Featured SEO

How to: Move a web site in 5 steps

I’ve been watching a business organization – who shall remain nameless – utterly botch their move from one domain to another, and it’s caused me a bit of a headache:

facepalm headdesk, etc.

I decided to be positive for once, though. Initially I wanted to write a 1000 word, frothing-at-the-mouth diatribe about how ten uneducated chimpanzees could have done a better job, from an SEO standpoint, of moving a site than these guys did.

But no. I shall remain positive. So, as an experiment, I took each step in their process and wrote the opposite. To my shock and amazement, my write-it-backwards approach generated a darned good site move procedure.

So here it is: The right way to move a site from one domain to another, brought to you courtesy of the don’t-do-it-this-way brigade.

Step 1: Launch something on the new domain

Launch a small site on the new domain. Not 1 page, but not 30 pages, either. Have enough information there to make it a real, useful landing place. Then, point some links at it.

This will start aging the domain a little bit. It’s not much, but even a week or two could help you. At worst, you got all the server stuff configured ahead of time.

Step 2: Map out 301 redirects

Your new site, on the new domain, will probably have pages and categories similar to the old one. At a minimum, stuff like ‘contact us’ will still exist.

Prepare a list, ahead of time, of the pages and categories you’ll want to redirect, so that when someone goes to www.oldsite.com/contactus/ you can seamlessly reroute them to www.newsite.com/contactus/.

The 301 redirects will ensure that link authority the old site picked up gets passed to the new. If you were dumb, you might, say, set up a page in between that says “we’ve moved” and has a link to the new site. AND you might try to game visiting spiders with bizarre user agent filters. Then you’d pee away all that link building you paid for. Your PageRank go ‘poof’.

Not that anyone I know would ever do that.

Step 3: Create a welcome mat

I know what you’re thinking: The page in between that says “we’ve moved” and then lets you click a link is helpful. It tells visitors they’re about to land on a new site.

OK, for the sake of argument, say it’s helpful, even though the two sites are identical.

In that case, create a welcome mat, instead. Sniff for folks who were referred from www.oldsite.com and use some javascript to show them a nice message, on the new site. That message can tell them why they’ve moved.

That way, you get to use a 301 redirect, preserve your link authority, and still be very helpful. Instead of lighting all of your link love ON FIRE.
But you’d never do that, would you?

Step 4: Find change of address info

Get the new domain verified in Google Webmaster tools. Then add ‘complete change of address in Google Webmaster Tools’ to your launch day to-do list.

See, Google has this nifty form where you can tell them you’ve moved your site. In their words:
This will help us update our index faster and smooth the transition for your users.

Or, you can take the Tea Party approach and decide you want Freedom, goddammit, and screw anyone who brings up stupid stuff that might prevent oil spills. Or anyone who wants to pay for the medication that keeps you from turning into an uninformed butthead (be sure to watch 4:31 or so).

Not that anyone I know would EVER do that, either.

Step 5: Make the move

Now you’re ready.

  • Set up the 301 redirects you researched in step 2.
  • Take down the site you set up in step 1.
  • Repoint to the new domain.
  • Make your change of address, per step 4.

If you did all of this, in this order, you’ll experience minimal SEO pain (maybe even none).

Or, live free, baby! Take your chances.

After that

Once the launch is done, it’s time for the basics:

  • Get verified in all of the various webmaster tools.
  • Upload your XML sitemap.
  • Do a test crawl of the site using the tool of your choice.
  • Start on your SEO campaign again.

Or…

Never mind.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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