We changed our Website Domain in 2019 – here’s what happened…
Back when we set-up our web design agency in 2014, we had a name and we had a plan. We did not, however, have a domain. Alas, frostdigital.com was taken. Owned from 2002 by an unrelated digital design company (with a great taste in business names)
Having broadcasted from frost.digital for 5 or 6 years, we have picked up a healthy chunk of domain authority along the way. It was a hell of a journey, but eventually after a year or two we started to gain some good, sustainable visibility and traffic for our (arguably oversubscribed) money keywords.
Around 2 years ago, the owner of frostdigital.com reached out, offering the opportunity to purchase the domain. After a few emails back-and-forth we both got a decent deal out of the sale.
Domain changes have got some bad press…
We knew one day that we wanted to migrate our website from frost.digital to frostdigital.com but we put it off for the best part of 2 years.
We put it off due to all the alleged ‘risks and perils’ of changing a domain name. There are horror stories about the change of address taking several months, and the permanent loss of google rankings, never to return.
I scoured the internet looking for case studies and to read the stories of similar shaped businesses who had changed their domains. As it happened, there wasn’t much to be found, and the majority had wildly different experiences.
The bulk of the search results for ‘change website domain’ yielded a bunch of identical web design company blogs explaining the technical steps to take, or forum threads with warnings galore. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. 301’s don’t pass all link juice” Or “My friend/my client did this and lost all of their traffic”.
What we can say for sure is that, in our case, all of the scaremongering surrounding this topic turned out to be completely unfounded.
It’s worth adding that the only thing we changed was the domain. The URL structure, pages, page titles, theme… everything remained the same.
Here are the steps we took to ensure that things went as smoothly as possible…
When changing the domain of your website, there are a small handful of things you’re definitely going to want to do prior to making the switch.
Failure to do these things will likely result in an array of technical SEO issues due to the search engines finding 404s, duplicate content and not knowing which version of the website it should rank. Under normal circumstances, this would reasonably result in both domains getting poor visibility until these issues have been resolved.
We did the following:
-Backed up and created a separate copy of the Frost Digital website on frostdigital.com
-Created and thoroughly tested 301 redirect rules from frost.digital to frostdigital.com. There must be redirects to every link to ensure that there are no 404s. Check internal links, blog articles… check everything twice.
-We added frostdigital.com as a property to Search Console.
-We submitted the sitemap to speed up the crawling and indexing process.
-We then used Google’s Change of Address Tool to advise them of the change.
-We then patiently waiting for Google to do its thing.
The aftermath and initial changes to rankings…
It took around 3 days for anything at all to happen. On the 4th day, we began to notice that our ranks were somewhere between -4 / -8 down across all keywords. I can’t see how a domain migration can be done without seeing a short-term negative impact on search visibility. That said, we were surprised, given what we had read, that the rank drop wasn’t more severe.
At this point, on inspection both websites were firmly within Google’s index, and some longer tailed search queries would occasionally return the new domain instead of the old one.
Around this time, Search Console started showing us some data pertaining to indexed pages and some initial performance metrics. We could see that slowly but surely, pages for the new domain were entering the index.
At this time, the old domain, we assume, was still being treated as canonical as whilst our organic traffic was reduced, it was still all coming from the old domain.
After around a week something happened!
7 days after the change of address was submitted, our new domain appeared to be taking priority and had replaced our website’s old domain for our brand name and the usual keywords. We still occasionally saw links for our old domain, but these were always further back.
Webmaster Tools seemed to confirm this, and we were able to establish that the performance graphs had essentially swapped. The old domain impressions and positions fell off a cliff, whilst the new domain’s report had soared to where the old domain’s metrics had formerly been. It was really interesting to see!
Further to this, all of the pages for the new domain now appeared to indexed. In case you’re wondering, all pages on the old domain were also still indexed.
At this point we considered that the change of address process might be fully complete, and that the rank we were seeing across all keywords was just our permanent new position.
Not ideal, but far less serious than some reports led us to believe! After all, we certainly didn’t change domains to improve SEO.
After 10 days our original KW positions seemed to return!
This was both a surprise and a relief. Many experts appear to believe that it customarily takes a month or more for this to happen – if indeed it happens at all.
After a little bit of digging around in graphs we confirmed that our website had now reached pre-domain-change traffic levels.
This so far is awesome. We managed to change to a new domain name that we love, and we’ve kept all of our traffic.
Either we are one-in-a-million and got lucky, or more likely… the scaremongering SEO experts were exaggerating the negative effects of moving domains, or they’ve been doing it wrong, or none of them have even done it recently!
Here’s the thing though…
We stopped paying such close attention to tracking keyword positions on the daily, because, well… mission accomplished.
We gave the reports a glance on day 14, just to check things hadn’t backslid, and we saw that not only had our positions held strong, but had continued to significantly improve. Surpassing what they were on the old domain.
Of course, this could be down factors other than the domain, such as Google updates, but there were no changes to backlinks, content, site structure or disavow files.
It got us thinking, though – Google has confirmed in the past, that it gives no extra points to TLDs. Apparently yourdomain.sport should be as equally viable as yourdomain.com. Personally, we don’t buy it…
Is changing your website’s domain in 2019 a ‘risky move’?
Maybe. We wouldn’t change it purely for fun. It undoubtedly caused turbulence in the business. If however you have a reason to change it, whatever that may be – we say go right ahead! Just be careful you don’t forget those redirects.
How long does the process take?
For us, it took around 2 weeks for weird things to stop happening. I’m assuming it could take longer? Our website has a very modest number of pages. Its structure is quite easy to follow. Even now, though, links to the old domain are falling out of the index on a daily basis, and we’ve seen some (flimsy but interesting) evidence to suggest that these pages coming out goes some way to strengthening the authoritativeness of the canonical pages.
Will you lose your Google rankings?
Yes, probably. But in our case, this was very short lived and had resolved itself within 2 weeks with absolutely no intervention from us.
Certainly, we saw no evidence to suggest that keyword positions would be negatively affected. We actually gained positive results from changing our website’s domain!
If for example, you moved from an aged exact-match keyword domain to a completely different brand-name domain, it’s reasonable to consider that rank losses may occur. Or indeed that they take longer to return following the migration.
We simply migrated from one TLD to another, which I have to assume in the eyes of Google was not all that complicated or disruptive.