Changing domain names is no Big Deal is it?

Actually yes, it is a very big deal! There really are very few occasions when it is wise to change a domain name to a new one.
In fact it is always a really bad idea unless you are:

  • Re-branding and the old name has no more relevance to your business.
  • You have fallen foul of Search Engines and your domain has been blacklisted.

Yes that’s it!
Unless you can think of another reason just don’t do it.

So What’s the beef?

It is likely that unless you have been extremely bad at SEO your domain has valuable ranking ‘juice’. To find out just how much, try searching for your business name in a few directories, starting with Google, as it is the biggest and most important of them all.

Before you do, clear the browser history, so that it doesn’t give you a biased search result based on your previous history. Better still, use another device that you haven’t used to search for your business before.

Well… did you find lots of links to your website? Did Google put a nice big block on the page with photographs, map, trading hours and contact details? If so that should be enough to make you think again, or at the very least make you think about a gradual change-over rather than a costly ‘boat burning’ exercise.

Did the domain name expire leading you to decide now was the best time to change it? That is not a very good reason at all and here is why.

Your old domain name may fall into the hands of a competitor, or worse, an opportunist without an ounce of scruples. A competitor could 301 redirect your site to their own, thus feeding off YOUR customers. Ideally, you should 301 redirect the old domain to your new domain, for that you are going to need access to both domains.

You could wake up one morning to find that the old site, the one that the search engines rank above all others whenever your business is searched for, redirects to a porn site. Then you find that in your email there is an offer for you to buy it back. You see the problem? Incidentally, buying it back could be an even bigger mistake. If you have reached that point it does qualify as a reason you have to change domains.

Still want to change?

Then there are some very important steps to take, so let’s consider them carefully. It might help to think in terms of moving your business to a different town, would you just ‘up sticks’ or would you seek a gentle transition period?

  • Tell your customers and friends that you are going to move your business to a new domain, use social media, email, flyers, newspaper adverts, a press release and whatever it takes to get the message ‘out there’.
  • Buy the new domain, get some hosting and put a holding page on it indicating its future use. A ‘Coming Soon’ page, showing that it is your new domain, while redirecting to the old one until the changeover. Perhaps a countdown timer on the page might be helpful, counting down to the changeover date. Put as much on the site as is appropriate, without repeating the old website copy exactly. It will tell search engines that it is not a ‘parked’ or duplicated domain.
  • Search the web for any and all references directing to your old domain name and get them changed as soon as and wherever possible.
  • Create a sitemap of your old website, so that you know what content to reproduce on the new site.
  • Analyse the page content of your old site, looking for any references to the old domain including hyperlinks. You will need to change these and they could be hidden in sound files, images or even video files in addition to text appearing on site pages.
  • When you change over to the new domain, you will need to create 301 redirects, these tell search engines that pages have been moved to new locations. Don’t expect search engines to know your business domain name has changed, they may consider it to be a duplication, or a competitor, either may affect your search engine rankings.
  • If you have not done so already, add/register new/both domain(s) with Google’s Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. You will need to tell Google about the changes. This can be done using the Change of Address tool in Google Webmaster Tools. Change any relevant profile information in Analytics, such as URL, profile name etc.
  • Give yourself adequate time to make the transfer as seamless as possible, search engines take time to process these changes. Leaving the old domain active, even after the changeover, will do no harm once 301 redirects have been employed. If the domain is due for renewal, it may well be worth paying another year’s fees to minimise loss of business and/or SEO ranking.
  • Change your business stationery as soon as possible, remembering that your email contact address will change too. You can use forwarding to send on email from the old domain to your new address as long as the old domain is active. Use an auto-responder to reply to incoming mail on the old server, giving information about your new website. Your old email will be lost once the domain expires, so if there are any important archive messages, make sure you save them before that happens.
  • Finally, create a 404 error page in case you forget anything and any links to ‘dead’ pages survive. This can be used to redirect visitors to your new site.