Domain migration

Domain migration – why and how

What is a domain migration?

A domain migration is the process of moving a website from one domain (website) to another without data security losses or impairment. It requires the moving of all the content and resources.

Such an action can seem daunting, and it’s best handled by a professional to ensure that it’s successful and doesn’t affect a website’s search performance. However, it is possible to do it yourself, as you will see.

When do you need a new domain?

There are a number of reasons you might consider taking the step of migrating your domain. These are:

Rebranding

This is one of the most common reasons that organisations choose to migrate their domain, particularly by companies that have grown their business. 

Rebranding is a major changing, driven by the wider needs of the business. It’s time to overhaul all aspects of your customer experience. Changing the domain to reflect your new brand name and – potentially – the message you transmit to the world, can prove problematic for search engines and your website visitors alike.

People like familiar, and rebranding can cause them to feel uneasy. Are they going to get the same quality of products and customer service? You don’t want them to lose them to your competitors.

Then, of course, there’s the search engines, which are vital to growing your business. Search engines take note of brand signals – how often a brand is mentioned and searched for. Any domain migration that includes rebranding needs to take this account, building a new brand reputation and transferring as many mentions on other websites, backlinks etc, as possible.

Changing to geographic domains

Many companies will choose to swap from a generic domain, such as .net or .biz to a country specific, e.g..co.uk or international (.com) website address. Depending on whether you want to appeal to a local (national) market, or an international market will dictate which one you use.

Alternatively, you may have a number of different domains and want to combine them into one top-level-domain (TLD).

Moving from hosted to own domain

It’s not unusual for websites to start out on shared servers, such as with WordPress.com. It’s cheap and does the job for smaller sites. But as you grow, you need to host your own domain. If you’re simply getting a new domain name, these hosted services will usually handle the migration process for you, automatically redirecting traffic.

However, if you’re switching to your own hosting service as well as changing domain, then you’ll need a full migration process.

When NOT to migrate to a new domain

There are lots of reasons to migrate to a new domain but, equally, there are times when you should not migrate. If you’re just changing your content management system (CMS), are editing the design or content of your website, or are changing the structure of the site, these are not good reasons for migrating your domain.

Equally, if you’ve suffered a search engine penalty, there’s no point as these penalties will follow you.

Not sure if domain migration is right for you? Why not book a FREE one hour consultation with Demystify Digital to discuss your options? We can be contacted on [email protected] or 01903 372 402.

 

Pre-launch: plan your migration

So, you’ve decided that a domain migration is the right thing for your organisation. As someone once said, they love it when a plan comes together, so it’s time to plan and get started.

Check the history of your new domain

Believe it or not, your new domain may have been used before. And sometimes it can be involved with shady activity. You need to check whether there is indexed or removed comments, or whether there are any backlinks pointing to it.

There are ways of checking out what Google thinks of your new site. Claim and verify your new domain using Google’s Search Console, and verify your current domain if you haven’t already.

Put a holding page up on the new domain

So, you’ve got your new domain and checked that there’s no bad history associated with it. Now’s the time to make it public. Search engines recognise when a dormant domain becomes live, so creating some sort of presence, however minor, removes a potential delay to transferring your rankings.

So create a holding page. Add contact info and whatever detail you can to make it helpful to anyone who finds it. You will have to host both domains for a while so that redirects work and use the server logs to monitor when your original domain is no longer receiving visitors.

Compile a full list of URLs on your site

You need all the URLs on your site that your can find. These are webpage addresses and the easiest way is to use a crawler which identifies all the URLs Google would see. Use your content management system to list all of the URLs and gather data from Google Analytics or other tools to show all the pages that your websites have linked to.

If you run pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, such as through Google AdWords, you need to include any display URLs you’re using. You need a comprehensive list as this master list will enable you to measure the success of any redirects and the site post-migration performance.

Pinpoint your most important external links.

Audit your current site

Following the site crawl and using tools such as Search console, you can identify any errors you need to fix before your site migration.

