Last month I pulled the trigger to change my website domain from megaboltdigital.com to loveatfirstsearch.com … and I’ll be honest, it was a scary change. Not only did I have the nagging fear that everything would collapse & disappear (thankfully it didn’t), but I also knew that all my hard work generating search traffic for Megabolt Digital was going to take a hit.
Moving your website or changing the domain will absolutely have an impact on your SEO. But there are steps you can take to mitigate the disruption.
It’s sort of like when you move in real life. You start by telling the post office, “send all the mail for this old address to my new home.” And that takes like 5 minutes, plus you get coupons. So many coupons!
But then you also have to call the electric company. Set up your cable. Close out your water bill. Hire movers. Pack the boxes. Uggggh just thinking about moving makes my palms sweat.
Thankfully moving your website doesn’t have to be as labor-intensive, and hopefully, you won’t throw out your back in the process.
I’m gonna walk through 3 scenarios:
- You’re just changing your domain, but everything else is staying the same
- You’re re-branding, but keeping everything on the same platform (WordPress, Squarespace, etc)
- You’re moving from one platform to another (ie Wix to Squarespace)
So whether you’re just changing your name, or you’re re-branding on the same platform, or you’re moving everything from one host/platform to another, Here are some tips to make website
Think of it this way: You’ve spent months or years developing a reputation at your current address, and when you move, you have to tell Google “I used to be there, now I live here.”
1: Change your domain without an SEO drop
This is the least disruptive scenario — you’re keeping your web design almost exactly the same, on the same platform, except changing the domain (and maybe swapping out the logo)
- Figure out how much search traffic is coming for your brand name: If your percentage of “branded search” is high, you’re going to see a big drop in search traffic, at least in the short term, as Google figures out where you are. If most of your search traffic is non-branded, you have slightly less to worry about with the name change.
- Find & fix all your broken links: Ever clicked a link and seen “Error 404: page not found”? That link is “broken,” meaning that the page no longer lives where it used to. Maybe somebody moved it to a different permalink, maybe they deleted the page, who knows? Whatever the reason, Google hates broken links — it makes your site look unreliable. And the only thing worse than a broken link? Is a redirect to a broken link. (It’s like a pirate’s map to an empty treasure chest. Disappointment!) So before you move anything, take some time to run your site through Dead Link Checker and update all the pages that have broken links.
- Check out what Google knows about your old site. Go into Google and type in “site: olddomain.com,” and it will tell you all the pages that it currently sees on your website. By knowing all the pages Google already sees, you’ll know where it’s important to set up re-directs to your new domain, and can double-check later to make sure all those old pages are forwarding to the new pages.
- Heads up: This is the part where I explain how to actually change the domains. If your eyes glaze over in your cPanel — or you don’t know where it is! — I suggest you hire a developer for this part.
- Set up a parked domain. Point your new domain’s DNS to your hosting. Move or copy the files from your main domain over to your parked domain.
- Open your .htaccess in the root directory & set up a blanket redirect.
- Redirect your old domain to your parked domain.
- ^ This is a really simplified explanation, because the process is a little different on every platform & hosting software. If you want to DIY this, you can Google “how to change domains on (Wix, Bluehost, etc)” for more specific details that are pertinent to your website.
5. Submit your “Change of Address” form to Google using Google Search Console: For this to work, you have to verify both your old and new domains on Google Search Console, and have set up your 301 re-direct from the old domain to the new one.
2: Re-brand your business or re-design your website without losing SEO
This is the situation I found myself in last month — I wasn’t just changing my business name, I was also re-writing & re-designing the main pages of the site. Here are my tips for making this less painful:
- Set up a staging site. A staging site is basically a duplicate of your website that you can edit as much as you want, without anything on your actual live website changing.
Some hosts offer one-click staging, which makes building the new site in “stealth mode” really easy. My site is WordPress, hosted by Siteground, so I was able to easily set up a staging site using their WordPress tools, but I know Flywheel & WP Engine also have this.
