How To Change Domain Names & Keep Rankings in Google With 301 Redirects

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Why Should I care About Redirects When I Move Domain?

If you fail to implement proper redirects when migrating a website from one domain to another you will instantly lose any traffic to your website you currently enjoy, with new visitors often greeted by the dreaded 404 page.

If that’s not reason enough, failing to employ redirects will unquestionably impact on any good rankings your site also enjoys.

How Do I Redirect Visitors And Search Engines To My New Site?

You redirect any visitor, including search engines using the same technique: ‘301 permanent redirects’.

Is It Possible To Transfer Rankings From One Domain To Another?

Yes. If you are planning a rebrand, for example, and need to change website addresses, ensure you redirect all visitors to the new domain (and also redirect any relevant internal pages to internal pages on the new domain). It is also important to convey your old domain’s search engine rankings to the new web address – or your website will effectively be starting from zero visibility, in search engines at any rate.

Are 301 Redirects Complicated To Implement?

Not usually. It takes only a few lines of code to achieve this change of address in some instances. It is usually a simple if sometimes drawn out process.

The time it takes to complete a typical project is dependent on how large and how complex the website is you are aiming to redirect.

Success is often dependent on your access to particular files on your host server, or the CMS your website is constructed with.

How Do You Implement 301 Redirects?

I can discuss my experience on Apache servers and using “.htaccess” files and 301 permanent redirects.

With a 301 permanent redirect instruction at your server level, the age, authority and reputation of your old website in Google is transferred to this new web address.

With visitors redirected as soon as you apply the 301 redirects, search engines soon notice the change of address. If you have a very large and complex site, it could take a long time for Google to completely forget about your old site.

Upon successful implementation, the new domain ranks where the old domain once ranked.

This method has worked for most professionals for over ten years and still works today.

In 2016, you can also tell Google you’ve made the change, too, but Google still prefers you to also stick to traditional methods like I describe above as well as registering any change at Google Webmaster Tools.

How Long Do I Keep 301 Redirects In Place?

Forever. Until you die, or the website does. Whatever comes first. As soon as you remove 301s you break a connection that Google counts on to determine your domain reputation. This is important of course if you HAVE some domain reputation.

Can I Transfer A Google Penalty To My New Domain with Redirects?

YES! Do due diligence on any domain you are redirecting to your main site – you don’t want to redirect a site with a toxic link profile to your primary website, for instance. You need to disavow those links first.

Do Pages Need To Be Identical for 301 redirects to work?

NO! But only redirect users and Googlebot to equivalent pages where possible.

A good rule of thumb with any redirects (that you want to get the most benefit from) is to give visitors what they are expecting when they click on a link.

I often redirect many old URLs to one URL – if it’s relevant and a good user experience – but I avoid redirecting irrelevant pages to irrelevant destinations.

My general rule of thumb is to make sure the information (and keywords) on the old page are present in the new page copy.Most SEO already know the power of a redirect, and how you can use it to power even totally unrelated pages to the top of Google (for a time – sometimes a very long time).

Most SEO already know the power of a redirect, and how you can use it to power even totally unrelated pages to the top of Google (for a time – sometimes a very long time).

Should I 301 redirect all old pages to my home page?

NO. Google classes many improperly redirected links as soft 404s e.g. if you redirect a lot of URLs to your home page, for instance, is an example Google have given us. When redirecting visitors (and treat Googlebot as a visitor), always redirect them to equivalent pages.

For Googlebot – think about the keywords, topics and concepts of the pages you are redirecting to. If they are a good match – Googlebot usually has no problem with that – and will honour your request to redirect rankings.

I always try to find a relevant page to redirect one from another – it’s a good user experience, and that’s a good thing to focus on if you are trying to rank high in Google this year. NEVER redirect to your home page – always redirect to an internal page, if you choose to redirect at all.

Can I 301 Multiple Out-Dated Pages To A New Higher Quality Page?

YES! Sometimes content becomes stale and you end up with lots of pages that are essentially redundant in Google. This type of content can actually hurt your rankings in Google in 2016.

You can permanently redirect any and all out-of-date content to equivalent new pages that stand a better chance of ranking in Google for important keywords.

Google advises server side redirects are OK for this purpose – and so are CANONICAL LINK ELEMENTS – so I use them.

You can change the focus of a redirect but that’s a bit black hat for me and can be abused – I don’t really talk about that sort of thing on this blog.

But it’s worth knowing. You also need to keep these redirects in place in your .htaccess file going forward. Redirecting multiple old pages to one new page works for me, if the text based information, and especially target key phrase, is mentioned, and represented well,  on the new page.

In my own experience, and confirmed by talking to some people who worked at Google, I can say that a 301 redirect is usually only permanent until Google recrawls the links – so, these redirects CAN be changed later, although if you know the redirect will be temporary, you are recommended (by Google and Bing) to use a 302 Temporary redirect.

I usually employ 301s and have changed them back and forth multiple times over the years, with no issues.