Now you need to check the validity of those URLs. Are any going to the dreaded 404 errors (pages that don’t exist)? You’ll need these for mapping later, but you need to decide if there are any old URLs resulting in error that need to be redirected, or if they should be marked as removed.

Benchmark your current performance rankings

To check the success of the migration, you need to know your current performance. So you need to know all the search terms that you currently rank for.

You need to measure the rankings and visibility that your site currently has. There are a number of tools available both free and paid for. Google’s Search Console also provides a lot of data on keywords.

If you monitor the keywords you rank for, you need to check these and make particular note of which URLs are ranking for your most important phrases.

Traffic: & Indexation: Benchmark your current performance

You need to know how your current site is performing, understanding which pages are particularly driving organic traffic. Create a document, online or offline, that shows the visits, sessions, conversions, bounce rates etc., for each URL. This can take some time. You need a meaningful sample, so it should embrace several months at least.

Then, using Search Console you need to understand how many URLs are indexed. You also need to submit a sitemap to check whether this tallies up with the new domain.

Check your PPC ads

Migration doesn’t always bed-in immediately. So make sure you’ve developed a plan-b to be visible foe all those important terms that are going to make up the shortfall.

Have an XML sitemap

A sitemap is vitally important, not just for your human visitors as much as for your technology visitors. It’s a file that communicates all the important URLs directly to anyone who reads it. This sitemap will be submitted as soon as the new website launches,

Create a custom 404 page

404s are generally a bad thing. They’re the error message you get when a page isn’t found. Not what you want. But when you create a new domain a 404 can redirect visitors to the new website and is ready for the new launch.

Map your redirects

You need to map your old URLs to new ones. While many will stay the same, they will have the new domain, for example, http://olddomain.net/aboutus becomes https://newdomain.co.uk/aboutus.

But you may choose to get rid of some old pages, especially if there are errors on the old pages. This can take some time, dependent on the size of the site, so you need to be patient.

Ensure the new site isn’t indexed too early

So, you have a new landing page but nothing else on your site. You don’t want it crawling yet, so you need to block them. This can be done via your robots.txt file – which gives the instructions to crawlers – and the meta=noindex tags, which ask search engines not to include a page in their internet indexes. Passwords will also protect the site.

301 redirects

404 redirects are bad. 301 redirects are good. This tells people that a page has moved and where to go. As well as helping website users, it instructs search engines that all the authority of the old site has moved to the new one.

 

Feeling overwhelmed already? Demystify Digital can take all of the stress and headaches away. We offer a FREE one-hour consultation to analyse your website and make recommendations. Why not contact us on [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402?

Launch the new domain

Once you’ve undertaken all the pre-migration checks, it’s time to migrate that domain.

Open up for business

It’s time to remove the password protection, meta robots non-index tags and the line disallowing access in the robots.txt file. Now everyone, including search engines, can crawl your site and see your content.

Implement the 301 redirects

It’s time to make sure that everyone can find your site. Make your 301 redirects live. These should be 1:1 redirects for each original URL, including any that were already redirecting, so that any old redirects are pointing straight at the new domain, rather than through a second URL.

You should still make any URLs that you have decided to remove as part of your site tidy up live at this point. Sometimes, it’s not possible to do 1:1 redirects and the whole domain will be redirected to the equivalent URL on the new domain. While this isn’t the best solution, it will still work in most cases.

It’s also time to check that the new domain setup is correct. Do URLs in capitals redirect to lower-case versions?

Change your address

Just like moving house, you need to let people know you’ve moved. Google’s Search Console boasts a Change of Address tool. It does what it says on the tin: lets Google know that you have moved from one domain to another. However, both domains need to be verified to do this, so if your original domain isn’t verified, you need to do this now.

Encourage Google to check out your new domain

Invite Google into your new home. There’s another handy tool in the Search Console, known as Fetch. This Googlebot tool can be used to crawl your home and most important pages. Of course, ensure that the pages are rendered correctly, and that Google is seeing the same page a human user would. Then use the Submit to Index option for that URL to request that Google indexes the page.