We built the entire LAFS website in staging over 2 months, while the Megabolt site was still live, so that I never had to take my website down to “under construction” mode or show users a work-in-progress site. The steps for doing this are hosting dependent, so Google, “how to set up a staging site on (where your website lives).”
If your hosting doesn’t include a staging site, an alternative is to create a new website in a subdirectory, then when you’re ready to launch, redirect the new site to the root. (So I could build my site live at “staging.megaboltdigital.com” and then when it was ready to launch, re-direct the staging version of the site to show up as the main homepage.
- Find out your best performing search terms by page, and maintain/improve those keywords on those page re-writes. I know going into the overhaul that my homepage ranks for terms like “get your website found on Google” and “websites for female entrepreneurs,” so I wanted to make sure that those keywords continue to show up on the updated pages (and since they’re great quality keywords for me, I also used them more often, included them in Heading tags, added to alt text on images & moved them to earlier on the page).
- Map out any structural changes to the site. Let’s say part of the re-brand means changing out your products or services. If you have an offer you no longer want people to buy, determine where you want that traffic to go instead, and set up 301 re-directs from your old offer to the new equivalent. On WordPress you set up the 301 re-directs through .htaccess, on Squarespace it’s in the settings — your mileage may vary, based on the platform that you’re using.
- Push your staging site to live. 👈🏻 This is the point where I hire a developer to make sure nothing funny happens during the transition … but if you don’t have the budget for that, find out from your host how to make this happen smoothly.
- If you’re keeping the same domain but just redesigning, you’re done! If you’re also moving domains, follow all the domain change steps above.
3: Move your website from one platform/host to another without killing all your SEO
Quick disclaimer: If you have an established site that you mostly like — especially if it’s on WordPress, Squarespace or Shopify, which are my 3 favorite platforms for SEO — don’t jump ship without good reason. There’s no perfect solution, and there might be ways you can improve your website situation without a full platform migration. Maybe first you can try a different theme or hire somebody to do site maintenance, instead of uprooting everything to start again somewhere new.
- Identify your best keywords by page. As in the re-design suggestions, you need to know where your current traffic is coming from on your old site so that you can tell Google where to send that traffic on your new site.
- Map out any structural changes to the site. List each old url followed by what the new url will be or what it should redirect to.
- Investigate how your permalinks are structured. For example, on WordPress defaults, blog posts permalinks are “domain.com/title,” but in Squarespace, they default is “domain.com/blog/title.” So you need to re-direct all those old URL to their new permalink plan.
- Migrate your content. Depending on how much content you have on your old website, you might be able to use a tool like CMS2CMS to move everything, or export/import your posts to slide them over, or just plain ole copy/paste.
Pro tip from Deb Wagner, the developer at D Stripe: “Always make sure that the images got moved. You could move your blog posts and the images could be on the old host. When you make the staging site live, the images could all disappear. This is more specific with moving large blogs.”
- Re-design the pages. Even if you use a migration tool like CMS2CMS, everything will look awful. You might be able to change default settings to make it look ok out of the box … but build in extra time for reformatting old documents.
- Purge with a plan. If there are pages or posts that you don’t want to migrate, that’s ok! But don’t just burn it all to the ground without a plan. Figure out the next-best-alternative page, and set up a redirect. This is especially important for pages that are getting search traffic! (This is another reason it’s great to have a staging site, so you can double-check your work before your push live!)
- Follow all of the domain change steps above when you’re ready. Tada, you have a new site! 🎉
Re-naming or migrating your website is not an easy process, and shouldn’t be a decision you make lightly … but it also doesn’t have to destroy all the hard work you’ve put into your SEO!
No matter which type of change you’re making, I highly recommend hiring a developer who can help you through the process. Here are a few of my faves:
- Nikole Garcia at That Super Girl – Nikole has migrated my last 2 sites seamlessly
- Deb Wagner at DStripe
- Jen at JenniferAnnWalsh
- Jess at Jess Joyce