Can I Buy Old Domains And Redirect Them To Get High Rankings?


Say you see an old site that is ranking in Google for a lot of terms and there is an opportunity to buy that domain and redirect it to your site – will you keep those Google rankings?

I’ve not actually bought a domain for a long time myself, but I’ve redirected plenty. The way I see it, Google ranks pages because of the trust of a particular domain its on, the links that point to it and the content it has on it.

If you keep most of these quality signals intact, buying old domains and redirecting them to similar content shouldn’t be a problem. Even when redirecting pages, I usually make sure page titles and content are very similar on both pages if I want to keep particular rankings.

Be careful, though – Google is under no obligation to redirect domains and transfer rankings, and has said as much.

Make sure your new domain isn’t already blacklisted in Google for previous web spam violations before you implement any redirects!

Getting loads of unnatural links too fast may invite a GWT Notice of Unnatural Links and eventual penalty, or worse, a Google Penguin ‘Penalty’.

Be aware Black Hats know that it is probably better to resurrect a dead site (or dropped domain) that has been gone a while exactly as IT WAS when Google last saw it if you want to get back rankings. Check the WAYBACK Machine, for instance.

Note also that black hats are using 301s and old sites a lot in competitive niches, but I wouldn’t compete toe to toe with them using those strategies, as Google does seem to be getting better at dealing with them – and you probably won’t be able to compete on that front anyways.

Is There A Limit To The Amount of 301 Redirects Google Will Follow?

YES. Over the years, I’ve heard about 5 or 6. I would not rely on that though so try to ensure you have as few redirects in any chain of redirects at all times to avoid Google changing how it works. Which it does, often enough in plenty of areas to cause you challenges.

Does Google treat 302’s the same as 301’s?

Essentially YES. A 302 Temporary Redirect is not ideal, but Google has said it treats 302 redirects left in place essentially like 301’s. John Meuler said in a Hangout that Google also treats 302s in a chain like 301s.

Still – it is better to be as exact as possible with Google to ensure you get the results you need. When permanently redirecting – use a 301.

Should I tell Google About My Change Of Domain?

YES. I’ve always found it pretty painless although I can appreciate it’s easy to screw up if you don’t know what you’re doing. Now you can actually tell Google about your domain name change in Google Webmaster Tools.

If you’ve moved your site to a new domain, you can use the Change of address tool to tell Google about your new URL. We’ll update our index to reflect your new URL. Changes will stay in effect for 180 days, by which time we’ll have crawled and indexed the pages at your new URL. The change of address tool is safe, because only verified site owners can use it. You can check the tool at any time to see the information provided to Google about your domains.

This new tool from Google will be handy for some, though, you’ll still need to know your way about some technical aspects to use it. See moving your website to another domain. UPDATE – Also see Google announcing support of the cross-domain rel=”canonical” link element.

CASE STUDY: Using 301 Redirect To Keep Google Rankings

I needed to 301 an aging, out-of-date satellite site (or mini-site) into the principal website of the company I was employed by.

The goal was to keep visitors and Google rankings.

Managing multiple sites in a niche usually means some of those sites get neglected.  Often, a lot of the mini-sites won’t get the required time and effort it takes to actually convert the traffic earned to leads and sales.

Information on satellite sites can often end up more out-of-date than the primary site. In this case, the decision was made to redirect lower-quality mini sites to the main corporate site to ensure the more conversion friendly corporate site ranked for the competitive term the mini-site had earned.

The image below shows the results when I redirected a mini-site that ranked no1 for a valuable query to the main site.



You can see from the illustration above and below when I achieved the no1 position with the satellite site, the actual corporate site was actually heading in a slightly different direction.

301 To Number 1

Essentially I wanted to make the main company site (in Green) be the number one result, and basically I wanted the mini-site to disappear from Google but transfer all its good rankings (as well as 600 visitors a day) to the corporate site.

I completed this employing the perfectly white-hat search engine friendly 301 Permanent Redirect in the .htaccess file on the old site (in red) to the corporate site (in Green). redirect 301 /old.htm I ensured the new page on the corporate site was basically very similar in theme to page that Google currently ranked at No1 in the SERPs, so Googlebot wouldn’t think I was up to anything other than transfer rankings I had earned.

The end result is always (if done correctly) very satisfying as:

  1. The main site now ranks no1 in Google
  2. The main site now has absorbed the authority and trust of the old page which should help it’s overall domain reputation in the search engines.
  3. The page is now branded with the corporate id = better brand visibility
  4. Inexperienced link builders will be scratching their head for a while to come wondering what has happened and how the main site actually ranks at No1 in their attempt to reverse-engineer that particular SERP.

The images illustrate it worked exactly as expected.

The result of this simple strategy was a ‘new’ no1 position, with better branding and better conversion attributes, and 600 more visitors to the main site each day. It’s still like that today.

Things work very much the same in 2016, although Google has raised the quality bar in some instances, and I would be careful.

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