There are over 370 million domain names in circulation – which means that having the right domain name is more important than ever before. It’s also important to know how to change your domain name.
It often happens that your domain name no longer fits your needs - either because your business has changed or because a better domain name becomes available. This article will guide you through all the necessary steps to research the best domain names, prepare for the domain name change and check that the change has gone well.
If your site hasn’t gone live yet, then relatively easy. If it has lots of traffic, you have to be careful. Also, perhaps you are rebranding? Perhaps just a better, shorter URL.
Reasons to change domain name
There are many reasons to change domain name including:
- Your business has changed
- You bought a better, more memorable domain
- You are rebranding
Your business has changed since you purchased the original domain
It’s common for businesses to mature and evolve over time. Perhaps you started off as a general accountancy firm and later specialized to offer accountancy services to only freelancers. It’s likely your domain could better illustrate who you are and what you do. Or maybe you started off selling one really excellent product but later branched into selling a wide range of goods. A domain like premiumfridges.com isn’t ideal if you sell everything one needs for a kitchen.
You found a domain that was better, shorter and more memorable
The ultimate outcome when buying a domain is to find out what customers keep in their memory. They don’t google your brand’s name – they type it directly into the browser. If you find a name that is shorter and more memorable, you’re gonna snap it right up. You would worry about how to change domain name later!
You are rebranding
If an agency is helping you to upgrade your entire brand – the look and feel, marketing assets, colours, logos and everything else, then you may find that upgrading the domain name is a natural thing to do to ensure consistency.
Choosing the right domain name
One major factor in how to change domain name successfully is … well, choosing a great domain.
- ensure the domain describes your business
- choose a memorable domain
- research the domain’s history
Ensure the domain describes your business
This is often the reason for changing the domain in the first place. The old domain didn’t describe your business as well as you wanted it to. The ideal domain is actually your company name. If the goal is for your customers to find you, then your-company-name.com is a great choice.
Many .coms will not be available but you can consider other top-level domains such ascompany-name.net or company-name.inc
Choose something memorable
The more memorable your domain is, the less often prospects and customers will get lost or land on another website from a company with a similar name. You want a domain that customers can tell you when you ask ‘what’s our web domain”. The shorter, the more memorable and the more exact-match to your company name, the better!
Research the domain’s history
Before you think about how to change a domain name, you need certainty that this domain has no shady history that Google and other search engines will penalize. Doing your due diligence involves X and Y.
Visit archive.org to see what the domain has been used for in the past. You can actually enter the URL and click any date to see what the web page looked at this point in time. This will help you see whether there is anything that looks untoward.
If there is an actual website live on the domain, then you could add it on Google Search Console. This will show you how many impressions and clicks that you get on that domain and also what pages get which clicks among other information. You can also see here if Google has previously enacted any penalties against this domain.
You can also use Ahref’s backlink checker tool. Their free plan allows you to see a sample of sites linking to this domain. This can provide insight into what sites are linking in and a quality score for the incoming links.
Prepare a plan to change domain name
If you are wondering how to change domain name successfully, I have a short answer for you– make a plan that involves:
- Doing an audit of your entire site
- Compiling a list of all pages on your site
- Making a list of redirect that you will need
You want to clear your schedule to really go through your site in great detail.
The first thing to look at is the content? Are there contact forms that mention an old company name or domain? Are some of your blog posts or articles out of date? Can they be updated or is it better just to delete them? We’ll see below that we’ll make a list of each page so feel free to make these notes as you do your audit.
From a design perspective, look at each logo, footer, navigation and more. Are colours being upgraded?
List of pages
Using Google Search Console, you can see which pages are getting impressions and clicks. You can think of this as an “SEO Audit”. If you have some top performing pages in SEO, you don’t want those to vanish – leaving Google thinking that it shouldn’t be sending that Google juice your way any longer.
Any page that gets clicks should be on your list. Use a spreadsheet tool like excel or google sheets and input every page (the old URL and the new one).
List of redirects
You need to tell search engines that your old pages just have a new “address”. The way of doing this is to create 301 redirects from the old pages to the new.
