A client has approached us wanting to perform a complete rebrand of their business – this has raised a number of points which may be useful to share. As well as requiring a minor rebuild of their web site and stationary to reflect a new logo and name, the actual domain name will also need to be changed. At first glance this may sound as simple as just purchasing a new domain and uploading the site files, but there are several points to consider before any alterations are made, as badly executed changes could be detrimental to your online brand and business.
There are effectively two goals to keep in mind when moving to a new domain name. Firstly, the transition should create as little inconvenience as possible to your visitors. Anyone who types your old domain name into their web browser should automatically find themselves redirected to the newer version of the site.
The second and potentially most important goal for the long-term success of your online brand is to ensure that search engines are aware of the move. Failure to correctly inform search engines will result in them treating your new website as a plagiarized version of your old website, since the content will be virtually the same. They will not assume any connection between the two domain names, so your new web site will not inherit any of the authority and reputation that the older site has earned. It takes a long time for search engines to trust new websites – being treated as a newcomer can be disastrous for your rankings on their results page!
The Game Plan
The first steps involve registering a new domain name and uploading a new version of your website to this address. Both websites will need to be active and accessible at the same time, so you may need to purchase an additional hosting plan for the new domain. When creating a new version of your website you will need to make sure any internal links do not reference pages on the old domain name. For example, if a link on your website pointed to /regions/bridgnorth.html you would not need to alter anything. If the link pointed to http://olddomain.com/regions/bridgnorth.html, you would need to remove the reference to the old domain name.
If you’re changing the design of your website as well as your company name, it’s worth mentioning this to your existing clients to avoid any possible confusion.
Once the new site has been designed and uploaded, it’s time to launch! The best way of doing so is to create what are known as 301 redirects. This is a method of informing visitors’ web browsers (and also search engines) that the page they are trying to view is now located at a different address. The transition will be seamless for the client – once their web browser has been redirected to the new site, it will not try to redirect them back to the old website when they click on the new pages there. A ‘301 redirect’ can be created in a number of ways.
301 Redirect through a .htaccess file
This involves uploading a file into the directory that your main website index file is located. This file needs to be named .htaccess and should contain the following code (with ‘www.newaddress.com’ replaced by the name of your new website’s address);
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.newaddress.com/$1 [R=301,L]
The above code will redirect a page on your old website to the same page on the new site, for example ‘www.oldaddress.com/Shropshire’ to ‘www.newaddress.com/Shropshire’.
301 Redirect through PHP and ASP
If you have redesigned your website, the .htaccess method of redirecting traffic will not be suitable – pages on your old site may not exist on the new site! Instead, it is possible to add a redirection code to each individual page;
<? Header( "HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently" );
Header( "Location: http://www.newaddress.com" ); ?>
<%@ Language=VBScript %>
<%Response.Status="301 Moved Permanently"
Response.AddHeader "Location","http://www.newaddress.com /"%>
Update any external links, including those on directory and affiliated websites. This is a very important step than can negatively affect your rankings if neglected – it is usual for search engines to treat links to your site as being recommendations which give your site a small piece of the referring site’s ‘authority’. If this is impractical due to the number of links involved, concentrate on updating just the sites that drive the most traffic to your address. This can be very problematic with social networking sites – whilst Twitter allows you to change your username and details easily, Facebook is less flexible. You can only rename your Facebook page if you have less than 100 ‘likes’ and if you have assigned a username to your page (only possible if you have more than 25 ‘likes’), you will be unable to change it. The only options are to either notify your followers that you will be creating a new page, or to keep using the original username.
Whilst Google recommends that you keep your old domain name registered for three months after the transition, it makes more sense to keep hold of it indefinitely, especially when considering the very low costs this will involve. Cancelling the domain name means you will lose the associated email addresses – it’s better to retain both the old and new domains to make sure you receive all the email intended for you!
Changing your company’s name can be a daunting challenge, but with a properly planned strategy you should find your online domain change to be relatively painless. The biggest risk comes from creating invalid 301 redirects – this is something that needs to be tested thoroughly before you launch your new domain. A small number of hosting providers do not support redirection – it is worth checking this out in advance and moving to a different host provider if necessary.
You will inevitably find that your search engine rankings do initially drop when you launch the new site. Don’t panic when this happens – as long as you have updated your incoming links, your ratings should jump back to where they previously were as soon as the search engines notice the changes. This may take several months, but it will happen.
We heavily recommend using Google Webmaster Tools to create accounts for both your old and new domain names. Once you have verified ownership of the domains, you can inform Google that you are redirecting the old site to the new site and upload a sitemap for the new domain. This will speed up the time it takes for Google to understand the changes you have made.
If you are planning to rebrand and change your company name, the business guides on the Brandandmarket.com and Microsoft.com websites may assist with the offline changes you will need to implement. If you require any further information or assistance with the necessary online changes, Ardant Design are happy to help.