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Migrating from one domain to another is a big job, but it doesn't have to be. By taking the steps in this post, you'll be sure that all of your hard work in building up organic traffic and visibility will make the move to your new domain without disruption.
So, you've spent a great deal of time building traffic and driving engagement on your site with SEO efforts. But now you have to change your domain name and move all your content and files from the current one to a new one. And all without losing the achievements you have so far.
This is a very hard challenge, and you stand to lose all your work. You could see a drop in your domain authority, traffic, clicks, and conversions! Your customers could get frustrated or confused and stop working with you if done incorrectly.
So, how do you avoid this and migrate your SEO efforts to a new domain? This post is crafted for you to address this very problem. Keep reading to learn the best process for migrating SEO efforts to a new domain.
Why change domain names?
There are many reasons to change a domain name, some of which are unavoidable. You may want to rebrand when your website has grown past its original purpose. Or your domain name may no longer have neutral or positive associations.
Perhaps you want to move to a cloud hosting platform to exploit new technologies. In my business, we acquired a plugin to provide even more value to our audience. And we needed to migrate the plugin website to rebrand and align with our other products.
Other possible reasons to change a domain name include:
- Outgrowing the old brand and wanting a more professional look.
- The desire to have an easier-to-remember URL or simplify a complex domain name.
- To protect trademarks or copyrights.
- Becoming better aligned with industry standards for top-level domain (TLD) names, like using .com or .edu instead of .net or .biz.
- Facing legal issues from another company claiming domain name ownership, even if you were the first to register it.
- Merging two companies into one and wanting a unified public face on the web.
- Wanting to expand into new markets and needing more international appeal.
Whatever the reason, you must be careful and plan your domain migration. With search rankings, traffic, and domain authority to maintain, it's essential to follow the recommended steps carefully.
1. Start with a plan
Before you take any steps to start migrating to a new domain, you need to have a checklist of things to do. It would help if you also established your old or current domain's performance metrics. After migration, you must track the current domain's SEO traffic, organic rankings, and backlinks to compare them to the new domain.
Collect data using an SEO platform like Semrush or Ahrefs to do this. You should also use Google Analytics to gather relevant details. A clear understanding of how your website is performing right now will help you identify any potential issues or successes with migrating your SEO efforts.
Setting up a timeline for this process is also a good idea. You don't want to rush it; you could miss the necessary steps. At the same time, taking too long can result in losing traffic and customers. Set up your team and processes. Ask yourself who needs to be involved.
For example, your content team, UX/UI specialist, SEO expert, etc. A plan is critical to ensure that your redirects work and traffic moves seamlessly from your old domain to your new one. It will also create a timespan where you focus on this task and get things done.
2. Backup your website
Your first step to migrating your domain name should be backing up your site. If you worked with a web designer and developer to build your site, they should help you. Your domain hosting platform should also simplify downloading a copy or backing of your website content.
A copy of what is currently on your website is essential if something goes wrong during the migration process, such as losing data or breaking links. You can also use your backup copy as the file you will upload to the new domain.
Moreover, it will help create a website with redirects from the old domain.
- If you have a WordPress website, this should be easy. All you have to do is use a free plugin like Duplicator, which I recommend.
- Once you download and activate the plugin, follow its steps and 'build' the backup of your website. You'll soon get a download folder of all your WordPress files.
3. Create a new database
In this step, we'll assume you've built your site using WordPress. It would help to build a new MySQL database to store your website information. Your SQL database is necessary to store the data and content securely and plays a vital role in the migration process.
Using your hosting account, head to your cPanel dashboard.
- Find 'Databases' and click on the 'Create Database' option.
- Then, you'll need to create a MySQL user from the MySQL Users section to allow the right user to work with your database.
- When prompted, create a username and password, then click 'Create User.'
Remember that you've taken two steps so far - you've created a new database and added a new user. Your next step is to connect the user to the database so that the user has the admin privileges to make changes.
