Should A Business Transition to a Better Domain for SEO Purposes?

What is the right way to change domains without messing up SEO? Learn how to do it and when it should be done.

Video Transcript (sorry- video not available)

David: So, Tricia, you asked a question about transitioning domains for a website. Or maybe the question is more fundamentally about domains and SEO, but how would you like to phrase this question?

Tricia: Yeah, I guess the first thing is, with how things work nowadays, is it even necessary to change domains? So, for example, if a business has a domain that they started out with their business website on, and it’s not ideal, like it has a dash in the middle of the name somewhere, but that’s all they could get at that time. Now they’ve actually bought the one that looks best. Right now, temporarily, they just have that forwarded to the full domain. So, I guess for SEO and other purposes, does it make sense to transition to a better URL? I know there are things that have to be done in a certain order so that you don’t mess up SEO. Or should it just be left alone and have that forwarding done? Does it make sense to go through that process?

David: Yeah, this is a very common question, and it’s especially common, like you say, with the client that gets started and they had to resort to a domain name that they later are like, you know what? We can now afford to go with a domain name. It’s a little easier. I had a client that started with a cutesy domain name and had a TLD that sounded cool. They were finally able to get the .com, and they wanted to transition to it. I’ll say a couple of things. Let me add another thing. Sometimes clients are like, hey, should I buy this domain with a keyword in it too? And maybe I should transition my domain name to them with a keyword. Will that help my SEO? And so, all these things get asked of us. And so, what we have to understand is whenever we launch a new website, and when I say a new website, it could be anything from just a reskinned website which is the same domains and no URL changes, or even if there’s one character in the URL that changes. HTTP to HTTPS was a big issue, right? Even if you take the slash off the end of the domain name or something like that. Right? Google will have to reindex the site. And so, what will happen is for about a month, sometimes more, Google will stop sending as much traffic to that site before they turn around and index it, and they will start sending traffic back to the site. So, what ends up happening if we’ve done our job right as SEOs is that the gain after the launch is better than it was before the launch. If you understand, there’s a one, maybe two-month dip in traffic. And that is not because Google hates your site. It’s not because of what they call the sandbox. It’s just Google reindexing the site. I just launched a site for a client of mine, and we ended up making a domain name change. And it has been, gosh, it’s been probably a month now. The new site isn’t completely indexed yet, so they are inevitably not getting the traffic they were. We did everything right. Actually, we did make one mistake. But what’s new? There’s always a mistake that gets made. We had all the redirects set up, right? And that helps Google see, hey, it was here, now it’s there. It’s a 301 redirect. Google says it’ll forever be there. It’s not just a temporary fix. I went into Search Console, claimed the old domain as the new domain, and told Google the old domain was transitioning to the new domain. So now Google knows we’re trying to transition it. The one mistake I made was there was a problem with the old domain redirecting to the new domain. So, there were about five days when Google wasn’t sending people to the new domain credit, and this was a DNS issue. That five days is why I think we’re behind in the reindexing. I’m saying all that to say if a client just arbitrarily wants to change the domain name, they need to understand the implications of this, right? In this case, the client and I decided that we would go ahead and change the domain name because we had a couple of things that were going on. Number one, their old domain name didn’t quite capture all that they did anymore. They acquired a company. That new company has good brand name recognition, and they wanted to incorporate that mix it with their current domain name. So, they wanted to grow by saying, we are now this new company, right? So, there was a real value in a domain change, a name change. But second, what we ended up doing the old site was built on a basic, what we call flat architecture, in the sense that all the pages were like subpages of the homepage. Domain.com/widgets, domain.com/bluewidgets, domain.com/widgetgizmos. Right? The thing was flat. But since we knew we were going to have to change the domain name anyway, we went ahead and set up a site hierarchy, and we organized things. Okay, here’s the widget directory. And the widget directory has blues, reds, blacks, counterclockwise, and here are the wysiwygs. And the wysiwygs are blue, red, purple, and right-handed. And so we were able to give it a site architecture in addition. So, Google was going to have to reindex the site architecture anyway. And so, we’re going to lose for a month or two anyway. Let’s go ahead and definitely make sure this does better by giving Google better site architecture, which will give our humans a better understanding of what we offer. When they go to the valve page, in this case, they see they offer more than just valves. They also offer widgets. And so, even from a human perspective, the site’s much more organized. It gives a better understanding of everything they have to offer. But the price we’re paying is for one, and it’s going to look like, at this point, two months down. So, if there’s an advantage like this, they’re cashing off a bigger, better brand name that they’ve acquired. Two, we can have an added SEO advantage like better site architecture, then it might be worth it. If it’s arbitrary, I think one of your examples was we got the domain without the hyphen…

Tricia: Yeah.

