Changing Domain Names

You may well have been there – you have changed your firm’s name and have been told that for marketing / branding purposes that you need to change your domain name from xxx-accountants.co.uk to yyy-accountants.co.uk.

Or, alternatively you have been hankering over a particular domain name (for example accountants-in-xxx.co.uk) for ages and you realise that it’s now available to be registered so you decide to change your domain name to capture extra visitors to the site and hopefully get more clients.

While this sounds easy to do, and in practice it is as easy as copying the content of your existing site to the new domain there are a few things that you need to remember if you want to do this successfully.  This blog post aims to cover the common errors that we have seen made time and time again, so helpfully it will help you avoid these if you are planning on changing your website domain name.

  1. Make sure that all the old pages on the old domain are redirected to the equivalent page on the new domain.  This may be something that your web host will have to do for you. If you are doing this make sure that the redirection uses what’s known as a 301 status code and not a 302 status.
    1. a 301 status tells the browsers and the search engines that the content on the old page is permanently redirected to the new location.  Eventually the search engines will get to know that the content has been moved and will replace the old pages in their index with the new location.
    2. a 302 status tells the search engines that the content of the page has temporarily moved to a new location but that it will be back at its old location at some point in the future.  The 302 redirection is treated with some suspicion by the search engines
    3. Do not use the meta redirect to transfer visitors to the new page – this as Google themselves say can be counter-productive “This meta tag sends the user to a new URL after a certain amount of time, and is sometimes used as a simple form of redirection. However, it is not supported by all browsers and can be confusing to the user. The W3C recommends that this tag not be used. We recommend using a server-side 301 redirect instead.”  (http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=79812)
    4. Remember that part of the reason for doing this is that although you can control your own domain content you may well have people linking to your pages and  you can’t either expect to find all the links or get them corrected by other webmasters.
  2. Don’t plan on having the same content on both the old and new domain – this may confuse the engines resulting in some pages on the old domain and a few on the new domain being listed which would be even more confusing to visitors to the site.
  3. Just because you have a new domain don’t think that you can let the old one expire (or sell it) straight away.  This is for the reason mentioned above – the search engines and other sites will have links to your old domain and page addresses, do you really want to lose all those possible visitors?
  4. Don’t forget to change your email address signatures if you have your web address in there, and also any marketing material, although this can be left until the next print run if you make sure that your redirections are in place as anyone typing the old address will find the new one.
  5. Don’t expect for the search results to change overnight – remember that the engines need to spider (read) your pages before there is any chance of the results reflecting change of domain name.

By adopting these few simple steps you will reduce the risk of anything going wrong with your search engine rankings or having your visitors getting problems if you change your domain name.

If you have any other tips that you think people should follow when moving a site I’d be more than happy to hear about them, just fill in the comment box below.

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