How to Change Domain Name and Preserve SEO

Changing a domain name is a type of site migration. Poor site migrations can hurt your SEO performance. But if well prepared for, they can improve your organic visibility and traffic.
Written by
Jennifer Chu
Published on
June 19, 2024

Our client is preparing for their second domain name change in a year (third site migration in two years!) This time it's a simpler, more straightforward domain change that should be relatively easy to do. But, the last one was a bit of a train wreck. It involved many types of changes: platform change, site structure change, redesign, and domain change. For a variety of reasons which I won't go into, they also had to execute on it fast. There was only a few days of preparation, followed by a few days of "fixes". The site never fully recovered from the migration. This time around, they are being extra cautious and rightfully so.

Reasons for a Domain Change

While the multiple domain changes might seem a bit unusual, it's actually not uncommon for startups. There are a multitude of reasons a company, particularly a startup, would change their domain name.

  • The company initially got a *.co or *.nyc domain name, because it was cheaper and available; but now they can/want to get the *.com domain
  • The company gets the exact-match for their name. This might be necessary if a company has a generic name or one that is similar to competitors in the space — you’d want to get the exact-match of the name so that you have the highest likelihood of your users finding you first.
  • The company gets a shorter, more memorable domain that is better for offline advertising channels such as radio and tv.
  • The company has rebranded or changed their product offerings, and they need a new name to reflect these changes.

Whether you're rebranding, expanding, or simply updating your web presence, a smooth transition is crucial.  This guide will walk you through the steps to change your domain without losing traffic. Since we’re using Webflow, we’ll include examples specific to the Webflow platform.

Steps for Migrating a Domain

Pre-Migration Prep

1. Choose a day and time

You may want to choose a day and time when you site traffic is lowest or when your customers are least likely to visit. Changing your domain name can take a few hours or even up to 48 hours to fully take affect.

  1. In this article, we’ll refer to the domains as:
    1. New domain: domain-2.com
    2. Old domain: domain-1.com

2. Gather Your Pre-Migration Benchmarks

  • Note your performance metrics before you change your domain
    • In Google Search Console, what are your organic impressions and clicks
    • In Google Analytics, what are your site visits
    • Run a site audit to see what errors you currently have
      • Note things like the number of crawled pages, internal linking errors, and site speed.
    • Use a keyword research tool to see how many keywords you have ranking. If you have priority keywords, note those keywords, how you rank for those keywords, and which pages rank.
    • Save a copy of your current XML Sitemap
      • You’ll want to compare your site performance pre- and post-migration.
  • Identify your priority pages
    Your priority URLs are the pages on your site that might receive the most visits, rank highly for certain keywords or have critical backlinks. You’ll want to identify these pages and consolidate them into one list. After the domain change, you’ll want to validate regularly that these pages continue to be accessible and perform well.  

    To get these pages:
    • Look in Google Analytics at your highest trafficked pages: Reports > Engagement > Pages and Screens
    • Look in Google Search Console: Search Results (under Performance) > Pages tab
    • Perform a backlink audit to identify the pages that have important backlinks
  • Save a copy of your XML Sitemap
    You'll want this later to compare with your new sitemap

3. Inform all team members of the domain change

Make sure all stakeholders are aware of the upcoming change, the timing, and updated statuses in real-time. They can help lookout for site issues or address customer questions that may come up during the migration.

Migration

4. Set Up Your New Domain

In Webflow:

  • Log in to your Webflow account.
  • Navigate to the Site Settings > Publishing
  • Scroll down to the “Production” section
  • Click on “Add a custom domain”
  • Add your new domain name and follow the prompts to verify ownership and set up DNS records.

You will now have both the old domain and the new domain pointing to your website.

5. Prepare Redirects

Having two domains with identical content puts you at risk for being penalized be search engines.  You’ll want to set up a permanent 301 redirect from your old domain to your new domain. A 301 redirect tells search engines that the move is permanent (vs a 302 redirect which is temporary) and helps preserve your SEO rankings.