David: I would just set up the 301 redirect on the registrar level and let people make the mistake. And if they don’t type the hyphen, they will end up on the same site.

Tricia: Yeah. And based on listening to this, that is what I think. I don’t think it’s the business name with a hyphen in the middle between the two words versus the new one they got without a hyphen. They have set up the redirect already just as a temporary thing, deciding whether to do this. But I think, based on that, that it is best for them just to leave it be and leave it at that.

David: Well, I will say from a domain registrar perspective, make sure it’s a permanent or a 301.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Right? That’s key. Also, make sure they don’t try to clone the website with the other domain.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Two websites that are exactly the same with two different domains, that’s bad. People will sometimes think, well, I’m just helping people out. Well, you’re basically telling Google we copied a site.  

Tricia: Follow-up question, not related to my question, but more on yours when we’re talking about the redirect. Let’s say there was an instance like yours where you actually did change the URL. What about the SEO from links to your site? I know you’re setting up the 301 redirects, but those are not changing in the long run. Some of those you might be able to change, like, for example, citations. You’ll eventually go in there and change, but others might be other websites referring back to pages on you. What is the impact of that?

David: First of all, I’m glad you’re bringing that up. That is huge. This is why, number one, the redirects need to be 301.

Tricia: Okay.

David: If you know you have backlinks to different pages of your site when you set the 301 redirect on a domain registrar perspective, make sure you hit the setting that says, keep the path within the redirect. So that means if it’s websitewithahyphen.com/pageone and websitewithoutahyphen.com/pageone, it will go to page one still, but it just changes the domain name. That helps not only Google but also you get full link equity.

Tricia: Okay.

David: If you don’t do that, everything goes to the homepage, and you no longer get the advantage of the deep links.

Tricia: Okay. Yeah.

David: I will add one trick we did with this client because we knew for months, while the site was being built, we’d be transitioning. While we did our link building, we had the new domain name, and so we built links to the new domain name that then redirected to the old website. So, in this case, we actually added a hyphen in the domain name. So, every time we built a link, we sent it to the domain name with the hyphen, which then 301 redirected to the old site.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: So then when we transition, bam, the old links that were to the new site now go to the new site because they get straight in. And so, what we did, the hope was to help Google say, there’s another domain called whatever with the… So, Google started knowing there was a domain, but there was nothing on it; it just redirected to the old domain name. But when we transitioned now, that website started with two good links in it, so that helped, too.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: So, there are tricks. I actually caught Moz doing this. Actually, I shouldn’t take credit. My old agency caught Moz doing it. Do you remember SEO Moz?

Tricia: Yeah.

David: Well, about six months before they transitioned from SEO Moz to Moz, we caught them building links to moz.com. There’s nothing nefarious about that.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And we just redirected to SEOMoz.com. But we’re like, something’s up. Why are they building links to Moz.com? The answer was they were about to sell the company and position themselves as more than an SEO tool. So, they changed to Moz.com for six months. They’ve secretly built links to moz.com.

Tricia: They secretly did it, but you picked up on it.

David: Yeah. Nothing nefarious.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: Nobody cared. No one noticed. Others probably noticed besides us.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And then when they made the change, we were like, oh, that was smart. So, I started doing that. I learned it from Moz. The short answer is you probably don’t want to do it under most circumstances.

Tricia: Yeah, I think so. I kind of was thinking that, but I really wanted to make sure there wasn’t something that I was not considering. Perfect. That helps. Because I think they were probably just leaning toward it because it looks pretty. And when you’re doing advertising, you can always put, if you’re doing print advertising, can always put .com on it without the website how it looks pretty because it’s going to go to that.

Right. Great.

Tricia: Okay. Thank you.


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