How to switch a website domain name from an SEO perspective

Sometimes we get questions from our clients regarding how to switch a URL for their website.   This actually happens quite often.  A company was purchased,  the company decided to change the name,  or they just finally secured the domain they wanted for years.  The reasons for a domain name change are more numerous than the actual steps in doing it.

The end result is now you are given the task of changing over a website from the old domain name to the new one.    You want to do this with as little pain as possible in terms of your rankings in Google.   You worked hard for those rankings,  you don’t want to lose them.

Well here is the the non-standard checklist.   Then we will go on with the standard one.

1 – The domain name you picked,  was it owned before?  Did you buy it from someone?   Was the domain used for spamdexing?   Was the domain name flagged for sending out even standard unsolicited spam?    

Believe it or not this matters, and it matters huge.   Many business owners purchase “the perfect domain name”  only to realize the domain was flagged eariler and that’s why it’s on the market for purchase.    It could take YEARS to clear with Google that the domain name is no longer associated with the pervious owner, and that penality that exited before, will still exist when you purchase it.   We’ll get to the email spam part shortly.   The jury is still out with expired domain names.  Technically a penality shouldn’t transfer, but there are many reported instances where it DOES carry over.  Do your homework.

If you still decide to go though with the purchase,  remember you’ll have to go begging Google to allow your new domain name into the index.   Matt Cutts once stated it will take years to remove the penality on it’s own without manual intervention.

Regarding the sending of unsoliticed email.   You might not get penalized in Google, but boy you’ll never be able to send out an e-mail to any client from that domain name since it would be listed in ever spam filter on the planet as a known spammer.

The message is simple, research before you purchase.

2 – You did your checks,  the domain name is clean.   Now they are asking for a huge amount of money because it’s an exact match for a keyword you are looking for.   You don’t want it for branding reasons,  you want it because you sell Green Widgets,  and the domain name is “” .  Exact match domain names don’t do what they used to years ago in Google.   In fact sometimes it works against you in some circumstances.    Don’t buy a domain name just because it’s an exact match, but it because you believe your customers will remember you better.   Google as often said don’t write content for their search engine, write it for your users.  The same concept is for domain name selection.  If the domain is clean,  and you are buying it for your customers, not to “game google”.   Good for you!  

3.  Make sure you have webmaster tools verified on both domain names (your old and your new one).    You would not imagine how many companies still don’t do this.   

After the domains are verfied as admin.  Continue reading,  don’t do anything else until that is accomplished or else you’ll only be able to part of the job and you will encounter some problems.

Request a full spider of the new domain name (both for mobile and desktop, we’re assuming you are using a responsive design,  if not go back and make sure your site is responsive before continuing,  bad things happen otherwise).  

4 – Now you have figure out the best way to move your content over to the new domain name without going to page 500 in the search engine.    Now setup a 301 redirect with page matching from url to url.
now 301 redirects to

Not a 302 redirect,  not a meta refresh,  not “click here to move on” ,  you need to use a 301 redirect.   Nothing else really will solve the problem.

Also notice we are listing https:// rather than http:// for the new domain name.   We’re assuming both responsive and secure, both are suggested by Google.

5 –  Request a full spider of the old domain name.  You’ll be greeted with an error since it’s 301 redirected to the new domain name.  This is expected.  It’s basically telling Google “spider this site” and that site is redirected,  notifying google that the redirect exists.

6 – Contact everyone and anyone that is linking to your old site, notifying them of the new url.   301 redirects work, but they are not 100% effective.   You would rather have clean links than redirected ones.

7 – Update your social media.  Though this doesn’t (in all cases) directly impact your SEO,  it does give you another channel to inform your customers and partners of your new domain name.    Hoping to help them remember to update their links to your site.   Plus Google does read the Social media content as best it can,  so it will help in some instances.

8 –  Continue to follow up with the partners that did not update their links.   You need to keep on top of them as best you can.   The more that update their linked url the better it will be for you in the long run.

9 –  Google has a VERY long memory.   It would attempt to respider the old site in a year or two,  you’ll see your webmaster tools light up like a christmas tree with errors if everything was not 301 redirected properly.     Keep up with this.  If Google was trying to respider your site,  you can bet the reason they did is because there was still enough links and mentions out there to keep the old domain valid.   Meaning that their is still some popularity you can squeeze from the old domain to the new one.    I wouldn’t wait for Google to find the old URLS that you didn’t redirect,  I would proactively go and find and redirect them.

10  – Go back and follow up with this list, make sure everything is done to the best of your ablity.   Every moment you waste doing something else isn’t helping your ablity to move the domain name without penality.

11– One last thing,  make sure you update your site in Google Maps,  Webmaster tools,  Local listings, ect.   If these are not updated it will look poorly on your company. 

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