Cracking the SEO Code on Domain Migration

FairWinds Partners —  March 28, 2012

Any business that has undergone a domain name migration can tell you, there are some significant headaches involved. One of the biggest worries when switching to a new domain is preserving search engine rankings. There is an entire industry devoted to Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, and many companies invest significantly in the tools and tricks to make sure that their sites appear at the top of search engine query results.

With new gTLDs taking the stage over the next few years, businesses will be faced with the decision of whether to simply use new gTLD domains (dot brand or others) as vanity or marketing URLs for specific campaigns, or to sell the proverbial farm and migrate their sites completely from their old .COM or ccTLD domains to their new gTLD domains.

When it comes to our clients, for the most part we advise against going all in and migrating too quickly. Most of the companies we work with have built a great deal of equity around their existing domain names, and to switch too soon could have serious negative ramifications. That is not to say, however, that we rule out the option entirely for certain circumstances. Rather, we advocate for a slower, more measured approach.

For businesses that do decide to put their chips down on migrating to new gTLD domains, SEOmoz, an SEO blog, has provided readers with a handy infographic for how to achieve such a migration without jeopardizing SEO. The infographic breaks the process down into three stages, planning, implementing, and then monitoring the migration, and includes a checklist for each stage.

The first stage, planning, involves getting a feel for exactly where your site stands in the context of the larger Internet. The author encourages site owners to take stock of the amount and type of indexed content, achieved search rankings, organic traffic, internal and external inbound links, etc. The second stage, implementing, involves launching content on the new domain, but still relying on 301 redirects to point users who visit the old domain to the new one, among other steps. Finally, the last step, monitoring, lives up to its name, encouraging site owners to monitor rankings and traffic. But at this time, site owners should also maintain the 301 redirect until the old domain stops indexing, referring traffic, and attracting links.

The ultimate goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible for your business, and to avoid losing key traffic when you switch from one domain to another.

We need to include a word of warning, however. While the infographic makes the process seem fairly simple, the individual steps can be quite complex for a big company with a sizeable website ecosystem. Many large companies enjoy high organic search engine rankings because large numbers of sites link to them; it could take years for the new domain to achieve as many inbound links. Furthermore, these companies may have hundreds, if not thousands, of individual pages to account for, meaning that the task of setting up 301 redirects suddenly seems much more daunting.

That is the main reason why we tend to advocate against a wholesale migration for our clients. Instead, we tend to favor an approach where new gTLD domains will be used as redirects back to existing pages, but also used as the primary addresses for individual, self-contained campaigns. This hybrid approach basically allows clients to share the “search love” that their existing domains have with their new gTLD domains.

All that said, the infographic is quite helpful, whether you are considering migrating to a new gTLD domain name or a domain name in an existing gTLD or ccTLD. We encourage our readers to check it out over on SEOmoz, and to get in touch with us if they have questions about how they should handle their own new gTLD SEO strategy.

TAGS: Domain Migration, Dot Brand, SEO, SEOmoz

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