Once in awhile, I have clients who ask about changing their web address. In most situations I would not recommend changing the domain of an established site, particularly if the majority of your traffic is inbound via search, referrals, etc. Changing your primary domain (URL) can have significant impact on your domain authority, while causing broken inbound links and general confusion for your users.
With that said, there are situations where changing a domain should be considered, and/or cannot be avoided.
If you have a domain URL that is confusing to users, having a better domain could be worth it. Also, if your business’ focus has changed and requires a more descriptively accurate domain. That doesn’t mean in both cases you SHOULD change your domain, it just means it is worth discussing and evaluating the risk vs. potential reward.
Recently, a well established client who is a global leader in their industry decided that they need to change their domain to better align with their updated business strategy. While we initially recommended against the change, since there would be relatively low perceived benefit, we understood the need as well. Once it was established that the change was necessary, we took all possible steps to reduce the risk associated with it.
Here are some of the steps we took:
- Moved the business email domain first. This step can get easily overlooked, and with the amount of existing traffic, missing it would have caused confusion for the users if they couldn’t get in touch. We updated all the contact records to the new business domain on the existing site before we completed the actual domain transition to ensure continuity after the change.
- Took advantage of the opportunity to convert the site to HTTPS. With Google Chrome’s pending update, this was going to need to be accomplished anyway, so it was a good time to make this change also.
- Created appropriate server redirects. In this case, there had been a similar change years prior, so we were really changing existing records back to the way they used to be. Note – after the domain change happens, always double check your work. https://urivalet.com/ is a good resource to validate that everything is working as it should after the domain change. Even experts can make mistakes that may go unnoticed if you don’t validate.
- Updated Google Search Console. Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) has a function built in to allow the webmaster to tell Google about the move. This can (in theory) help reduce the amount of time Google needs to re-index your pages. Here is the link to Google’s instruction on this utility (Only use this once you have actually changed your domain URL!): https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/83106?hl=en
- Update all of your tracking utilities, and run backup reports so you can review data that can’t be transitioned directly. This includes keyword rank tracking tools and any other tools like Moz, SEMRush, etc.
- Update any directory/domain links you can control. This should include Google My Business, other business social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, etc. The redirects should avoid any issues, but keeping them updated will help avoid any brand confusion.
It has only been a couple of weeks since the changes were made public, so more time is needed to confirm the results. We have paid close attention to all measurements in the short term and so far I am happy to report that there has been minimal negative impact, if any. Years ago, when this same company changed their domain, this was not the case. I will write a follow-up post with more detailed findings when time has passed and I have more data to share.