Submit your XML sitemaps

This is a really important step. Again found in the Search Console, submit your XML sitemap. This encourages Google to crawl all of the URLs within the site, and score and index them. You can check how many pages have been indexed, a figure that should increase over the first few days of migration, and should be very similar to your original domain.

It’s also worth submitting or resubmitting your XML site map from the old domain. This encourages search engines to crawl the old pages, see the 301 redirects, and visit your new website.

Test your redirects

This is another important step. Using the crawling tool you used in the testing phase, enter the list of all the URLs in your old domain, and crawl them again. Ensure that every single URL is successfully redirecting to the new domain.

If your software has the capability, check for redirect chains. Ideally, there should be only one step from the original URL to the new one.

Google Analytics

Using Google Analytics, use their Real Time reports to ensure that your analytics are working correctly. Add a note when the migration happened, so you can see what impact it has on your traffic, and rename profiles and views as appropriate.

Update external links

Backlinks are vital for getting your site noticed by Google and other search engines. They show that your site is reliable, authoritative and useful to end users. Reach out to anyone who backlinks to any of your URLs and ask them to update their site. And don’t forget to update your socials and email addresses  too.

Still not feeling confident? Demystify Digital can clear any confusion and support your migration. Find out how we can help by emailing us at [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402.

Post launch – monitoring your migration

You can’t just migrate your domain and forget about it. You want to be sure that you’re generating traffic and your site is performing as it should.

Create fresh links

You need to promote your site and generate new links. Perhaps issue a press release announcing your new site; send out a newsletter to your customers; or get in touch with relevant bloggers and other organisations asking them to consider linking to your site.

Monitor your indexations

This means using Google Sitemaps and Index Status tools, located within the Search Console. You should check regularly how many of your unique pages are indexed by Google.

Check, check again

You need to keep on top of your website and check for errors regularly. Again, use your crawling software, as this mimics the way a search engine would identify problems.

You should also use the Crawl Errors report in the Search Console every day for the first few weeks to see if any issues have been highlighted by Google. This free information allows you to identify any problems the search engine has found, plus gives tips on improving your SEO.

Check your rankings and visibility

Your new domain will hopefully generate more traffic than your old one. Checking against the numbers you found in the planning stage, monitor how well the new domain is ranking for your target keywords, and check visibility too. Do this as often as possible.

Ideally, you’ll see a cross-over in your charts as the new domain takes traffic from the old one. You can even compare it at URL level as well as site level. Check when the most visible URLs from the old site are replaced by the newer versions.

Traffic and sales

Obviously, the biggest sign of success is traffic and converting prospects into active consumers, known as the conversion rate.

Initially, you might see a drop off but within a couple of months it should even out if you’ve done your due diligence. Pay especial attention to the individual URLs that performed well on your original site. Hopefully, you should see an improvement post-migration.

Maintain your redirects

It’s tempting to remove your redirects too soon, but they should stay in place until all activity for the old domain stops. This can take some time. But once all traffic to the old site has finished, you can consider removing them (however some experts believe it is sensible to permanently keep your redirects, just in case).

A way of checking your redirects is by analysing your server logs. Once you can see Google is no longer visiting the old domain, you may be ready to turn off your redirects or edit the 1:1 redirects to a site-wide redirect.

And finally…

Even though you may be maintaining the same content after domain migration, Google will see your new domain as an entirely new entity. You shouldn’t, therefore, be surprised or alarmed if ranking and traffic drop for a while. But a good migration and redirection strategy will help to mitigate some of these problems.

You also need to keep your customers and potential customers informed about the changes, so that they can still find you. Following this step-by-step process will help ensure that your site users have a great experience.

Alternatively, let Demystify Digital take the strain of your domain migration. We can handle all aspects of the process from analysis, through implementation to post-migration monitoring. We can also provide content and marketing for your new website. Contact us for more information on [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402. 

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    What is a domain migration?

    A domain migration is the process of moving a website from one domain (website) to another without data security losses or impairment. It requires the moving of all the content and resources.

