Successful marketers continually enhance their websites by refreshing content, introducing new pages, targeting different phrases and experimenting with fresh calls to action in order to optimise results. However, there comes a point when major changes are needed; the messaging may be incorrect, the design outdated or the backend cumbersome, leading to disappointing outcomes.
Typically after 4 years of operation, it's time for a complete overhaul that involves replacing everything from the copy and code to layouts and appearance - every aspect is meticulously reconsidered. Occasionally though an identity refresh is necessary which calls for updating not just a name but also a logo and messaging. A rebranding exercise necessitates obtaining a new domain name raising significant questions along with real risks – this is indeed a substantial undertaking! This article covers how to change your domain name in detail.
How to Change Your Domain Name: Is it Possible Without Impacting SEO?
The response is a firm no. When you change your domain name, it alters the URL for each page on your site, requiring Google to revisit, re-access and reassess every page. This is another cost to consider when considering a rebrand.
Provided that the process is conducted correctly, it should be possible to restore traffic to the same levels as before.
The objective is to retain position and safeguard search engine visits.
The original point of this endeavour was not to solely focus on the domain name and website. This rebranding project involves an overhaul of your brand, messaging and positioning.
It is possible to reduce the SEO effect and restore it completely
Transferring rankings from one domain to another is unattainable. It is not possible to merely move search traffic across different URLs. Ideally, you should expect to take a hit and then totally recover.
This guide is designed to help you mitigate the risks of long-term damage. It includes steps for maintaining SEO, like content and keyword preservation, as well as local listings and links, redirects and reclamation. Additionally, it has instructions for ensuring Analytics runs smoothly.
This guide does not provide instructions on server administration. We do not include details such as configuring servers, managing DNS entries or launching websites.
This guide is to help digital marketers and web developers achieve the greatest benefit and least harm when considering how to change their domain name whilst preserving their SEO and rankings when altering their domain name. Here are the steps to follow.
These steps are generally sequential. Initially, you'll need to address certain technical SEO components when building the new site. Once the launch of the website comes about, you'll follow up with the remaining steps.
1. Create an inventory of successful pages
In the case of a redesign, with or without a new brand and domain name, maintaining your SEO is key. This can be accomplished by safeguarding high-performing URLs and paying attention to two primary aspects.
Ensure that the new site contains counterparts for all the pages with high rankings and organic traffic from the old website.
Ensure that all of the high-ranking pages with significant organic traffic from the previous site have corresponding pages on the new site.
Ensure that the material featured on those pages is equally significant and centred around key phrases, comparable to the content of the former pages.
In the event that a previously successful page on the old site is no longer present on the new site, there will be a decrease in search traffic. The absence of this page means it is no longer competing with others for that specific keyword.
Discovering a prioritised list of URLs with a high-performance ranking in Universal Analytics is achievable. It is possible to rank them based on their importance and effectiveness so that you can focus your efforts on the most important ones.
Go to the Behavior > Landing Pages report with an “Organic Traffic” segment enabled. This is what ours looks like. I applied a filter, so blog posts are not included; these tend to have a lower value for short-term goals.
Discover a prioritised inventory of the most effective URLs in GA4.
Head to the Engagement > Pages and Screens report and generate a comparison with “Medium includes Organic” selected. We've filtered blog posts from the results, as those are usually of lower importance. Here's what we got.
Carry on with this audit beyond the basics and target new phrases with newly created pages on the new site.
It's acceptable to forgo including certain top-level pages on the new site. These web pages are dated and not pertinent anymore. The traffic they generated wasn't useful and people are no longer interested in the material or visitors as it was not contributing to any outcomes.
No problem. Make sure the decision is made deliberately, and document it. Work together to set expectations related to organic traffic after launch.
2. Maintain a focus on the important words associated with those top URLs
Rebranding necessitates the creation of new content, as fresh messaging must be incorporated. Provided that the specified pages are static, your concerns should be minimal.
