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How do I safely move my website to a new domain name?

Changing the domain name does not have to be the cause for any (long lasting) negative SEO effects. As long as you plan the move carefully and do it correctly, you do not have to fear ranking losses. In order to move your domain, you should tell Google that you changed the address of your website. You do so through the Google Search Console (GSC) and then you have to redirect all the content from the old domain to the new, with the help of 301-redirects.

The following steps and requirements are necessary in order to ensure the domain move goes through without a hitch:

  • the domain you used so far has to be verified in the GSC
  • the new domain also has to be verified in the GSC (using the same account)
  • you have to tell Google about the change of address for the domain, using the GSC
  • all content on the old domain has to be redirected to the new domain name, using 301-redirects
  • you need to check the internal links
  • get Google to crawl the new domain
Remember: Google takes a while to trust the new domain and transfer all trust-metrics from the old domain to the new one. Please also see our blogpost The Price of Changing the Domain Name for more information.

The change of address tool in the Google Search Console

You can use the Google Search Console to notify Google of a change of address. To do so, you have to add and verify both domains in the same GSC account.

To commit an address change, select the old domain in the GSC account and click on the menu entry “address change” in the upper right area, behind the gear symbol.

Address change of a domain in the Google Search Console

Address change of a domain in the Google Search Console

  • https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/change-address?hl=en&siteUrl=http://www.your-old-domain.com/

Once the site for the address change has opened, you can select the new domain name from the drop-down list and sent it to Google.

On the left you can see the old domain name and, on the right, the selection of new domain names

On the left you can see the old domain name and, on the right, the selection of new domain names

Now you have successfully requested a change of address with Google.

301-redirects on the old domain

To automatically redirect visitors as well as Google-Bot to the new domain, when they request the old domain name, you have set up a 301-redirect for the old domain name.

In order to use a redirect to the new domain, with a HTTP Status Code 301, you simply enter the following Rewrite Rule into the .htaccess file for the old domain.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^OLD-domain.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.NEW-domain.com/$1 [R=301,L]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.OLD-domain.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.NEW-domain.com/$1 [L,R=301]

By using the above code, you will also redirect all URLs. If you, for example, request a URL on the old domain (www.old-domain.com/product-1/), you are automatically redirected to the same URL on the new domain (www.new-domain.com/product-1/).

Checking your internal links

If you used absolute paths for your internal links – which means that whenever you added a link, you used the entire URL as well as the host name – then you should make sure all those links are changed. You would do this by switching the old domain name within every link for the new one.

  • you can use the detailed-evaluation of the SISTRIX Optimizer to check your internal link structure

If the internal link structure of your website uses only relative paths then you do not need to change anything.

301 redirects do not have a high damping factor

A redirect with the HTTP Status Code 301 (Moved Permanently) does not have a higher damping factor than links, says Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam-Team. According to this, redirecting internal and external links with a 301-redirect is a good choice.

Have Google crawl the new domain

You should request that Google crawl the new website, in order to let them quickly know about the new domain and so that they can index the contents.

To do so, go to the Google Search Console and click on the menu entry “Crawling” > “Fetch as Google”. This will let you send single URLs to the Google-Index.

Fetch as Google

“Fetch as Google” feature in the Google Search Console

The Google-Bot will then crawl these pages.

You should also submit a XML-sitemap to Google to support the crawling process.

Monitor your domain move

For the first few weeks, you should regularly check out the crawling-statistic evaluation within the Google Search Console for the new domain – Google recommends 180 days for bigger websites. This way you can quickly identify any crawling problems which may arise.

You can also compare both domains’ Visibility within the SISTRIX Toolbox in order to keep an eye on how successful the domain move has been:

SISTRIX Visibility Index comparison of both the old domain and the new

SISTRIX Visibility Index comparison of both the old domain and the new

The change in Visibility for both domains clearly shows that, after the move, Google ranks the content on the new domain instead of the old.

Video explanation By Matt Cutts on this topic

Additional information about this topic:

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