same as it was before. If for some reason you took a giant dip in traffic, something might be wrong.
    3. You can also find out if people are seeing error pages (404 pages) by logging into your Google Analytics account and going to the Site Content report > ‘All Pages.’ Search for terms like ‘Page Not Found’ and ‘404’ to see if people have been redirected to any of these error pages.
  11. Try Googling yourself and see if the links you press take you to the new domain or error pages, etc.
  12. Get feedback from friends and followers who might pick up on errors, weird links, etc. You can always position these things as a way to hear from your community and build trust rather than waiting for people to complain about broken links, or worse, not complain and just never visit your site again due to a poor user experience.
  13. Check your Google Search Console account under the new domain and look at the ‘Index Coverage’ report to see if Google has flagged any site errors that might have occurred during the domain switch.
  14. Now it is time to clean up your new domain. You might have some internal (ie: on your own site) links that are broken. You can use a tool like this one to check to see if these are broken. Make sure to backup up your site before any major changes are made.
  15. Apply any advanced settings in Google Search Console (GSC)
    1. If you had any advanced settings in your Google Search Console account then you will need to set that up for your new site as well. This could include things like advanced country targeting, disavow files, or URL parameters.
  16. Edit Google Analytics settings and add annotations.
    1. In both your property and view settings in Google analytics you should change the domain name to your new domain in the field for default URL.
    2. Add an annotation in your Google Analytics view with a note about changing domain names on the specific date you switched. This will help with any reporting issues you may come up with down the line.

Post-Domain Switch SEO Steps

  1. You most likely switched your email address as well during a domain switch so make sure to update the email address wherever it shows but especially:
    1. In the contact section of your site
    2. In your footer contact section
    3. The destination email for any contact forms you have
    4. Forward your old email’s mail to your new account
  2. Update all mentions of your old domain:
    1. social media account profiles
    2. other online accounts you have
    3. business cards & stationery
    4. email signature
    5. advertising campaigns
    6. Google My Business listing
  3. Notify new clients and visitors of the change through newsletters, blog posts, social and maybe even a banner on your site. You can refer to your business as: New Business Name (Formerly known as Old Business Name) for a bit to help with a rebranding process.

Can I outsource this work?

Yes. We offer domain migration services where we will work with your hosting provider, DNS records, and website to make sure you successfully switch over without SEO implications. We will also monitor for the month after the switch to ensure that things are looking normal. You can fill out the form below if you want us to manage this. Typically it costs $2000 for us to fully manage the whole experience for you; however, we will confirm estimates once we have more information on your domains, hosting provider and domain provider.

Ongoing Considerations After The Switch

  • Monitor your 404 errors to see when a page doesn’t get redirected properly. This can be done in your Google Analytics account
    • Check everyday for the first week and update pages immediately
    • Check once a week for the first month and 
    • Check once a month for the first year
  • Plan a big digital marketing push for after your domain switch to save inevitable dips in traffic and awareness when you make the switch
    • Plan a link-building campaign
      • Reach out to all your friends with the news of your new domain/business name
      • Try to get as many guest blogging opportunities as possible
      • Create some infographics that link to your site and get them shared as much as possible
    • Plan a big content-push
      • Plan to post a huge amount of new content after you launch the new domain including blogs and premium content downloads. This will increase traffic and improve link building.
    • Plan a PPC Campaign
      • Consider launching a short-term pay-per-click advertising campaign to help supplement search traffic. You can target some of the organic keywords you were ranking for with your old domain.
    • Create an Event Around The New Launch
      • Create a landing page pre-launch that explains that something big is coming to your site, then provide a special offer for people who sign up to receive updates about the new launch.
      • Later in the day when you launch (once you’ve checked everything), send a mass email promoting the new domain and including a link to the offer for those who signed up to receive updates.