There are many articles on the Internet containing advice for people who want to change their domain name but don’t want to risk their search engine rankings (or SERP). The topic has lots of controversy, apparently. So, being an engineer, when I changed my own domain name, I actually collected data, and I’m going to share it with you!
This article is written in such a way to help another website designer do the same thing I did, or help a client understand what their website designer should be doing to minimize losing website traffic. I’ll do my best to explain all the terms I’m using to maximize this article’s effectiveness.
There is one main concern with changing your domain name: losing traffic to your website because your new domain name falls off the search engine’s rankings. Since Google is the primary search engine of choice, it’s the search engine I refer to most in this article. There are several things that impact a falling ranking, including:
- domain age, inbound link age, etc
- page redirects
Since your new domain is new, it will be penalized by Google and it will spend time in the infamous “Google Sandbox.” How long will it stay there? I don’t know, but it could easily be several months or longer, depending on what keywords you are trying to target. And all of those links out there that pointed to your old domain? Well you need to change them to point to your new domain, so that they start aging as well. You’ll also need to do page to page redirects (301’s) via your .htaccess file to make sure Google can find the new pages when the old ones are gone.
But the burning question that I’ve never found answered, is when do you do each of these things? Well, all I can tell you is exactly what I did, and what the results were. So hang on, here comes the data!
My original domain was “AldebaranConsultingSeattle.com” and after falling in love with doing web design, I wanted to change it to “AldebaranWebDesign.com.” I’m a patient person, so I decided to prepare for this transfer in advance. Here’s what I did:
- Fully host my new domain AldebaranWebDesign.com
- Duplicate the file and directory structure from my existing site onto this new website (but not the actual content).
- Create unique content on each page of the new site, so I wouldn’t get penalized for duplicate content.
- Create a Google Site Map for the new domain.
- Wait for Google to completely crawl and index the new domain.
I bought the new domain name in January 2007. It only took a few weeks to get the new domain fully indexed by Google. Now the question was: what to do next?
I decided to gradually switch my inbound links over to the new domain. I did this over a period of 4 months. I was trying to create new links and let them age, while letting the domain age as well.
In mid May (5.5 months after doing the above steps), I decided to perform the change over. I did it mainly because I had plenty of clients and wanted to take a trip over the summer, and felt I could afford to lose my website traffic for a few months, worst case. Here’s what happened to my traffic:
- 5/19/07 Ranked #350
- 5/23/07 Ranked #120
- 5/26/07 Ranked #109
- 6/21/07 Ranked #7
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.