If you decide that you are not keeping some pages in your new site, then you would redirect those somewhere (say the new home page) if they are pages that index in Google. If they don’t currently index in Google, then you can just quietly kill them as doing so won’t hurt your SEO.
If you have a huge number of pages, then you might want to use a “wildcard redirect” which is a single command that directs the entire site to the new domain with a single sentence. This is a slightly more blunt instrument. Consider getting some SEO expertise to help if the topic is not something you are familiar with.
Make the change
The technical part of changing the domain name can be a straightforward step. If you have acquired an incredible domain name, made a thorough plan of steps to execute and you are prepared to test thoroughly after the change, you’ll find the actual technical switch to be relatively easy.
Before the change
Before you change anything, ensure that you backup your entire site. While this should go without saying, it just gives you the chance to revert should anything go wrong.
An important question is whether you intend to use the same hosting provider for the old and new domains. If you are, the best step is to get in touch with them to discuss how they can help you with this. They will create an add-on domain for you and give you instructions for where to copy all the files.
WordPress users would have to create a new database at this point – so I would advise getting some technical help, unless you are a whizz with php and mySQL.
If you are changing provider, then you’ll need to export all files from your current hosting and import them into your new host. It’s not the most complicated job(and remember you do have a backup if you’re following my advice) but I would advise getting some technical help if you haven’t done this before and are not particularly technical.
At this point, you can access your old site at one URL and your new site at another URL. This is the right time to quickly test if everything looks right. Does the new site look good? Does everything work? Don’t forget to check internal links– those are often not working at this stage but you can find a broken link checker to help at this point.
Once you are happy, we’ll tell Google to forget about that old domain.
The first thing to check is to implement the redirects. Previously, we just made a list of those that we would need. Now is the time to input them into the .htaccessfile.
Once done, we want to check that all the redirects are working as expected.
Use httpstatus.io to enter your old domains and see for yourself visually that they are going to the new domain as you would expect.
Keep an eye out here for any “404” pages. This means that there is no page hosted at the domain you just entered so some action will be required here.
At this point, you can use Google Search Console again – this time their Change of Address tool will guide you through a series of steps that you need to take.
Google recommends keeping the old pages (the ones that are now redirected) in situ for at least 180 days. Make sure to monitor your traffic and see that everything looks right. What is your average traffic at this hour on an average day? Is that what you currently see?
Communicate with customers
It’s important to communicate with your customers before, during and after this change. If your branding is changing, it’s a great opportunity to engage with them to explain why and what the meaning of the change is.
Usually a brand has a story to tell and the value proposition of the company and why it cares so much about helping its customers comes right to the fore. What better moment to emphasize this important message to your customers?
It’s also important that they don’t get a sense of ‘shock’ when they visit your website or blog. They should be aware (even at the back of their mind) that a change is coming and you can manage this well by dripping some of the new brand assets through in advance. Sharing a sneak peak of a new logo can be helpful. Sending some emails to inform of the new logo and color scheme can also be a good idea.
Tell your customers that you are still there, business will carry on as usual and they can depend on you just like they did before.
Many people worry about how to change a domain name. It can be a complex process but a very rewarding one.
When your business logo, domain and brand no longer reflect what your business truly is, then the change of domain becomes inevitable. Ensure that you have chosen a domain with a solid history, no google penalties and one that is short and memorable so that your customers can type it directly into their browser when they want to find you.
The secret to changing a domain name successfully is planning. You need to plan by auditing your site on a content, branding and SEO level to ensure the best success. You need to backup your site in advance and have your plan and list of redirects ready in advance. You need to have accounts set up for the new and the old site in Google Search Console.
Contacting your hosting provider well in advance is a good idea. Some moving of the actual files and sometimes database will be standard and for other sites, this could be very complex. They can advise you and have most likely got comprehensive help guides and resources that you might find invaluable.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Few of us are technical engineers, SEO experts and brand/content geniuses all wrapped up in one person. Know your boundaries and seek help if you need it. A smooth change of domain name is worth having the right team of people in place to help you.
Ensure that you check and monitor everything thoroughly after telling Google about the change and keep the old pages in place for 6 months. Finally, you can sit back and enjoy the moment when your customers tell you how much they love your new branding. It’s always worth the wait!