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For some people, having to change domains can be scarier than waking up naked in Vegas next to your cousin. Done incorrectly, you risk a bunch of 404 errors (which make for a poor user experience) and tanked rankings.
When you change domains or switch to a different platform during a website rebuild (such as switching from HTML to WordPress), you want people who already knew about your website (including the search engines) to still be able to find you. For example, if someone has your website bookmarked and you switch domains without using a URL redirect, that person will get a 404 error when he or she tries to access that link.
In addition, if you fail to redirect your domain or pages, the SEO value of those pages—garnered through inbound links and other onsite practices—will be lost. That means you can kiss your rankings goodbye until you manage to increase the SEO value of your new pages. ToysRUs made this mistake back in 2010 when it bought Toys.com but failed to redirect its old domain.
I know that all sounds really complicated and like I said before, scary, but sometimes you simply need to change domains or rebuild your website on a different platform. When this time comes, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Let’s start with the rebuilding website scenario:
How to Rebuild Your Website without Causing 404 Errors
First, what do I mean by rebuilding your website? If you’re not switching your actual domain name but you’re redesigning or switching to a different CMS (content management system), we’d consider this a website rebuild.
The most important thing you need to know in order to prevent 404 errors is whether your website rebuild involves changing your URL filenames. Even though your domain name is not changing, there are certain scenarios where a rebuild will impact the extensions at the end of your filenames. For instance, if you are switching from HTML to WordPress, your filenames could change from yourdomain.com/about-us.html to yourdomain.com/about-us.
In some situations, your website rebuild will not impact your URL filenames. For example, if you are switching from say, Drupal to WordPress, the filenames for your URLs wouldn’t need to change.
If Your URL Filenames Are Changing…
To prevent 404 errors and lost rankings when you change your filenames during a website rebuild, you need to use one-to-one 301 redirects for every page that’s changing. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another. If you change your filename from yourdomain.com/about-us.html to yourdomain.com/about-us, anyone who had the .html filename bookmarked or any link that went to that page would now be permanently redirected to the new filename without the .html extension.
Just a note: Google doesn’t like TOO many 301 redirects. If you have a website with 200 pages, that involves 200 redirects. While that’s no reason to not rebuild your website (a new website can do wonders for user experience, increased conversions, etc.), it’s a good reason to really think through any rebuild or domain change you want to do.
Getting a New Domain without Losing Your Rankings
In the next scenario, your actual domain will be changing. Say I wanted to follow in Moz’s footsteps (earlier this year, SEOmoz rebranded itself as Moz.) and rebrand Blue Corona as simply “Corona” (I think that name is already taken, but this is just a hypothetical situation so I’ll run with it). As part of the rebrand, I want to change our domain from bluecorona.com to corona.com.
Most hosting services offer domain forwarding services for people looking to switch domains. This means that if someone types in your old domain (bluecorona.com), it will automatically be forwarded to your new one (corona.com).
Once again, if you decide to change your filenames, this could be a problem; the forwarding only works on a domain level—not a page by page level. If my previous page was bluecorona.com/about-us.html and my new page is corona.com/about-us, the page will not forward correctly due to the missing .html extension.
If your new domain is on the same platform as your old one, for example, if you are still using WordPress but are simply getting a new domain name, domain forwarding on a hosting level can be sufficient. If you’re changing your filenames, however, you’ll still have to use 301 redirects.
Need a Website Rebuild or Domain Change?
Blue Corona can help. I know this because I interviewed the king of our Web team—Chase Wolf—for this blog post and he’s done more redirects than a blindfolded blonde in a corn maze.
I’m allowed to make this joke because I’m blonde. Or at least I pretend to be.
Give us a call for website redesign services. Because we’re also an SEO company, we can help you make sure you keep all of your rankings during the process.
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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