To do this, go to the 'Add User to Database' section and select the user you created in the dropdown menu. Also, choose the database you created and click 'Add.' This will be your setup; from here, you can start transferring your content from your old database to your new one.
4. Unpack your WordPress site
Remember the folders and files you downloaded using Duplicator? You're going to use them at this stage. Your downloaded folder also includes your WordPress software, so you don't need to install it separately for your website on your new domain.
Start by connecting to your domain name using an FTP client. It's software that connects to your website's FTP server. This step will ensure you move all content, plugins, and themes. You can also access your WordPress site if something goes wrong and you can't access it normally.
Ensure that your new website's root directory is empty and upload the archive and installer files to the root directory, i.e., 'public_html' as in the image below.
Now, it's time to unpack your site.
- Open a new tab and go to http://newdomainname.com/installer.php (but replace 'newdomainname' with your new domain name).
- This launches Duplicator's migration wizard tool. All you have to do is follow the steps by Duplicator, and it will 'unpack' your backup file with all the information from your previous site.
- It should also detect your new domain name and its path, but you can add your new domain name if it doesn't.
- Duplicator will finish the migration, and you'll be able to access the admin area of your new WordPress site.
5. Create permanent 301 redirects
This is a critical part of migrating your site to a new domain. This step is crucial because it automatically sends people from your old URL to your new one. If you don't do this step, anyone who clicks on your old links on social media, guest posts, or anywhere else will get a 404 error.
A 301 redirect informs search engines that the old URLs have permanently moved to the new ones, and they should update them with the new links. To create 301 redirects, you must find a .htaccess file in your old website's root directory.
You can use your FTP client to access this and will find this file in your wp-admin or wp-includes folder. You have to add some code to this file:
1 #Options +FollowSymLinks
2 RewriteEngine on
3 Unchanged: RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.newsite.com/$1 [R=301,L]
Change 'newsite' to your new website domain name. Apply these changes, and then try any of your old website links. They should take you to your new site; you'll know you've managed your migration.
However, there's a far easier step that I recommend instead of this one - which is to use an SEO platform. You can just add an SEO plugin and opt for its premium features that do the whole job for you with a click. You'll also get other benefits to help optimize your website and content.
So, use a WordPress plugin like AIOSEO and click the Redirects button in its options. It will do a full site redirect fast and accurately.
6. Alert google about your new domain
You've done everything right, but it's not over yet. Your final step is to inform Google immediately that you've set up a new domain. How do you do that? It's easy, thankfully.
- Start by ensuring you've added your new and old domains to Google Search Console (GSC).
- You want to select the old domain as the active property, i.e., you're on the old domain property in GSC.
- You then go to Settings. Select 'Change of Address'. Select your new domain under the 'Update Google' section. Add your new domain and click on 'Validate and Update.'
Now, Google will validate the changes; you just have to follow the next steps to finish the process.
7. Check and test
As a final step, you want to check that everything has worked correctly and your old links are now taking visitors to the new domain.
- It would help if you used a tool like the Screaming Frog SEO Spider software to crawl through your site's pages and ensure they're all working and indexed properly on your new domain.
- You can also use online tools like Ahrefs or Semrush to run a comprehensive SEO audit check.
- You also want to create an announcement and let your audience know that they should expect some changes. Use social media and email newsletters to inform your customers or visitors about the change.
By following this approach, you can prevent any confusion and ensure they know where to find your content on your new website. So, that's the guide to migrating your SEO efforts and content from your current domain to a brand-new one.
Your migration is complete once you've checked all the above, and everything looks okay.
Migrating from one domain to another is a big job, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Following the steps outlined above, you can seamlessly migrate your content and SEO efforts to a new domain.
Remember to use 301 redirects to ensure visitors don't get 404 errors when accessing your old links, and inform Google of the change through Google Search Console!
By taking these steps, you'll be sure that all of your hard work in building up organic traffic and visibility will make the move to your new domain without any disruption. You'll retain your traffic and all your essential SEO metrics - but you'll also have a brand-new name and image to grow from.
Have you got any questions? Please leave them in the comments below.
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