    Such an action can seem daunting, and it’s best handled by a professional to ensure that it’s successful and doesn’t affect a website’s search performance. However, it is possible to do it yourself, as you will see.

    When do you need a new domain?

    There are a number of reasons you might consider taking the step of migrating your domain. These are:

    Rebranding

    This is one of the most common reasons that organisations choose to migrate their domain, particularly by companies that have grown their business. 

    Rebranding is a major change, driven by the wider needs of the business. It’s time to overhaul all aspects of your customer experience. Changing the domain to reflect your new brand name and – potentially – the message you transmit to the world, can prove problematic for search engines and your website visitors alike.

    People like familiar, and rebranding can cause them to feel uneasy. Are they going to get the same quality of products and customer service? You don’t want them to lose them to your competitors.

    Then, of course, there’s the search engines, which are vital to growing your business. Search engines take note of brand signals – how often a brand is mentioned and searched for. Any domain migration that includes rebranding needs to take this account, building a new brand reputation and transferring as many mentions on other websites, backlinks etc, as possible.

    Changing to geographic domains

    Many companies will choose to swap from a generic domain, such as .net or .biz to a country specific, e.g..co.uk or international (.com) website address. Depending on whether you want to appeal to a local (national) market, or an international market will dictate which one you use.

    Alternatively, you may have a number of different domains and want to combine them into one top-level-domain (TLD).

    Moving from hosted to own domain

    It’s not unusual for websites to start out on shared servers, such as with WordPress.com. It’s cheap and does the job for smaller sites. But as you grow, you need to host your own domain. If you’re simply getting a new domain name, these hosted services will usually handle the domain migration process for you, automatically redirecting traffic.

    However, if you’re switching to your own hosting service as well as changing domain, then you’ll need a full migration process.

    When NOT to migrate to a new domain

    There are lots of reasons to migrate to a new domain but, equally, there are times when you should not migrate. If you’re just changing your content management system (CMS), are editing the design or content of your website, or are changing the structure of the site, these are not good reasons for migrating your domain.

    Equally, if you’ve suffered a search engine penalty, there’s no point as these penalties will follow you and be applied to your new domain.

    Not sure if domain migration is right for you? Why not book a FREE one hour consultation with Demystify Digital to discuss your options? We can be contacted on [email protected] or 01903 372 402.

    Pre-launch: plan your domain migration

    So, you’ve decided that a domain migration is the right thing for your organisation. As someone once said, they love it when a plan comes together, so it’s time to plan and get started.

    Check the history of your new domain

    Believe it or not, your new domain may have been used before. And sometimes it can be involved with shady activity. You need to check whether there is indexed or removed comments, or whether there are any backlinks pointing to it.

    There are ways of checking out what Google thinks of your new site. Claim and verify your new domain using Google’s Search Console, and verify your current domain if you haven’t already.

    Put a holding page up on the new domain

    So, you’ve got your new domain and checked that there’s no bad history associated with it. Now’s the time to make it public. Search engines recognise when a dormant domain becomes live, so creating some sort of presence, however minor, removes a potential delay to transferring your rankings.

    So create a holding page. Add contact info and whatever detail you can to make it helpful to anyone who finds it. You will have to host both domains for a while so that redirects work, and use the server logs to monitor when your original domain is no longer receiving visitors.

    Compile a full list of URLs on your site

    You need all the URLs on your site that you can find. These are webpage addresses and the easiest way is to use a crawler which identifies all the URLs Google would see. Use your content management system to list all of the URLs and gather data from Google Analytics or other tools to show all the pages that your websites have linked to.

    If you run pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, such as through Google AdWords, you need to include any display URLs you’re using. You need a comprehensive list as this master list will enable you to measure the success of any redirects and the site post-migration performance.

    Pinpoint your most important external links.

    Audit your current site

    Following the site crawl and using tools such as Search console, you can identify any errors you need to fix before your domain migration.

    Now you need to check the validity of those URLs. Are any going to the dreaded 404 errors (pages that don’t exist)? You’ll need these for mapping later, but you need to decide if there are any old URLs resulting in error that need to be redirected, or if they should be marked as removed.