In Webflow, this is easy. In Site Settings > Publishing > Production, just set the new domain as the default

This will ensure that the entire old domain, including folders and pages, are redirected to the new domain (assuming no folder paths have changed).

If someone happens to find and click on the old link, https://domain-old.com/articles/how-to-change-domain, they will be redirected to the corresponding page on the new domain, https://domain-new.com/articles/how-to-change-domain

Avoid Redirect chains

Redirect chains happen when there is more than one redirect to get from the entered URL to the final destination.  Redirect chains are bad, because:

  • They hurt site performance. It may take longer for a page to load.
  • You lose link equity from backlinks. With every redirect hop, you get less benefit from the referring site.
  • They may impact the crawlability of your site.

While a redirect chain with two hops may not be the must a huge cause for concern, it’s worthwhile to address this now. In the future, there may be reasons for adding other redirects (replacement pages, navigation changes, etc) which will just add to the redirect chain.

This particular client had gone through another domain change a year ago, so we know that there was a redirect in place back then.  

Original redirect: domain-0.com —> domain-old.com

Resulting redirect chain after migration: domain-0.com —> domain-old.com —> domain-new.com

They could now have two redirect hops. We would want to change that original redirect to:

Updated redirect: domain-0.com —> domain-new.com

If necessary, you’ll also want to map old URLs to new URLs to maintain specific page-level redirects so you can preserve the intended user experience. However, if it's purely just a domain name change, you shouldn't have to do this.

6. Update Internal Links

You may need to update all internal links within your website to point to the new domain. This includes navigation menus, footer links, and embedded links within content.

This is especially true if you use absolute URLs

Example of absolute URL: "https://www.domain-new.com/articles/how-to-change-your-domain"

This is less of a concern for relative URLs which would not be affected by the domain change.

Example of relative URL: “/articles/how-to-change-your-domain”

7. Update External Links (if possible)

If you have control over external links pointing to your site (such as in guest posts or partnerships), update those links to point to the new domain.

8. Notify Google Search Console

If you have access to Google Search Console, add the new domain as a new property and verify the new domain.

Use the Change of Address tool in Google Search Console to notify Google about your domain change. This helps Google update their index with the new domain information. More on that here.

9. Update Google Analytics

Update your Data Stream with your new URL. Go to Admin > Property Settings > Data Streams (under Data collection and modification)

10. Update XML Sitemap

In Webflow, once you set your new domain as the default site (see Step 3), your XML Sitemap will auto-update with the new URLs.

11. Update Social Media profiles:

Update your social media profiles and any other marketing materials with the new domain

12. Update Your Domain on All Paid Advertising Platforms

Most ad platforms don’t allow advertisers to send traffic to a link with a redirect. Your ads will stop running pretty immediately.

To avoid interruption of ads, you’ll want to update your ad URLs pretty quickly.

Post-Migration

13. Monitor and Test

Test all pages and functionality on the new domain to ensure everything is working correctly.

Monitor your website closely after the domain change to identify and address any issues promptly.

  • Check Google Analytics for any drops in traffic
  • Check Search Console for any indexing issues
  • Use SEMRush to check for any decreases in number of keywords ranking and drops in rank
  • Schedule regular site audits of the site
    • Also run a separate audit crawling the list of priority pages to ensure they are properly redirecting to the correct pages
    • Lookout for any new issues that did not exist prior to the migration
  • Compare your old XML Sitemap with the new one for any notable changes

14. Maintain Old Domain

Keep the old domain active and continue hosting redirects for an extended period (at least 6-12 months) to capture any residual traffic and ensure a smooth transition.

Conclusion

Changing your domain name on Webflow may seem challenging, but with careful planning and execution, you can minimize disruptions and maintain your SEO rankings. By following these steps systematically and ensuring thorough testing, you can minimize the risk of losing traffic and maintain your website's SEO authority during the domain transition process. Remember to communicate transparently with stakeholders, update all relevant platforms, and monitor your website's performance closely.

Related Articles

Digital Marketing for Startups

Technical SEO: Crawlability and Indexability

Webflow Custom Domain: Should You Buy

Create or upload Intercom Leads from Webflow

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