This guide has been developed to help developers and SEO’s to safely move their domain without causing damage to their search engine (SEO) presence.
We were recently asked by a client to move their domain since they were rebranding their business. This being the first time we undertook such as task, we relied on search engines to give us information on how to undertake this transfer and what to expect during and after the transfer.
While there was information available online, there was no complete step by step guide that could take us through the whole process.
Therefore, we decided to put through this simple step by step guide to help other web developers and SEO’s who are put in a similar situation like ours.
Things you will need
- Access to the domain registrar for both the new and old domain provider.
- Access to CPanel for the hosting provider.
- Access to Google Search Console.
- Access to the Content Management System.
Some preliminary steps
Before you get started, ensure that you have download the sitemap of the existing website using a sitemap generator tool.
This will ensure that you have a copy of all the links from your existing website and can preserve the link structure on the new domain as well.
Remember that the search engines have crawled certain target pages and ranked them, so, it is important that you preserve the link structure of the website.
Another step you must take prior to starting the domain transfer is to take a complete backup of your site, just in case things don’t go according to plan.
The steps involved in the changeover
Step 1: Point the new domain to the existing server where your website is currently being hosted.
This can be easily done from your domain registrar’s dashboard. For obtaining the DNS records of your hosting provider, you can look up the settings of your existing domain or contact your hosting provider.
Step 2: Add the new domain to your hosting
For this, you will need access to your CPanel, navigate to Addon Domains in your CPanel and follow the steps.
Step 3: Copy the files from your old domain folder to the new folder
This step will involve copying the files from your old domain’s folder to your new domain and can be easily achieved utilising CPanel.
Step 4: Change the domain name for your website
This way you achieve this will vary based on the CMS you are using. We worked on WordPress and in order to make this change, we had to undertake the following steps. It is best that a web developer is involved in this process.
On the WordPress dashboard, go to settings and then the general screen, here you can change the domain of your website and click save.
Then you will need to make changes to the wp-config file. Basically, you will need to define the site URL and homepage URL in this file.
Ensure that the change has taken place.
Step 5: Change the primary domain in CPanel
Now you are all set to change the new domain as the primary domain on your CPanel. Once done, add the old domain as an add-on domain.
Step 6: Setup SSL for both the domains
Using the CPanel, you will need to set up a new SSL certificate for both the domains. Some hosting providers provide a free SSL certificate while others charge a yearly fee.
This step is necessary for websites that were using an SSL certificate on their old domain as well.
Step 7: Setup a 301 Redirect utilising Wildcard method
This is the easiest way to redirect all your links will be to use the wildcard redirect. This will be done for the home directory and the sub-directories available within this folder.
In our case, we were dealing with a Woocommerce setup, therefore, we placed 3 wildcards as below,
This took care of all the links on the website. Once the redirect has been put in place you can check if the 301 redirects are in place by using an external tool.
Step 8: Setup the new domain on Google Search Console and start the transfer process.
Now, you will need to set up the new domain on Google search console, make sure you use the same account on Google that was used for the old domain to add this new domain.
Go to the address change tool, which can be found under the settings menu on your search console.
Here, you can add the new URL in question and undertake the verification using one of the methods.
Once verified, simply follow the steps on the search console to make this change.
You can use this guide published by Google for getting more information on the address change tool.
Step 9: Add a new sitemap under the newly created search property on the search console.
Finally, you will need to submit a sitemap for the new domain so that the search engine can crawl and index the site.
And that’s it you are done.
What to expect after the transfer is complete?
You will need to be patient while the search engines do their trick. Don’t expect the changeover to happen in a few days or even weeks.
For our client, the change took place over a period of 3-4 months and also lead to a fluctuation in rankings.
Another thing you will notice after the transfer has taken place is that you will continue to see the old site pages appear on the SERP results.
This will eventually get corrected and all you need to do is continue with your SEO efforts as you would normally.
Note: A copy of this article can also be found on dev.to.