If you think you need to change domain names, there is a lot that goes with that. You may want to give that a second thought, but if you decide to do it, let’s talk about how to do it correctly so you don’t lose traffic or rankings.
There are a lot of reasons you might be thinking of a new domain. A few may include:
- Are you moving to a new location? If your business is BrightonDogSitting.com and you are moving to 300 miles ware, but still want to offer your service, then BrightonDogSitting.comn may not be a good option.
- Are you changing your business name? Maybe you started as a general area, for example, Main Street Construction, but you have decided to narrow your niche down and you now only do kitchens, changing your domain name might be useful. Or, if you started with just kitchens and want to branch out, you can go the opposite way.
- Do you want a better extension? Our very first paid client, back in 2006, had her first website at a .biz because the .com was not available. At some point during our work together, the .com became available and obviously, she wanted to use that domain instead.
- Do you want to try to leverage better SEO? It’s possible that a really great domain became available that would be excellent for SEO.
- Your domain is hard. Maybe your business name is long or difficult to spell, and people have a hard time with it and you’d like to switch to an easier domain.
So there are a lot of reasons why someone might want to change their domain. However, this is a cautionary tale. Changing domains can cause traffic loss, rank drops and more if not done correctly. If you have a long online history with your domain, it might not be in your best interests to change it. But if you feel like you must, here is how to do it successfully.
How to change your domain name
First, buy the new domain name you want, so you own both domain names in your account. (While you’re at it, make sure both have accurate registration information. No reason to lose your domains because you have an outdated email address.) Additionally, make sure that you keep that old domain for at least a couple of years. Yes, that is an added expense, but it’s going to be worth it in the long run. Changing to a new domain doesn’t magically erase all existence of the old domain – as long as there’s a link to that old domain out there, you should keep it. That may mean you keep it for many years.
Protip: Renewing for multiple years at a time usually gives you some discounts.
Once you have your two domains, how do you start using the new one?
The technical aspect of changing to the new domain is going to be different depending on where your website is hosted. For example, on Bluehost, my favorite web host, you can easily log in to your dashboard and add additional domains to your site, and then make the new domain the primary domain. You can do the same with DreamHost hosting as well.
In both of those instances, I recommend after changing your primary domain in your hosting dashboard, you log in to your site and change the URLs using a plugin called Better Search and Replace.
If you are using standard web hostings, such as SiteGround or A2, then it can be a little more complicated and will vary according to what options you get with your package.
I could write technical instructions on how to switch your site to your new domain all day and still not hit every different method. You may want to contact your web host or developer to make sure you don’t break your site in the process. Need help? Contact us and we’re happy to help you get your domain changed.
What to do after you change your domain name
So you finished all the tasks and your domain is now changed! Great! BUT YOU AREN’T DONE.
There are a lot of steps in this process to make sure you don’t lose rank or traffic. If you skip these, then you are essentially starting over from scratch with a brand new website and will lose all the SEO and marketing work you’ve done on your old site.
Start by setting up redirects from all your old URLs to your new URLs. If you are using a host like Bluehost from above, this is already done since you can set up multiple domains with your site. If you are using different hosting that doesn’t give you options for simply adding more domains to your site, then you’ll have to set up redirects.
You can do redirects in a number of ways, but if you aren’t an experienced developer, probably the easiest way is with a plugin. My favorite redirection plugin is called Redirection. How’s that for remembering the name? Install the plugin, and you can add in your URLs from your old site and redirect them to your new site.
Some people might just direct the homepage and then leave the rest of the pages out there, hanging in the wind. But don’t do that. All pages of your site need to be redirected to the same page on the new domain. So if your old domain had a site with the URL of olddomain.com/about, if I try to go to that URL, it should automatically take me to newdomain.com/about, and not to the homepage.
If you have a smallish site, then doing individual redirects won’t take long. If you have a big site, you might need to do the redirects another way and may need the help of someone with more experience.
Bottom line, all URLs for the pages of your site should redirect to the new URL for that same page.
Update your marketing materials
If you change your domain online, then it needs to change everywhere. Facebook link? Change it. Twitter profile? Change it. All social media profiles, update it. Online directories? Yup. Especially Google My Business, get that link updated. Bing, Yelp, Houzz…. the list goes on and on.
Don’t forget to change it on your business cards, signs, and other print materials as well.
Changing domains is a lot like changing credit cards. You have to find every last place that sucker is being used and change it. Not always the easiest task, but important if you want to keep your rankings.
Change the domain in Google Analytics and Search Console
You aren’t done! Google Analytics tracks traffic and uses your domain. Log in to that account and change the domain in there too. While you’re at it, make sure you are using the right protocol (HTTP/HTTPS) – a lot of folks switch to encrypted sites and never update that in Google Analytics. While you’re there, check on it.
Also, make this change in Google Search Console, or else you’ll be losing a lot of data about what’s going on with your domain. Be sure to verify the new domain in Search Console as well.
What about your email address?
If you are using a regular Gmail or other email address, this may not apply. But if you are using firstname.lastname@example.org? Guess what, you may want to change that too.
The best-case scenario here is to set up the new email address completely. Make sure it’s working and set up on all devices. Once that’s done, set your old email to forward to the new email (and please test to make sure it’s working) and turn off the old email account on your devices.
There’s a reason I recommend turning off your old email on your devices. If you are checking your email and have multiple email accounts, typically if you respond to an email that comes in, the response comes “from” whatever email account received the message. Therefore, if you keep both email addresses on your device, you will probably (unless you are very careful) continue to send emails from your old email address as people email you at the email address you’ve always had. If you want people to start using the new email, you’ll want to start responding from it.
This isn’t inherently bad, but you should make a concerted effort to use the new email address. Here’s why:
- New customers may not know your old business/domain name.
- You may not want to pay for the old email address indefinitely, but if you are still getting an email at the old one, you can’t drop it.
- It looks more professional to have your email match your business and domain name.
The more you send messages from your new email address, the more people will start to use it.
Additionally, you’ll need to go through your site and update your forms, so those get sent to the new email. You’ll want to update your email on social media. You’ll want to update it on your business profiles and directories. And in any online account where you are using it. Pretty much the same steps as when you updated your domain links all over the Internet.
Changing domains can be a tedious process, so really think about if it’s necessary before you make the jump. It can be more difficult and time-consuming than you think.