Changing a few letters in your website’s URL might not seem like it can change your business’s online fortunes – but it really can. The domain you choose for your website becomes part of its brand, impacting its trustworthiness with users, and migrating to a new one can have a direct impact on your traffic and rankings.
However, the process doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to navigate. Find out more about our website migration services and how we can help your business redefine its online identity.
What is a domain migration?
Domain migration is the process of moving your website onto its new domain, taking content in multiple formats onto it in the process. There are a number of different types of domain change that your website might go through:
- Changing your subdomain from example.com to newexample.example.com
- Changing your domain from oldexample.com to newexample.com
- Changing your top-level domain from example.com to example.co, example.org etc.
There are a number of considerations in the process of a domain migration to help avoid too much of an impact on your website’s SEO performance – and it’s important to be sure that a domain migration is the right move. To help avoid an impact on your SEO performance, check out our SEO migration checklist.
Reasons you might need a domain migration
There are a number of reasons why a domain migration might be the natural next step for your website. For example, it’s common for startups to initially take the domain they can afford before finding themselves in a position to move to a better one a few years down the line.
Here are some of the most common reasons for a domain migration:
Maybe you’re renaming the business altogether, and moving to a domain with a new brand identity. This can seem like the best move but it’s not without its risks – if users and Google don’t know that they are dealing with a familiar brand then this can directly impact the site’s reputation and ranking, partly through an increased bounce rate.
A rebrand needs to focus on transferring as much of your reputation and existing authority with Google as possible.
Moving to a country-specific or international domain
Moving from a generic domain such as .com to a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) such as .uk, .fr or .de can increase your website’s appeal in a local market and make it seem more authoritative and approachable.
However, if you’re hosting domains across several countries you may want to do the opposite and move them all onto a generic top-level domain (gTLD) such as .com or .co, with country-speficic subdomains all in one place. This can boost the international reputation of your brand but should be combined with hreflang tag attributes to make sure users in different countries are directed to the right version of your content.
Moving from a hosted service to your own domain
You may also have started out on a hosted platform like WordPress or Squarespace and be ready to move onto your own domain, putting the identity of your business at the forefront and increasing its professionalism and authority.
When to avoid domain migration
If you’re moving domain as part of a wider reconfiguration of your online presence, try to stagger the process rather than making all the changes at the same time. It’s best to avoid a domain change at the same time as a:
- Migration to a new CMS
- Website restructure or redesign
- Significant change to the content of your website
Not only does a domain change complicate these other processes but it makes it more difficult to spot issues which could have an impact on SEO.
Any type of website migration has to be carefully handled in order to signal to Google that it’s not dealing with a different website or company altogether, and taking the process in individual stages means the change is less likely to be felt in SERP rankings and traffic.
It’s also worth knowing that if your domain has previously been hit with a penalty from Google, this will remain in place if you move the website to a new domain.
What is Active Directory migration?
Active Directory migration is combining two domains into one. It’s often a complex process involving vast amounts of data that may be performed because of a merger between two companies. It becomes necessary to have the new company’s website infrastructures run on a single system, sharing resources rather than being kept separate from one another.
How does it work?
Active Directory migrations are more difficult to undertake than single domain migrations because of the need to retain data and functionality from two different systems. This usually means it’s necessary to use specialised Active Directory migration tools with the help of an expert IT team.
The aim is to ensure the process is smooth for all stakeholders involved (which is usually a higher number than in a regular migration) and maintain the same login rights and access for those that need it.
What stages are involved in a website domain migration?
A domain migration of any sort is a complicated process but with a clear plan in place and the right data at your disposal, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a success that boosts rather than hinders your online identity.
Before migrating to your chosen domain, you should:
- Check the history of the new domain to see if it’s ever been used for spammy backlinks or hit with any penalties
- Verify the domain in Google Search Console to get detailed information on how Google’s algorithm is likely to perceive the new site
- Put a holding page on the new site because having a “coming soon” message in place can help Google recognise it and make it familiar for any users that come across it
- Have a full list of the URLs on your site so that you can measure the success of redirects and identify any issues that may arise following the migration
- Audit your current site for existing redirects or broken links to mark as removed
- Benchmark your current rankings and traffic to have a point of comparison when the new site goes live
- Create an XML sitemap for the new domain
- Create, map and most importantly test your redirects before launching on the new domain
On the day that you launch your new domain, you should:
- Remove any password protection and robots.txt files so that the site can be accessed and crawled
- Put any 301 redirects live on the original domain
- Test your redirects using crawler software to make sure each is working successfully
- Use the change of address tool in Google Search Console to notify Google of your presence on the new domain
- Get any external links changed by reaching out to the site owners. You may not be able to do this with all of them but it’s worth trying with the most authoritative websites
After you’ve launched on the new domain, you should continue to:
- Engage in link building campaigns to get new links to your updated domain and improve its standing with Google
- Crawl the new website regularly for any errors that users or search engines might come across
- Maintain your redirects and only take down the old domain once all activity on it has stopped. This may take many months
- Keep a close eye on rankings, visibility and ultimately traffic to see how the new site is performing overall
Risks of domain migration
There are two main risks to keep in mind when you’re migrating your website to a new domain.
- Traffic loss
When switching domain you can temporarily lose all the ranking and authority that you have built for your site over the years. In theory, this can be solved by putting a 301 redirect in place, but recovering traffic can take longer than planned. Of the different types of website migration, domain migration is usually the least risky for traffic loss – it’s website redesigns and restructures that can complicate things.
- Data loss
This can be a significant risk during any type of website migration – partly because some migration tools won’t let you carry over historical data that relates to the old website. Make sure that you backup all data wherever possible prior to a migration project in order to keep this loss to a minimum.
Your SEO migration agency
A domain migration is a big project but it can be kept as simple and seamless as possible with the help of a specialised SEO agency. Get in touch with us today to find out more about successful migration projects we’ve carried out in the past and see how we can help your business to make a success of domain migration.