February 10, 2017

Changing Domain Names? Here's Everything You Need to Know

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Published: 10 February 2017 

The idea of changing domain names can be a scary thought. However, there are many reasons why it might be not only necessary but beneficial for your business.

1. Availability

Domain extensions are used for different purposes. However, the .com extension is recommended, as it is generally easier to recall and makes a website appear more authoritative than a low-quality extension such as .biz. In fact, in 2003, 75% of all websites use the .com extension.

Source: Smallbusiness-domain

You may have found that your initial preference of yourwebsite.com was already taken and you may have had to settle for yourwebsite.biz. However, if yourwebsite.com suddenly becomes available again, then it could be a good decision to jump in on it.

To learn more about why a .com address is recommended over other extension options, check out this article.

2. Re-Branding

If you are now able to create your own web domains, then you now have the capability to reach your brand’s full potential. Personalised and simplified URLs give you a higher chance of leaving an impression on your online visitors. This could even form the basis for the rebranding of your entire operation.

3. Optimising for SEO

 

With all the competition you face, ensuring you remain ahead is extremely important. Changing your domain name to benefit your brand is one way to set yourself apart from the rest.

As well as choosing a domain name that matches your target keyword/s, how your domain is branded is an even more important aspect to think about. Consider your domain name the foundation upon which your online brand is built. Your domain is how users find, share and identify your company online.

Choosing a domain name

Once you have established the need and reason as to why you want to change domains, the next step is ensuring you have chosen the right domain. You’re changing domains to benefit you and your business, so don’t settle for second best.

Your ideal domain name should be:

  • Relevant: Meanings and connotations are changing constantly, so ensure you do your research first just to make sure that your domain name will communicate the desired message.
  • Easy to spell: You want people to be able to easily remember your domain name, so avoid commonly misspelt words, international misspellings and hyphens.
  • As short as possible: On average, the top 100,000 websites have nine characters in their domain names. A shorter domain name is more memorable, making it easier for promotion. Therefore it’s always good to keep your domain name short and sweet by limiting it to one or two words.
  • Unique: Your goal is to set yourself apart from the competition, so your domain names should be distinctive and unique. For example, a name like Bestsearchengine.com doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as Google.com.

The Process

Buy your new domain early and tell people about it

Acquiring your new domain early gives search engines a headstart in crawling your new site, and then make sure you let your audience know that you are moving.

You don’t want to launch a new domain name unexpectedly. You want the new domain to be something they are expecting, or better yet, anticipating. Post the announcement on the homepage of your site and post about it on your social media profiles, email newsletters and wherever else applies.

Back up your site

Having a working backup before making any massive changes to your website is an essential step in ensuring you avoid any future pitfalls. Ensure you test the backup to make sure everything works perfectly.

Create a sitemap of your old site and perform a content audit

A sitemap is a visual or textually organised model of a site’s content which allows users to navigate through the site to find the information they are looking for. Creating a sitemap is a simple process and many websites can help you do it.

To create a sitemap, Google recommends using XML-Sitemap.

Your newly created sitemap will provide you with a list of pages that are on your website which will allow you to do a content audit. A content audit can help you accomplish a number of things including but not limited to:

  • Determining which pages require editing/copywriting
  • Establish which pages require updating and prioritise them
  • Knowing which pages need to be developed due to overlapping topics
  • Finding out which pages need to be pruned off the site and what your approach should be

Using the sitemap, visit every page on your website and look for any mentions of your previous domain (in site’s copy and links in navigational elements e.g. header and footer). Ensure your site’s text and hyperlinks are updated on the new site.

Check for domain penalties

When you’re in the market for a used domain name, there is a chance that your new domain could already be penalised. There might be some low-quality backlinks pointing back at the site. You want to make sure you disclaim these links before migrating your site. The best way to do this is utilising Google Webmaster Tools. Check to see if there have been any instances of web spam targeting the domain, and if so, submit a removal request.

Redirect old pages

Add a 301 redirect (permanent redirect) to all old content to the new site. Properly setting up 301 redirects is the key to maintaining your SEO when changing domain names. Google isn’t going to automatically know that the new site belongs to the same person as the old site, so you need to let it know. A 301 redirect lets search engines know that a link has permanently moved to a new location. Your sitemap also comes in handy here, as you will need to inform search engines about the new URLs for every page on your site.

301 redirects are not only important for search engines, but also for your visitors. If a person clicks links from external sites or bookmarks where the link is not updated, the redirect will forwards them to the page they sought out under your new domain.

Migrate Content

Next, you want to migrate your content to the new site. Many site owners want to make the move as quick as possible. However, if you have the spare time, start by moving only a portion of your site so you can test how the change impacts your search rankings. This process can take a while, however, it will give you a way to test out your process from start to finish without compromising your overall site’s rankings.

Inform Google

Within your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard, you can use the gear icon to submit a change of address. This alerts Google about your website’s new location.

Keep your old site live for a while

You need to allow for a transition period where your audience will still attempt to access the old site. This will allow them to discover the new website. If you have your 301 redirects set up properly, keeping the old site up for a while shouldn’t be an issue.

Enjoying your new domain name

Remember that successfully switching domain names is only the beginning. With your new website, you now can begin to work on building your brand, improving your SEO and keeping ahead of the competition.  

 

Ben Maden

Read more posts by Ben

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