Obviously, the homepage is going to be reworked. But for other pages that are highly important, particularly those that market the services and rank in search engines, it is essential to keep the copy relevant by using key phrases.
To identify the words for which these web pages appear in top search engine results…
Paid SEO tools can be utilised, but there is an easier way. A free and more reliable tool is available that you likely have ready to go.
Head to Google Search Console and access the Search results report. From there, select the “Pages” tab to view all pages that are generating traffic through search. If needed, clicking on a specific page will bring up further information associated with that URL.
You can now assess the search performance for each keyword related to that page.
Make sure that you keep the relevance of the phrases on this list when rewriting the page, as not doing so could negatively affect the rankings for those phrases.
The primary phrase, which is the one that attracts the most clicks, should be in the title, header and body of text.
The secondary terms found in the body of the text are the ones that have garnered clicks from viewers.
The primary keyword should be included as part of the anchor text in internal links pointing to the page.
The page's word count doesn't experience a significant decrease.
Don’t fret about different grammatical forms and the number of them. Google doesn't pay attention to that.
If it’s a high-stakes situation, with webpages and phrases that generate lots of qualified traffic and interest, an on-page SEO recommendation tool like SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant or frase.io may be invaluable. You can use them hand in hand with WebFlow (or any CMS) to apply the suggested changes.
It's typical to shift the subject words of highly-ranked pages on the new site. Not all of these terms are that significant. When there is a conflict between SEO and brand messaging, usually message takes priority.
This should not be a concern; aim to make the decision with intention. Collaborate with each other, keep a record of the agreements made and manage your expectations regarding organic traffic post-launch.
Afterwards, you can build a page dedicated to the new website.
3. Create a page that focuses on the rebrand
What if someone searches for the old brand name a couple of minutes after the new website is launched? The search engine will display the fresh site, however, they may be perplexed. The page they've come across isn't what they were aiming to locate.
Creating a page related to the switch for those who were searching for the old brand is key. This page should act like a press release launch announcement, designed specifically to accommodate searches that use the former name.
Include the announcement right in the title tag, making sure to provide it with a fitting URL and meta description. For instance, if there has been a change from "Legacy Brand" to "NewCo", anyone who searches for the original name will see this message. By doing so there will be no confusion – you have given them a clear route.
Navigational queries would typically have a high click through rate, however without leaving a helpful trail behind after removing the old name from the web, this may not be the case.
Everything is ready to go? It's time to launch!
4. Redirection: Link the old website to the new one
Redirects are essential for any attempt to maintain SEO during website launch, especially when the domain is being transferred. Neglecting such an aspect puts the project at a greater risk.
Typically for a website refresh, some URLs can be retained carefully. With pages that have not been shifted, Google doesn't require re-indexing. For instance, the new homepage carries the same address as its predecessor.
Redirects are equally essential to guide Google to the new URLs and ensure link equity originating from links on the old domain is passed onto pages of the new domain.
Failing to redirect can have serious consequences such as breaking external links and adversely affecting your Domain Authority.
We're here to adjust our domain name. We must reroute everything, and we have three techniques available to us which vary in their difficulty and effectiveness when considering how to change your domain name.
Poor but convenient: Pointing all links back to the homepage.
You don't have to put much effort, however, it can negatively impact your SEO. Just set up a 301 redirect, which will forward all traffic to the homepage.
OK, but takes work: Redirect folders (directories) of pages.
It's speedy to direct an entire directory or folder of URLs to a single, pertinent page. For instance, if you're altering the domain of an e-commerce store, you might opt to redirect the whole product list (every URL of every product) to the main product page on the new website.
Great, but labour-intensive: Redirect each page.
Audit the current website and assign old URLs to the new URLs on the site. Utilise redirection where possible, to ensure a specific former page is tied with a specific new page.
What effort is suitable for you? It depends on two elements.
