How to preserve link juice during domain migration?

Many business owners shiver at the thought that they need to change the domain name. Even simple migration from .net to .com may hurt SEO.

Chances that website rankings will drop are high, so it’s quite natural that many businessmen lose their composure during domain migration.

Basic approach

Any domain migration procedure should be composed on three main parts:

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  1. Investigate the procedure beforehand and make sure that you have no other way but migrate to new domain. Make sure also that you have chosen the right domain name.
  2. Don’t change anything during the domain migration.  In case any problems arise, you won’t be able to define the cause of the problem.
  3. Set 301 redirect from each page from the old website to the corresponding URL of a new website.

Will rankings drop?

Theoretically, the biggest harm you may get after domain migration is losing some traffic since you will have to wait until Google indexes new pages. However,  in practice it is a no sure thing that migration will be fast and painless.

In Google Groups you may find discussion of 2012 describing the problem of one company which decided to change the domain. It contains some interesting information.

Having transferred over 130 thousand URL from one domain to another the company detected considerable rankings drop and traffic decrease. During the next 13 weeks they managed to restore 85% of traffic. Later Matt Cutts  commented on this case. Some of advices he gave you will find below.

Online forums are full of information about the websites which lost their traffic after redirect from one website to another. Despite the fact that reasons of such traffic drop are frequently unknown, many of those claims are well-grounded.

So why is it still possible to suffer from domain migration even if to act according to the rules? Let’s look at several possible reasons and try to define the strategy how to minimize the losses.

301 redirect and link juice

As Matt Cutts says in his latest video for webmasters, for search engines 301 redirect has the link juice absolutely equal to that of standard link.

On other hand, he hints that Google has the algorithm created specifically to prevent domain purchase and redirect for rankings only. As Cutts says, if you are trying to buy domain to get links, Google will not allow you to use somebody’s services for free. So here is a question, whether it is possible that algorithm will mistakenly “cut” legal links from 301 redirect? Quite possible.  Google algorithms may be applied to the websites with large share of visits through redirect.  So it could be the reason why website may lose the rankings and traffic.

The older the better?

For many years SEO specialists debate over the question whether website age affects its rankings. No definite answer has been found so far, however there are two main theories on how Google may consider website age during the ranking process:

  1. Google has a special algorithm which penalizes new websites. Young websites rankings are lowered until they become mature. There is no definite facts to support this theory, but on the other hand we can’t deny that another algorithms can cause such effect.
  1. According to “domain age” theory, Google overrates older domains rankings. In 2005 Google registered patent associated with domain age and its rankings. On top of that, Matt Cutts dropped a hint that during rankings evaluation domain age is considered as a little coefficient.

One thing is certain: domain age indirectly influences website rankings. So it definitely should be taken into account.

Domain history

On the Internet you can find scary stories about purchasing domain with bad history or penalties from Google. Before you transfer to the new domain, check whether it has ever had penalties, spam, spam links. For this matter use Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer. Similarly, check the website for spam content and whether the domain experienced sharp drops in traffic (in Google Analytics).

The program “18 steps”

To avoid potential risks mentioned above, follow these recommendations:

  1. Meticulously check whether new domain has spam or being penalized;
  2. Create XML-map for the old domain;
  3. Register and check domain with the help of Webmaster Tools from Google or Bing;
  4. Create content for the new website (page with contacts, blog);
  5. Launch new website and publish new content (see above);
  6. Get several links leading to the new domain;
  7. Register and verify new domain;
  8. Wait until new domain exists for several months;
  9. Copy the content from old domain one directory or subdomain to the new one and set up 301 redirect.  Monitor the website performance for a while, before making the full transfer;
  10. Watch how website rankings change, if they have not changed – continue the migration, if rankings have dropped – search for the reason.
  11. When you are sure that everything works properly, transfer the rest of the website to the new domain and use 301 redirect.
  12. For the old domain create the 404 page with the link to the new domain;
  13. At least a part of backlinks should lead to the new domain now;
  14. Check the old website for “absolute” links. Redirect them to the new domain;
  15. Use the tool in Google Webmaster Tools for address change in order to speed up the process;
  16. Create the map for the new domain in order for Google to index new pages better;
  17. With the help of Webmaster Tools analyze the situation and fix the problems;
  18. Regularly check the rankings in the search results to make sure that everything is in order and as you planned.

Domain migration without losses

According to Matt Cutts, on average, website transfer from one domain to another leads to 5% traffic loss, however in some cases losses can be more essential. If you follow the rules mentioned above, you will be able to minimize the risks. Good luck!

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