Change Domains and Retain Your PageRank in under 2 Hours

Change Domains and Retain Your PageRank in under 2 Hours

By | March 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm | 4 comments | SEO | Tags: , ,

As an SEO, moving a domain name comes with a certain degree of fear. Search engine rankings can drop, site authority can be lost and traffic can plummet if you don’t tie up the move perfectly.

Almost a year after its reincarnation, I decided to move my domain name from www.goosh.co.uk over to www.kevstrong.com.  Why? I had finally secured the twitter username I had been chasing for almost two years – @KevStrong (another post is coming on how I achieved this).

In doing this I wanted to ensure I retained all of my inbound links, all of my traffic and, ultimately, all of my website authority; I never expected my TBPR (Toolbar PageRank) to update after 2 hours.

Redirection Background

When moving a domain you have to ensure that all of your existing URLs resolve correctly upon completion. Several problems can arise during this transition due to a number of reasons, of which these can include:

  • Change in page names
  • Change in coding languages (.aspx to .php)

To ensure the search engines and users alike are redirected, I recommend using a 301 server redirect which sends them to the new URL and, in the case of the search engines, pass all authority to the new destination you have specified.

How I retained My Toolbar PageRank

After I had installed a new version of the website, design etc and imported all content onto the new domain I had to ensure the move was seamless.  To do this, I prepared the following checklist to ensure I didn’t miss anything whilst moving over:

  • Update all internal links
  • Gather a list of all active & indexed URLs
  • Create 301 redirection rules
  • Verify domains with Google Webmaster Tools
  • Upload new XML Sitemaps to Google Webmaster Tools
  • Initiate a change of address in Google Webmaster Tools

Update all in internal links

With nearly 60 pages of content all interlinked as part of my onsite optimisation I had to ensure that all links were updated so they passed full authority directly and not through a 301 (where a small amount of authority attrition can occur).

This would have been easier to do had I used absolute path interlinking ( href=”/path/” ) as opposed to domain interlinking ( href=”http://” ) but I chose domain interlinking to ensure I receive link backs to my content should it get scraped (as often happens in the SEO niche) and the domain name not replaced.

Gather a list of all active & indexed URLs

Getting a list of indexed URLs is easy and acts as a priority list for you should you have a large number of indexed content.  This is achieved using the site: operator in Google.

Create 301 redirection rules

In the case of moving my website to a new domain it was a simple mirror image of my website on the new domain name so I didn’t have much complication. As I am hosted on a Unix Apache server this was achieved with a flat URI remapping in my .htaccess file. E.g.

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.kevstrong.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Had this not been the case and I was moving to page names, server languages this could have got much more extensive and complicated.  In this case I recommend the creation of an excel document with the following layout to ensure you map a concise list of rules to pass to your website developer to follow:

Page Name Old URL New URL
Winter Boots /product.php?id=2&cat=3 /winter-boots/

Google Webmaster Tools: Verify your domain name

This is essential for making the transition as seamless as possible.  Access Google Webmaster Tools and “claim” both of your domain names if you have not already done so.

I highly recommend using the “Upload HTML Verification file” where possible as this not only reduces code bloat on your website, but it also hides your META verification number from prying eyes.

Google Webmaster Tools: HTML Verification

Google Webmaster Tools: HTML Verification

Also, Google are kind enough to let you upload one file once your 301 redirect rules are in place.

Google Webmaster Tools: Upload new XML Sitemaps

Creating a sitemap.xml file and submitting it to GWT ensures you are letting Google know of all URLs that you have on your site.  When used with a brand new domain I have seen new sites indexed in less than 10 minutes using this sitemap submission service.

Google Webmaster Tools: Sitemap Submission

Google Webmaster Tools: Sitemap Submission

Google Webmaster Tools: Change of Address

Google allow you to notify them of a change of address (much like moving house) and I can only assume that requesting this change directly via two verified accounts gives Google the upmost authority it can get to move everything to the new domain name.

Google Webmaster Tools: Change Of Address

Google Webmaster Tools: Change Of Address

This appears to be the Holy Grail when it came to retaining my TBPR so quickly (remember: 2 hours).

Further Tests

I would like to test this in the future to see if it:

  • Was a fluke.
  • Can be manipulated to receive an artificial TBPR update on a new domain (and then off I trot to DP to sell to the people who put a price on such inferior things).
  • Can be reversed just as easily.

Closing Notes

This is, without doubt, the cleanest domain redirection I have ever completed. Most are much more complicated and require much more work. However, with this exercise I have noticed several things:

Content is indexed twice

I doubt this will count as duplicate content as Google is aware of the redirection in place, but it’s good to dominate the SERPs for a little while whilst it serves up dual-index pages:

Google SERP Result: Kev Strong

Google SERP Result: Kev Strong

Google Webmaster Tools does not update your Sitemap count immediately

Despite being able to find my new domain in the search index, GWT does not show any content indexed:

Sitemap XML Indexation

Sitemap XML Indexation

Toolbar PageRank does not update for internal pages

Interestingly Google seems to have only updated the homepage TBPR and none of the inner pages.

I hope this helps throw some insight into moving a domain name with the minimum of downtime to your rankings, authority and traffic and how you can really get the search engines to do the work for you.

About the Author

Kev Strong

Kev Strong is an online marketing consultant at Newcastle Upon Tyne based digital marketing agency, Mediaworks. A lover of all things search and an ex-web developer, Kev Strong (a.k.a Goosh) is a specialist in advanced search engine optimisation.

4 Comments

  1. Paul Cockburn (3 years ago)

    Hi,

    Certainly wasn’t a fluke! lol

    Hopefully it’s not just a temporary glitch, but you’d have to imagine that it wont stay that way forever.

    Not sure about reversing the process, I’d reckon that’s one for another post with a couple of domains you really have no interest in using.

    PS. would you like to buy some gift baskets from China?

    All the best,
    Paul

  2. Kev Strong (3 years ago)

    Thanks for the comment Paul.

    I’ve had a further thought on how this could have been achieved but I need to look into something first; it may explain why it was so quick.

    And as for Gift Basket from China – I’m pretty sorted. My contact can give me a very nice discount (if I believe his spam ;))

  3. Minchala (3 years ago)

    Hi Kev – nice job here. Actionable posts FTW every time. This is certainly the fastest i’ve heard TBPR being recovered after a (well planned) domain move. In a former life, this was a regular exercise for me and my team as we regularly discovered clients had older domains they were using to split test us against a competitor or just to see what we could do in a few months. I can tell you that it is possible to repeat successful results dependably when you have a thorough redirect and internal linking update plan. WMT (at least up to a year ago) seemed to add varying levels of benefit in terms of speed of recovery. Though the exceptions may have been anecdotal.

    Thanks for the good read, sir!

  4. Kev Strong (3 years ago)

    Hi Dave, thanks for the comment.

    The internal link redirection is a must IMO. It hasn’t let me down yet.

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