How to change domain name without losing Google rankings

The original domain name for this website was nudeseo.com.

Due to certain systems not liking the word ‘nude’ and blocking potential visitors from the website, it became necessary for me to change to a new domain – noodseo.com.

However, because Google treats individual domains as separate entities, I did not want to lose the authority and search engine rankings from my old domain, so it was important for me to tell Google what was going on so it could transfer the ‘domain equity’ to the new domain.

I’ve performed this task a few times before, so thought it would be useful to share the method that I’ve found works best for a domain change.

Is there a need to create a new domain?

Moving a site to a new domain name is fairly complicated and runs the risk of screwing up your search engine rankings (sometimes even if you do everything right) so it is important to be 100% sure that you want to change your domain name.

As I explained above, I did not really have a choice as some systems were blocking my existing domain name but for most cases, moving to a new domain name should be a last resort. Domain names have ‘equity’ with Google and other search engines, which builds up over time. If you were to simply scrap your old domain name and start a new website, then that equity would be lost (which is why it is important to tell Google what has happened and hope their systems transfer this equity over to your domain).

My point is unless you absolutely must change your domain name, don’t do it.

Checklist of tasks to perform

Here is a brief outline of the tasks required

  1. Add domains to Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) and wait a few days
  2. Make a copy of your website – for wordpress use the Duplicator plugin
  3. Install the copy on your new domain
  4. Configure WordPress
  5. Set up 301 redirects
  6. Use the GSC Change of Address Tool
  7. Tidying up

NOTE: I use WordPress for almost all my websites, so these instructions are geared towards moving WordPress site. You may need to adjust them slightly for other Content Management Systems.

1. Add domains to Google Search Console (GSC)

The first step is to add your domains to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) if you haven’t already done so.

You can do this by following these steps:

  1. Register/login to GSC
  2. In the top-left, you will see a list of your domains. Click on it and then click on Add Property.
  3. Type in your domain name.
  4. Follow the instructions to validate your domain (I have recently started buying my domains through Google Domains, so my domains validate straight away).
  5. Create a sitemap for each of the websites and submit in GSC – I use this WordPress Plugin to generate sitemaps
  6. Wait a few days until you get an email that looks like this:
Email from GSC

It is important that you wait until you receive the email because the GSC change of address tool may not validate correctly if the domain has been recently added (as I found out during this process).

2. Make a copy of your website

The next step is to make a copy of your existing website so that it can be installed on your new domain.

To do this, I recommend installing the Duplicator WordPress Plugin (free).

After Activation, click on Duplicator in the WordPress admin console and follow the instructions. The process is pretty self-explanatory – click to create a duplicate of your website and then download both the archive and installer files.

3. Install the Duplicator copy on your domain

Next, you will need to install the copy of your website that you created in the previous step onto your new domain’s webhost. To do this:

  1. Upload the installer and archive files to your webhost (usually in the root domain).
  2. You may need to set up a database in CPanel – because I already had WordPress installed on my new domain’s host, I did not need to perform this step.
  3. Go to a browser and navigate to https://your-website/installer.php to run the installer.
  4. Follow the onscreen instructions.

I found Duplicator to be a very easy plugin to use. The only issue that I had was post-installation when I could not immediately gain access to the website – I don’t quite remember the exact error but it was either a 503 Forbidden or that WordPress was down for maintenance.

Anywho, a few minutes troubleshooting and I found that Duplicator had not copied over the .htaccess file in the root, so I copied this over manually and everything worked again.

4. Configure WordPress

Now you have an exact replica of the website from your old domain on your new domain, it is time to customise it. These are the adjustments I made, however, requirements may be different for you:

  1. Check everything is working (including plugins)
  2. Change the logo to reflect the new branding (including the favicon)
  3. Change the Sitename in WordPress (Settings -> General -> Sitename)
  4. Set up a new property in Google Analytics (GA) and configure your Google Analytics plugin with the new property ID
  5. Use Search and Replace plugin (free) to rewrite all instances of your old domain name and site name with the new name

For my search and replace I changed all instances of:

  • nudeseo.com to noodseo.com
  • nudeseo to noodseo
  • nude seo to nood seo

It is important to ensure that all branding, as well as internal links, are updated with the new information.

5. Set up 301 Redirects

The next step is to go back to your old site and set up 301 redirects to your new site. You want to ensure that each individual page of the old site redirects the corresponding page on the new site so that domain equity is passed to the correct places.

A 301 redirect tells a browser, crawler or bot that tries to access a page that the location of the page has permanently changed and redirects them to the correct place. There are other temporary redirects such as 302 and 307 but I’ve never used them – 301 redirects are the best option in 99% of instances (possibly 100%).

To do this, you will need to edit the .htaccess file with this information (there are other methods but this is the one I use):

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^nudeseo.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.nudeseo.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://noodseo.com/$1 [L,R=301,NC] 

This will redirect visitors to pages on your old site to the corresponding page on your new site. It will also tell Google crawlers where the new copies of each page are located.

After doing this, you should ensure that a sample of redirects are working correctly before moving on.

6. Use the GSC Change of Address Tool

Having done your preparation, it is now time to tell Google that you have changed your old domain to the new one. You may want to tell other search engines, such as Bing, if they are a good source of traffic for you. As Google is really all I care about for this website I left other search engines to work out what has happened for themselves.

As mentioned earlier, you must ensure that both domain properties have been added to GSC for 2-3 days before using the change of address tool or you may get a validation error.

To use the change of address tool:

  1. Login to GSC
  2. Select your old domain property in the top left
  3. Click Settings on the left (it has a gear icon next to it – you may need to scroll down)
  4. Click change of address
  5. Select the new domain in the dropdown list and click ‘Validate and Update’.

The change of address tool will do a few checks to validate your proposed changes before registering the change.

7. Tidying up

Depending on your website and business there may be further tasks you need to perform. This could include:

  • Changing your domain name for associated social accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc.)
  • Requesting existing backlinks on properties that you do not own are updated for the new site – not strictly necessary as the redirects should take care of it, but you may choose to do this
  • Updating print format materials, such as leaflets, business cards, letterheads etc.
  • Setting up email on the new domain

Conclusion

Moving your website using the steps outlined above should ensure that you retain your positions in the search results and continue to receive your hard-earned organic traffic.

However, there is no guarantee of this and rankings may fluctuate for a week or so as Google adjusts to the changes.

It is important to retain the 301 redirects for as long as possible, ideally forever. Google states that it will treat the new domain as the old domain’s replacement after six months but I would keep the old domain as well as the 301 redirects for at least a year.

DId you find this useful? Did it work for you? Do you agree or disagree with this checklist? Have I forgotten something? Please let me know in the comments below 🙂

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