With the arrival of the new top level domains many businesses change the domain name of their website to a more memorable, shorter and brandable domain name. Small businesses like JoesBikes.com change to Joes.Bike and large brands as Macdonalds.com plan to use .mcd in the future. 15 STEP GUIDE TO CHANGE WEBSITE DOMAIN NAME We have compiled a 15 step guide below to help you change website domain name. This guide will makes sure that: 1) You don't suffer loss of traffic from Google due to de-indexed pages, 404's and keywords disappearing from Page 1. The biggest fear when changing domain name is the SEO issue. 2) You get marketing opportunities, normally missed in this type of project, to win over new customers 3) You do a successful team project where you make sure to involve the right people, communicate the change internally and keep deadlines In early 1999, Jeffrey Braverman, the CEO of the business decided to shift their focus to the web and came up with the name Nutsonline.com. While the shift brought in an increase in sales and with time transformed them into one of the most respected online dealers in nuts, seed and other bulk food, Mr. Braverman wanted to make the sometimes difficult-to-remember name (Nutsonline.com) to something which would be easier to remember. The problem arose when they decided to change domain name from nutsonline.com to nuts.com. Within two weeks, they suffered a 70 percent decline in non-paid Google traffic, which cost the company over 150 orders per day. So with the release of the new top level domains, how will you make sure that your SEO efforts don't take a beating? And are there any obvious wins you can profit from? This is why we have created this post compiled by tons of articles by well known experts and from our own consulting experience. Fortunately for all those who are thinking of changing their domain names, this definitive guide will make sure you don’t go nuts in the process! Follow these 15 steps and you will be able to change your domain name without losing Google rankings, making sure to communicate correctly in your organization and outside and benefitting from the marketing opportunities that are normally missed. So how do you change the domain name of your website? Step 1: Register Your Domain Name You might already have a domain name ready for use. If not then you can check here. If your domain name has a history, meaning that it has been used before, you need to check that it has not earlier been suspended by Google. Step 2: Communicate the Rebranding To the Team When you have your domain name and decided on changing the address of your website then it is important to make a formal announcement to your staff. The sole purpose of making an official announcement will be to launch a countdown, so to speak. This will give all the departments of a company the time they need to get all their ducks lined in a row and make sure that the transition is a smooth one when it does happen. Business owners will also need to use memos and call set up internal meetings with their staff to make sure that everyone is on board and know what is expected of them while the domain rebranding takes place. To ensure a smooth transition, include key personnel, especially the IT and marketing teams, and set a time frame with all those who are involved with the switch over. We recommend that you set a deadline for at least six weeks in advance to make sure there are no hiccups along the way. If you decide for six weeks then you need to create the Coming Soon page (step 5) right away. Step 3: Create Sitemap and URL Redirect Map When you’re getting a new URL for your website, obviously URLs change, whether your SEO goal is to protect the existing natural search performance or take that performance to the next level, you will need an ironclad 301 redirect strategy. Since 301 redirects are important for SEO, you need to look at the lists of your current site URLs along with the redesigned site URLs, and make a comparison. There are a number of tools to create a sitemap. All these sitemap tools are recommended by Google. For the URL redirect map you should create a spreadsheet with two columns; the old URLs and the new. Remember the main focus here should be to wring every last drop of authority from your old website. We recommend the following method: To get a list of all your URLs download Screaming Frog SEO Spider. With this tool you can get a complete list of all URLs on your website. 1) Get all 404 error pages fixed first (check the Status code column) 2) Download all pages to Excel and create a column with the new URL address (example mybusiness.com/about-us is now mybusiness.bike/about-us) Step 4: Audit Traffic to Your Website Auditing the traffic of a website can be a tedious and time consuming task, but you need to know your numbers. That being said a traffic audit of a website does not have to be stressful or difficult. All you need to do is plan before hand and make sure your team dives into the analysis in order to get the answers you need. You might already have these data. But before you can do that, you will need to know first what you are looking for and who is going to make the necessary changes. Website owners also need to decide which tools they will need in order to make the necessary changes. Thanks to Google’s algorithm updates and improvements, SEO rules are constantly changing, which means that reevaluating your SEO strategies is one of the only ways in which you can stay at the top of the changes as they happen, especially when you’re moving website content forward. The following are some easy tips with which you can carry out an audit of your website traffic. • Collecting Google analytics: What is your overall number of visits from organic search and referral traffic? • Analyzing targeted keywords: What is their ranking position in Google? If you’re not already measuring keyword positions, then we recommend TinyRocketLab for this. • Search for pages which are indexed. In Google Webmaster Tools you can see the number of indexed pages. • Check number of links and fix broken links. In Google Webmaster Tools you can see the number of links to your website. You can use the free tool Xenu Link Sleuth to find broken links. • Keeping an eye on load times and page speed. You can use Google’s measurement at PageSpeed Insights to know where you are currently, when it comes to speed. This number shouldn’t be lower, when you change domain name. • Correct 404 errors. Double check that all 404 errors were fixed in step 3. Step 5: Set Up a “Coming Soon” Page Having a great looking “Coming Soon” page is not important, while surely you can create some excitement with a nice one. The main factor though for creating a “Coming Soon” page is to get the new website indexed in Google. You should as minimum write three-four lines of original content for easier indexation. Make sure you do so two to four weeks in advance of