    Benchmark your current performance rankings

    To check the success of the domain migration, you need to know your current performance. So you need to know all the search terms that you currently rank for.

    You need to measure the rankings and visibility that your site currently has. There are a number of tools available both free and paid for. Google’s Search Console also provides a lot of data on keywords.

    If you monitor the keywords you rank for, you need to check these and make particular note of which URLs are ranking for your most important phrases.

    Traffic: & Indexation: Benchmark your current performance

    You need to know how your current site is performing, understanding which pages are particularly driving organic traffic. Create a document, online or offline, that shows the visits, sessions, conversions, bounce rates etc., for each URL. This can take some time. You need a meaningful sample, so it should embrace several months at least.

    Then, using Search Console you need to understand how many URLs are indexed. You also need to submit a sitemap to check whether this tallies up with the new domain.

    Check your PPC ads

    Domain migration doesn’t always bed-in immediately. So make sure you’ve developed a plan-b to be visible for all those important terms that are going to make up the shortfall.

    Have an XML sitemap

    A sitemap is vitally important, not just for your human visitors as much as for your technology visitors. It’s a file that communicates all the important URLs directly to anyone who reads it. This sitemap will be submitted as soon as the new website launches,

    Create a custom 404 page

    404s are generally a bad thing. They’re the error message you get when a page isn’t found. Not what you want. But when you create a new domain a 404 can redirect visitors to the new website and is ready for the new launch.

    Map your redirects

    You need to map your old URLs to new ones. While many will stay the same, they will have the new domain, for example, http://olddomain.net/aboutus becomes https://newdomain.co.uk/aboutus.

    But you may choose to get rid of some old pages, especially if there are errors on the old pages. This can take some time, dependent on the size of the site, so you need to be patient.

    Ensure the new site isn’t indexed too early

    So, you have a new landing page but nothing else on your site. You don’t want it crawling yet, so you need to block them. This can be done via your robots.txt file – which gives the instructions to crawlers – and the meta-noindex tags, which ask search engines not to include a page in their internet indexes. Passwords will also protect the site.

    301 redirects

    404 redirects are bad. 301 redirects are good. This tells people that a page has moved and where to go. As well as helping website users, it instructs search engines that all the authority of the old site has moved to the new one.

    Feeling overwhelmed already? Demystify Digital can take all of the stress and headaches away. We offer a FREE one-hour consultation to analyse your website and make recommendations. Why not contact us on [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402?

    Launch the new domain

    Once you’ve undertaken all the pre-migration checks, it’s time to migrate that domain.

    Open up for business

    It’s time to remove the password protection, meta robots no-index tags and the line disallowing access in the robots.txt file. Now everyone, including search engines, can crawl your site and see your content.

    Implement the 301 redirects

    It’s time to make sure that everyone can find your site. Make your 301 redirects live. These should be 1:1 redirects for each original URL, including any that were already redirecting, so that any old redirects are pointing straight at the new domain, rather than through a second URL.

    You should still make any URLs that you have decided to remove as part of your site tidy-up live at this point. Sometimes, it’s not possible to do 1:1 redirects and the whole domain will be redirected to the equivalent URL on the new domain. While this isn’t the best solution, it will still work in most cases.

    It’s also time to check that the new domain setup is correct. Do URLs in capitals redirect to lower-case versions?

    Change your address

    Just like moving house, you need to let people know you’ve moved. Google’s Search Console boasts a Change of Address tool. It does what it says on the tin: lets Google know that you have moved from one domain to another. However, both domains need to be verified to do this, so if your original domain isn’t verified yet, you need to do this now.

    Encourage Google to check out your new domain

    Invite Google into your new home. There’s another handy tool in the Search Console, known as Fetch. This Googlebot tool can be used to crawl your home and most important pages. Of course, ensure that the pages are rendered correctly, and that Google is seeing the same page a human user would. Then use the Submit to Index option for that URL to request that Google indexes the page.

