5 tips for changing domain names without losing your search engine ranking

Feb 23, 2021  - written by  in Domain names

The quest for organic search engine optimization is pursued by every online business. To appear in the first page of results in a search engine is to gain visibility, attract customers, and increase revenue: an attractive virtuous cycle within reach via implementing a comprehensive SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.

As the basis of all your site’s webpages, a domain name is intimately tied to this organic search optimization strategy. However, there are various reasons you may want to change your domain name, whether that’s a merger or an acquisition, a new brand identity, a different domain ending, or selecting a domain name that’s naturally better optimized for search engine ranking. So, how can you be sure not to lose the work you’ve done optimizing your site for search engine ranking when you change domain names?

Here are our 5 tips for limiting the impact of changing a domain name on your search engine ranking:

  1. Keep the same domain owner
  2. Create a site map and make it available to search engines
  3. Create 301 redirections to new pages
  4. Update backlinks
  5. Inform Google of the domain name change

1. Keep the same domain owner

To be ranked, web pages need to be indexed by search engines. To do this, Google (and others) use “bots” that crawl webpages to record URLs in order to be able to include them in their results (also called SERP).

When you register a domain name, you’ll be asked for several pieces of contact information, in particular the name of the owner of the domain name. Some of this information is then reflected in the Whois, the online “phonebook” that centralizes information related to domain name contacts and IP addresses. The whois is especially useful for verifying the availability of a domain or determining who owns a domain name.

Search engine crawler bots regularly index this information. And since the length of time a domain name has been registered factors into a webpage’s ranking, it’s in your interest to try to keep the same owner. Google doesn’t consider it a new site, but as a long-term online presence, which in turn helps you keep your ranking.

2. Create a site map and make it available to search engines

Organic ranking is dependent on Google’s ranking criteria. In other words, in order to be ranked, you need to follow Google’s algorithm’s rules. That’s often easier said than done since the algorithm includes a wide variety of constitutive site elements and is regularly (if not constantly) evolving.

The sitemap, that is, an outline of your website, is part of this. This document hierarchizes resources and content linked to each page of your website in an XML document. It plays a considerable role in search engine ranking since it allows search engines to index all the pages of your site.

When you change domain names, it’s important, then, to create (or update) your sitemap and make sure it’s communicated to search engines your site so as to speed up the indexing of new URLs. This is easily accomplished for Google in a few clicks in the Google Search Console.

3. Create 301 redirections to new pages

To keep your ranking, search engine bots need to know where to find the content from your old URLs. This is where 301 redirections (also called permanent web forwarding) are extremely valuable since they allow you to link each of your previous website’s pages to the corresponding page in the new site.

That way, search engines are informed that the previous content was moved to a new page. New pages will then be indexed in place of the old ones, which will allow you to transfer any popularity they’ve accrued.

Another criteria taken into account by Google for indexing pages is the degree of trust given to each page. A backlink, that is, links that come from other sites towards yours, gives search engines a measure of this trust. It’s critical, then, to contact sites that have linked to you and request them to update these backlinks with the new URL with your new domain name.

If you have a lot of backlinks and you don’t have time, prioritize links coming from sites with high levels of authority first, these will have the greatest impact on your ranking. However, we recommend listing out each link to make sure you get them all. A backlink that’s not updated will generate a 404 error, which in turn causes your ranking to decline.

5. Inform Google of the domain name change

Finally, since Google plays a major role in your site’s organic ranking, it’s a generally good idea to inform them of the change in domain name so that they can index the new webpage addresses at the new URL.

You can make this update directly in the Google Search Console:

  1. Add your website
  2. Declare that you are the owner

That’s it!

Changing domain names can impact your search engine ranking if you don’t fail to carefully implement the new domain name. By applying these 5 tips, though, you can limit the negative consequences and rest assured that you’ll be able to quickly regain any lost SEO — a delicate operation but also an essential one for the online visibility of your business.