step 6. Step 6: Test by Moving Part of Content If you are in charge of a dynamic website, handling its content during a change can be an overwhelming experience. In these situations, in order to pass on the most value to the website URL which is new, you will need to use a 301 Redirect for each page of content you move. Instead of moving all content at once, you should choose a part of the website to see if it will appear in the SERPs. Use 301 redirects from the old pages to the new in order to avoid duplicate content. Moving part of your content first will ensure you that everything works before step 7. Make sure to monitor for 404 errors during two weeks, before you move the rest of the content. Step 7: Move All Your Web Content to the New Website It’s time to go LIVE with the new web address. Using 301’s help Google find your content which has been migrated to a new URL. The following are the three best ways you can do that. • Do your research beforehand to make sure none of the content has expired or any of the links are missing. • Making unnecessary changes while you are switching domains will only complicate the process, by leaving you unable to determine what went wrong if the transition does in fact go south. So don’t change URL structure, CMS, design or content in the process. It can wait. • Setting up 301 redirects does not only go for the homepage but for all other pages as well. Also, don’t forget to keep track and analyze your data. Make sure you annotate in Google Analytics after you have 301ed your web content. And since it will take a few weeks for your new pages to get indexed by Google, remember to leave your old domain live for at least a month or two after the new URL’s launch. Step 8: Actions in Google Webmaster Tools You need to make a couple of actions in Google Webmaster Tools when your new .uk web address goes live. Do these three actions in the following order: 1. Add the site via the Add a site button in the top right corner, when you login to Google Webmaster Tools. 2. Tell Google that your site has moved. On the Webmaster Tools Home page, click the site you want. Click the gear icon, and then click Change of Address. After completing steps 1-3, click Select a verified site to select the new site. 3. Generate a XML sitemap and add it in Google Webmaster Tools in the left menu Crawl – Sitemaps. While no conclusions should be made before at least one month after the new URL’s launch, monitoring rankings and indexation of your newly launched .UK URL should be carried out on a weekly basis. Step 9: Update External Links You will also need to check the external links of pages on your site. The best thing to do is contact the webmaster of every website which links to yours and ask them to update those links with your new website URL. Also check that the anchor text is not the name of the old website. In the example below from Huffington Post the anchor text is still nuts.com’s old web address nutsonline.com. It would be worth getting this corrected, since the link has high value coming from a high authority site (Domain rank 90/100 according to Ahrefs). If you have too many links to have them all corrected, then settle for the most important 10%. These are the ones which give you most of your referral traffic, and links which come from authoritative sites. Use OpenSiteExplorer to find the links with the highest Page authority. Step 10: Check for Crawl Errors and Indexation issues Checking for crawl errors and indexation is extremely important when transitioning from one URL to another. In Google Webmaster tools go to the left menu – Crawl – Crawl errors early on during the transition period. It helps you to find out where errors have been reported and what’s responsible if something goes wrong in the new website. Keeping track of new indexed pages and old de-indexed pages, and not to mention the keyword rankings are all very important factors of changing URLs. Step 11: Update the email address(es) When your new web address is up and running it’s also important to update the email addresses. In order to not create more confusion than necessary, don’t change anything in front of the @. PeteJones@yourbusiness.co.uk should be PeteJones@yourbusiness.uk. Make sure that email forwarding is created, so emails are forwarded from the old email address to the new one. This is a reminder to never let the old domain name expire, even though you don’t use it officially anymore. Also mentioned in step 12 and 13, but make sure to update your auto signature, business cards and old email addresses on the website in the process. Step 12: Check Website for Outdated Info Having an effective website can have a positive impact on a business’s marketing initiative; on the other hand, having outdated info on your website can have the opposite effect. The easiest way of knowing if the content of your website is outdated is by checking if you’re still advertising a promotion which ended weeks or months ago. While you’re at it, also check your internal links and wording, Opt in forms, RSS feeds, newsletters and email addresses. On-site updates will not only help your website remain up-to-date with the latest news on your product, but will also help Google in its indexation. When expedia.co.uk updates to expedia.uk they will have to update the following: 1. The logo on their website 2. Mentions on their website 3. Title on page and meta description Step 13: Check outside the Website for Outdated Info Apart from checking the social networking sites and blogging platforms that you are active on, make sure your social book markings and directory submissions are all up to date and are in sync with the information you have on your new website. As an example this is from Expedia’s Google plus page: This is also a great way to find brand mentions on the web, which are not yet linking to your website. When doing a search for expedia.co.uk -site:expedia.co.uk in Google you can find a brand mention with no link like this one: Step 14: Re-Audit Your Web Traffic Once the new URL is up and running you need to monitor the traffic that’s being funneled in to the website. Compare the factors you used in step 4. Remember that site audits take time so it’s important to give it at least three to four weeks before you can jump to any conclusions. Step 15: Promote Your New Web Address And finally, spread the good word! If you go for one of the new generic top level domains right now, then you are certainly a first mover on changing to the new domain name. It shows that you are quick to react in your market and you follow the latest trends. You have a great story, so tell it. Furthermore you need to tell your customers that you have changed. Bottom Line: Using these sure and easy steps will make sure your DNS transition is a smooth one. Getting a new gTLD domain name for your website is great for branding. But make sure to follow ALL 15 steps so you avoid the fate of nuts.com.