    Submit your XML sitemaps

    This is a really important step. Again found in the Search Console, submit your XML sitemap. This encourages Google to crawl all of the URLs within the site, and score and index them. You can check how many pages have been indexed, a figure that should increase over the first few days of domain migration, and should be very similar to your original domain.

    It’s also worth submitting or resubmitting your XML site map from the old domain. This encourages search engines to crawl the old pages, see the 301 redirects, and visit your new website.

    Test your redirects

    This is another important step. Using the crawling tool you used in the testing phase, enter the list of all the URLs in your old domain, and crawl them again. Ensure that every single URL is successfully redirecting to the new domain.

    If your software has the capability, check for redirect chains. Ideally, there should be only one step from the original URL to the new one.

    Google Analytics

    Using Google Analytics, use their Real Time reports to ensure that your analytics are working correctly. Add a note when the domain migration happened, so you can see what impact it has on your traffic, and rename profiles and views as appropriate.

    Update external links

    Backlinks are vital for getting your site noticed by Google and other search engines. They show that your site is reliable, authoritative and useful to end users. Reach out to anyone who backlinks to any of your URLs and ask them to update their site. And don’t forget to update your socials and email addresses  too.

    Still not feeling confident? Demystify Digital can clear any confusion and support your domain migration. Find out how we can help by emailing us at [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402.

    Post launch – monitoring your domain migration

    You can’t just migrate your domain and forget about it. You want to be sure that you’re generating traffic and your site is performing as it should.

    Create fresh links

    You need to promote your site and generate new links. Perhaps issue a press release announcing your new site; send out a newsletter to your customers; or get in touch with relevant bloggers and other organisations asking them to consider linking to your site.

    Monitor your indexations

    This means using Google Sitemaps and Index Status tools, located within the Search Console. You should check regularly how many of your unique pages are indexed by Google.

    Check, check again

    You need to keep on top of your website and check for errors regularly. Again, use your crawling software, as this mimics the way a search engine would identify problems.

    You should also use the Crawl Errors report in the Search Console every day for the first few weeks to see if any issues have been highlighted by Google. This free information allows you to identify any problems the search engine has found, plus gives tips on improving your SEO.

    Check your rankings and visibility

    Your new domain will hopefully generate more traffic than your old one. Checking against the numbers you found in the planning stage, monitor how well the new domain is ranking for your target keywords, and check visibility too. Do this as often as possible.

    Ideally, you’ll see a cross-over in your charts as the new domain takes traffic from the old one. You can even compare it at URL level as well as site level. Check when the most visible URLs from the old site are replaced by the newer versions.

    Traffic and sales

    Obviously, the biggest sign of success is traffic and converting prospects into active consumers, known as the conversion rate.

    Initially, you might see a drop off but within a couple of months it should even out if you’ve done your due diligence. Pay especial attention to the individual URLs that performed well on your original site. Hopefully, you should see an improvement post-migration.

    Maintain your redirects

    It’s tempting to remove your redirects too soon, but they should stay in place until all activity for the old domain stops. This can take some time. But once all traffic to the old site has finished, you can consider removing them (however some experts believe it is sensible to permanently keep your redirects, just in case).

    A way of checking your redirects is by analysing your server logs. Once you can see Google is no longer visiting the old domain, you may be ready to turn off your redirects or edit the 1:1 redirects to a site-wide redirect.

    And finally…

    Even though you may be maintaining the same content after domain migration, Google will see your new domain as an entirely new entity. You shouldn’t, therefore, be surprised or alarmed if ranking and traffic drop for a while. But a good domain migration and redirection strategy will help to mitigate some of these problems.

    You also need to keep your customers and potential customers informed about the changes, so that they can still find you. Following this step-by-step process will help ensure that your site users have a great experience.

    Alternatively, let Demystify Digital take the strain of your domain migration. We can handle all aspects of the process from analysis, through implementation to post-migration monitoring. We can also provide content and marketing for your new website. Contact us for more information on [email protected] or call us on 01903 372 402.