Change your Domain Name and 301 Redirect the Right Way

Last Updated on: Nov 25, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

Last Updated on: Nov 25, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

Learn how to change your domain name and 301 redirect your site correctly.

Do you need to change your sites’ domain name for some reason? It’s not that difficult, but make sure you don’t frustrate visitors visiting your site with broken links. A secondary but important consideration is to ensure you don’t losing search engine (Google, Bing etc.) rankings and traffic.

I must admit that initially you may very well lose some traffic as the search engines acclimitise to your changes, this is to be expected. But if done right your traffic should recover nicely.

As a practical illustration I’ll refer to an in-house example of changing a domain name, when with Red Hippo’s recent site re-design, we changed a part of our domain name.

It went like this: With the Red Hippo re-design I also wanted to move the Help Centre from Red Hippo to it’s own sub-domain.

Previously the Help Centre was located at https://redhippo.co.za/helpcentre/. I wanted to move the Help Centre to it’s own sub-domain https://help.redhippo.co.za. The question arose, why not change the domain name and move it as part of the entire site re-design.

Keep in mind, this is in essence a change of domain name, but only for Help Centre and not the entire site. The same procedure and workflow can be applied to an entire domain name change.

Considerations when you Change your Domain Name

1) Website visitors must be able to find your content, and not get broken links when changing your domain name.

Let’s continue with our example mentioned above:

We moved the Help Centre to a sub-domain. This means the URL or address for the article has changed from:

  1. https://redhippo.co.za/helpcentre/south-african-smtp-settings/ to
  2. https://help.redhippo.co.za/articles/south-african-smtp-settings/
Change Domain Name & 301 Redirect - Old Address

1. Old URL

Change Domain Name & 301 Redirect - New Address

2. New URL

So, when a visitor visits the old URL they will get a 404 page or error page. Because the visitor can’t find the page, they’ll most likely bounce (leave your site). That’s the last thing we want having worked so hard to get traffic to our site in the first place.

The way to deal with changing your domain name is to 301 redirect that page to the new page.

2) Avoid losing your search engine rankings when changing your domain name.

Search engines like Google and Bing will have the same problems as outlined in point 1 above. They’ll not be able to find and index your articles and will get 404 errors. This in-turn will cause your traffic to drop possibly very drastically as your rankings reduce. After all, search engines will not send visitors to pages it thinks do not exist.

Let’s get started with how we changed our domain name and 301 redirected our website:

Step 1) Before Changing – Preparation

Before changing your domain name you’ll need to have done a little preparation, to make sure you’re ready for a seamless transition.

A) Have your domain name ready. That means you would have already chosen a domain and registered your new domain name.

B) Make sure our domain has propagated. Use this tool to check if your domain has finished propagating worldwide.

C) Make a backup of your website. If you’re using WordPress there are plugins to help you do this:

  • For WordPress website backups I recommend using something like Duplicator (You can backup and restore for free). Alternatively UpdraftPlus is free to backup your site, but migrating requires a premium upgrade.
  • For non-WordPress websites, FTP is easy to use. FTP can also be used for WordPress but as there is a database involved, it’s more complex, for our purposes I recommend using Duplicator or UpdraftPlus.

D) Migrate your website backup to your new domain’s hosting account. Here again you can use one of the above methods:

  • For WordPress websites use Duplicator (free to backup and restore) or UpdraftPlus which requires a premium upgrade to restore.
  • For non-WordPress websites, FTP can be used to migrate your website files.

Step 2) Change your Domain Name

Once you’ve prepared the items in Step 1 above, you should be ready to change the domain name.

For the purposes of this step I’m assuming you are changing your domain name, remember we changed only our Help Centre in our example.

Let’s Recap:

  1. Your domain is ready and propagated.
  2. You’ve backed up and migrated your website to the new hosting account, and tested it, it looks just like the original.
  3. Currently both sites are displaying and they are exact duplicates.

If your old website is established and you’ve been posting articles and other content, you likely have some search engine juice. Your domain may too have some decent authority with search engines. Your new domain has none as it’s brand new and for all intents and purposes it’s invisible to search engines (Google and Bing etc.).

Step 3) After Changing – 301 Redirect

For this step we’re assuming you are changing your websites domain.

Now we want to redirect your old website to your new website, this will accomplish the following:

  1. Help clients who visit the old website address to be redirected to the new one.
  2. Notify search engines of the change with a 301 redirect and help transfer some of your domain and page authority from the old site to the new site.

301 Redirect your Old Website to your New Website

The easiest way to redirect your old website to your new website is to use your control panel. In this example I’ll use cPanel to demontrate.

Change Domain Name - 301 Redirect with cPanel - Step 1

Redirect using cPanel – Step 1

1) Login to your hosting control panel and find the domains section and click the “Redirects” icon as demonstrated above.

Change Domain Name - 301 Redirect with cPanel - Step 2

Redirect using cPanel – Step 2

2) Ensure the following:

2.1) Choose the type of redirect as Permanent (301).
2.2) Select the old domain in the drop-down box.
2.3) In the “Redirects to” box, type in your new domain.
2.4) Now select the redirect as “Redirect with or without www.” (this ensures whether or not visitors type in www in front of your domain, it will redirect correctly).
2.5) Click the “Add”button. And that should do it.

If you’re using a web hosting control panel other than cPanel, I recommend contacting your web hosting who will be glad to assist with this.

Conclusion

When looking to change your domain name, make sure you do it correctly, or you’re likely to:

  • Aggravate visitors and likely lose them because they can’t find your website and articles.
  • Suffer loss of search engine traffic and ultimately loss of income.

Need help with changing your domain name or your website? It’s what we do, let’s talk.

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