Do any of these pages already have visitors coming to them? If so, treat them with care.
Do other sites link to these pages? If so, exercise caution.
There are no risks if the URL has no rankings or links to it. Redirecting pages that have no SEO value will not have any effect on SEO, but to be safe, you can still set up a redirect - just in case someone has bookmarked the old URL.
To discover which of your pages have been linked from other websites, consider using a professional-level SEO tool. Alternatively, Google Search Console can provide insight into the most linked pages.
The report you’re after can be found under Links > Top linked pages. I suggest sorting by “Linking sites” instead of “Incoming links.” This is more useful for SEO because it provides the number of websites that link to a URL, as opposed to the total number of links.
Redirection from these web pages to new ones will have a more significant effect on SEO than redirects from other sites. Thus, it is wise to invest the link equity to pages that gain maximum benefit from the links, either their corresponding new page or any search-optimised service pages.
We should take one final look to make sure everything is in order. It's imperative to go over all the details one last time before concluding.
It is quite probable to overlook pages, sections or even complete subsections of your website without realising it. Clients have a tendency to forget about the tools and services located on different subdomains, which will not be apparent if they are not shifted and redirected.
This sub-domain finding software is free and easy to use. It's possible that there are numerous subdomains connected to your domain that require relocation and redirection.
If you encounter any issues, Google Analytics can help you identify them. Review your 404 “Page Not Found” URLs - this is just one of many means to detect broken elements on your website.
5. How to change your domain name address in your site in Google Search Console, use the "Change of address" tool
How to change your domain name in Google Search Console? Google Search Console has a feature that allows you to signal to Google when you've switched domains. While this might be something you need only rarely in your career, it's understandable to forget it.
Under “Settings”, a feature called "Change of address" is available so SEOs can let Google know their website has been relocated. It works just like the process at the post office.
Once you’ve set up your 301 redirects—and made sure that you are the verified owner of both domains through the “Domain name provider” method— you are ready to exit your old address and enter the new one. Simply click on the “Validate & Update” button and you can then alert Google of the domain migration.
It is essential that you keep your Google My Business page up-to-date. Make sure to take the time to review the information on your profile and ensure it is accurate and relevant.
Potential visitors will likely come across the brand (old or new) in their search engine and find a knowledge panel on the right side containing plenty of info about the business. Have a look.
6. Make sure to keep your Google My Business account up-to-date
When searching for your brand, make sure you're logged in to the Google Business Profile admin account so you can edit it. This is essential for optimising SEO as you switch domains and must be done.
This place needs refreshing in at least three areas: the name, logo, and website.
The Performance section for administrators of local listings includes a feature that tracks views of their listing and website clicks; however, this is separate from Google Analytics.
You can monitor visitors to the website from the local listing by using Analytics with campaign tracking code attached to the button. Utilise the URL Builder to input the source, medium and campaign name for the link, which will appear as follows:
7. Update Google Analytics
When asking your development team how to change your domain name they may encourage creating a new Analytics account as an easy solution, it's not recommended. Starting fresh would complicate pre-post measurement and detecting issues, making problem-solving harder in the long run.
Begin by altering the account name and property titles, ensuring the old business title is not included. Afterwards, start working through this checklist of Universal Analytics steps:
Rename the views to reflect the new brand.
Update the website URL in the configuration for each viewpoint.
Review both the filters and goals. Utilising a filter to show the full URL, it is possible that your objectives may cite the total URL (www.newwebsite.com/thank-you). In that case, remember to make any necessary changes.
Remember to mark the launch day in your calendar just like you would with any other significant alteration to your website.
In GA4, none of these steps is necessary; the domain needs to be referenced in fewer locations and annotations are not used. To complete the task, two actions must be taken.
In the Configuration section, create events with unique event names (e.g. generate_lead) as a goal in Universal Analytics. The thank you page location (e.g. /thank-you/) should then be included in the event’s parameters.
