How To Change Your Domain Name
Here's our step-by-step guide to how to change your website's domain name.
Why would you want to change your domain name?
In an ideal world, you would never want to change your domain name. You would launch your business on the perfect domain name and live happily ever after.
Life's often far from ideal, however.
Unless you were one of the first such businesses to go online, you may have found that the best name for your business was already taken.
I'm guessing this is what happened to Zoom, the video conferencing software company whose customer base exploded during 2020 in response to covid-19 and the growth in remote working. As you may know, Zoom's website can be found at Zoom.us, with .us being the internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United States. Zoom.us works for US-based customers and as a domain hack, "Zoom us", but for an American business with global ambitions it is far from ideal. Indeed, even for a business focused on the US market, it lacks kudos because Americans have been brought up on dotcoms. That's why Zoom bought Zoom.com for two million dollars in 2018, a fortuitous decision because if they wanted to buy it now, I'm sure the asking price would be a great deal higher.
Moving to a better domain extension is one reason you may wish to change your domain name. For a UK business using example.co.uk for your website address will almost always be better than example.co (you aren't in Colombia!) or one of the many poorly established extensions available today. The .co.uk is widely regarded as the premier domain name for UK businesses, although the shorter .uk has also benefited from the "covid effect" thanks to widespread publicity for nhs.uk and gov.uk websites.
At present, Zoom.com redirects traffic to Zoom.us, but the company has plans to move the business permanently to Zoom.com. When they do so, they will not want to lose the value that Zoom.us has accrued over time, both with existing customers and in terms of search engine visibility.
So, how do you change your website from your current domain name to a new one? And how do you do it without losing the goodwill and traffic built up on your old one?
The process isn't as difficult as you might imagine, but as with moving home or premises in the real world, it does involve careful planning to get it right.
How to move a website to a new domain name
Here's our step-by-step guide to changing your website's domain name.
1. Backup your existing websiteBefore changing your domain name, do a full backup of your existing website so that you have a copy of it should you need it. This is something you should be doing on a regular basis anyway, so if you haven't done so recently, do it now.
All hosting accounts should include a backup facility - contact your website hosting provider if in doubt. If your website uses Wordpress, plugins are available to backup your website.
2. Copy existing website to new domain nameNext, transfer a copy of your existing website to thenew web hosting account associated with your new domain name.
If you have a static website, this involves uploading all of the files associated with your website to the new domain name's hosting account. Remember, all files will need to be migrated, including .css files, images and so on.
Moving a website that is database-driven is more complicated, so your first port of call for help should be your hosting provider. They will often move a website for you at no cost.
Guides are also available for database-driven websites, including for Wordpress. You can also use a plugin like All-in-One WP Migration to complete the move.
While you are doing this, you can prevent your new domain name being indexed by the search engines to prevent duplicate content issues. One way of achieving this is to password protect the new site while you check everything is as it should be. Another is to add this code to the
<head>section of the index (home) page:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
This will prevent search engines indexing your home page and links to pages from it. Just remember to remove this line of code once the site does go live :)
A third way which you may come across in older articles, using a nofollow command in your robots.txt file, is no longer supported or recognised by Google so should not be used.
Keep your existing domain name and website live until you have completed the move to your new domain name.
3. Create sitemaps for both sitesCreate sitemaps for both websites so that you can compare them and identify pages that are not appearing on the new website.
You should also conduct a site audit to find all references to the old domain name, including in internal links between pages, and replace them with the new domain name.
4. Set up 301 redirects to new pagesWhen you are happy that all is well with your new domain name and website, you will want to redirect traffic from the old domain name to the new one. This is done by what are called permanent or 301 redirects.
The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
With a 301 redirect in place, when a visitor visits a page related to your old domain name, they are automatically redirected to the equivalent page related to your new domain name. This means you will want a 301 redirect not only from your old homepage to your new homepage, but also for all other pages on your old website to the respective pages on your new one.
To set up 301 redirects, you will need access to the .htaccess file on your hosting server. Most hosting companies allow access to this file directly and via cPanel, but consult your hosting provider for more information.
The permanent nature of the redirect also serves to inform search engines that you are moving domain names. Although you can expect some ranking fluctuations as a result of 301 redirects, this should stabilise once Google and Bing have crawled and indexed the website on your new domain name.
5. Let all existing customers know of the change of domain nameMake sure that you make all existing customers aware of your domain name change. You can do this on your website before and after the move to the new domain name. You can also email all customers to advise them of the change of address and use social media channels to do likewise. This will limit any confusion when someone visits your old domain name and is redirected to your new one.
6. Use Google's Change Of Address ToolGoogle has a Change Of Address Tool for you to inform it of your domain name change. It is located in your Google Search Console and to use it you must be the verified owner of both the old domain name and the new one.
Bing also offers a Site Move Tool which can be found under Diagnostics & Tools in Bing Webmaster.
Letting both Google and Bing know about your domain change helps both migrate search engine results from your old site to your new one.
7. Ensure all emails are updated and messages to old email addresses are forwardedWhen you change domain names, you will no doubt want to change your email addresses to match the new domain name.
Rather than delete old email addresses once this is done, set up email forwarders so that messages sent to old email addresses are automatically forwarded to the corresponding new ones. Keep this in place for as long as is required.
8. Do not let your old domain name expireThe temptation may be to let your old domain name expire once you have moved on, but you should not do so.
Forwarding emails from your old domain name to your new one will only work as long as you own the old one. Similarly, 301 redirects will only work if kept in place by keeping your old domain name.
We recommend to our clients that the old domain name is kept indefinitely and used to support the new domain name going forward. Renewal fees for your old domain name are typically a few pounds each year, and trivial in comparison to the benefits gained by keeping it.
Brandwise can help you change your domain name
We believe that one of the things that truly sets us apart from other digital marketing agencies is our understanding of domain names and their importance to business success.
With over 20 years experience of buying and selling domain names, we are always happy to advise clients, both with regards to the purchase of a new domain name, and with ensuring that any domain name change goes smoothly. For a no-obligation chat about your own situation, just fill in the form on our Contact page.
Last updated: 29th December 2020