Label the occurrences as conversions with the small switch on the list of events.
Once you have finished adjusting all of your settings, you can view the outcome in the Conversions report which is found under Reports > Engagement > Conversions report.
8. Verify your Google Tag Manager setup to ensure accuracy
You shouldn't create a fresh Google Tag Manager account; it'd be strange. One of the great things about Tag Manager is that you can easily transfer the container, with its entire tags, to the latest site.
No GTM configuration is required when the “Cookie Domain” is set to “auto.” This will allow Google Analytics to detect the domain automatically and can be found in the variable where you've specified the UA tracking code. It should look something like this:
With GA4, it is no longer necessary to repeat this process.
It is highly recommended that you use a variable for tracking your code. An advantage of doing so is that there is no requirement to enter it manually each time. To achieve this, simply click the Lego icon and link the variable!
It’s possible you’ll find other references to the old domain in Google Tag Manager. Event tracking, for instance, is likely to contain such references.
Take a minute to click around in GTM and look for any instances of the old domain. After that, change the domain.
9. Revisit your marketing monitoring systems to ensure they are up-to-date
Each of the tags in Tag Manager must have their accounts updated. To do so, access all tracking services (Hotjar, LiveRamp, NewRelic etc.) and provide them with the new domain info.
If you fail to act, the tie between that service and your website will be severed, resulting in a data drought until it is rectified. This means data will no longer flow into that SaaS tool.
If that's the case, you're using up too much of your customers and your own resources: slower-loading pages add up to costs for monthly subscription services.
10. Check and update online directories and social media accounts
There are likely many websites which reference the old domain name. This is a prompt to search these websites and update their links and logos accordingly.
The list of items goes on and on. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to the sheer number of things needed. It appears that the resources are never-ending and still need more consideration.
You can discover other references to the old brand by using a negative site search operator on Google (i.e. “your brand” -site:yourbrand.com). This simple search will help you quickly see what is out there without including your own website in the results.
Search for any digital marketing accounts that need to be refreshed. Prior to updating the domain registration and making the relaunch, it's a good idea to get this done.
11. Retrieve as many links as you can
Certain links can't be edited by yourself; for example, press mentions, authors' biographical information in guest posts, and image source links. Such links require external communication.
Reaching out to editors and asking them to update a link (or unlinked mention) is known as link reclamation. SEOs pay careful attention to this practice due to the superiority of links that connect directly to one's website over those that go through a redirect.
It is impossible to know how much better a direct link is compared to a redirected link. However, there is an analogous concept related to this - “Page Rank decay”, which SEOs tend to guess is around 10-15%.
Every single reclaimed link can be beneficial.
Using an SEO tool such as SEMrush, Moz or Ahrefs to generate a list of links to your website is one way; alternatively, you can use Google Search Console, by navigating to 'Links > Top linking sites'.
If you have contacts at any of these companies, why not reach out to them? Let them know about your rebranding and new domain name, and politely request that they amend the link on their website. They should be understanding.
If you don't know anyone in the company, consider taking a stab at networking. Utilizing LinkedIn is an effective way to find an editor. When you do locate someone, it's important to take your time forming the connection and making the request politely. Spam outreach is inevitable for them, but this isn't that kind of situation; instead, it's about keeping accuracy and timeliness in check.
Consider setting up a free brand mention alert, like Talkwalker Alerts, to track where your brand was mentioned. Doing so provides another opportunity for link reclamation that has an impact on SEO. Receive a weekly email detailing the mentions of the new brand.
When considering how to change your domain name remember that rebranding your business can be a daunting task, but if done right it can have immense benefits. With the right strategy and an understanding of how to change your domain name and how it impacts SEO, you can successfully transition to a new domain name with minimal disruption. By following these tips and taking the time to plan out your rebranding process in advance, you will be able to make sure that your hard work pays off by ensuring maximum impact on both search engines and customers alike.