The Perils of changing your Website Domain Name & Porting your Website

Porting to a new domain can be perilous - approach with care

If you’ve been toying with the idea of changing your website’s name and porting your site to the new domain, this post is for you.  It will either convince you to leave well alone, or give you the courage to get it done.

Either way, this is not for sissies!

Fortunately, only a few months after launching a new brand, I received counseling (because I do ask for help, often!) that the brand name could be better.  It involved a tiny change, but the repercussions could not have been bigger!

Porting to a new domain can be perilous - approach with care
Porting to a new domain can be perilous – approach with care

One of the key concerns (apart from mountains of risky work), is that you stand to lose some of the SEO juice you’ve accumulated and search engines also look at longevity of your domain at its specific IP address to help calculate your credibility.  You also risk confusing your loyal followers unless you are great at easing them through the transition.  You can counter the SEO losses somewhat, but you will always take a slight step back despite your best efforts – so only do this if it is absolutely necessary, and do it as well as you possibly can!

Here are the obvious and not-so-obvious steps that I trundled through, that will hopefully help you.

My 29-step checklist for porting your website to a new domain:

  1. Plan to port your website during a period that is quiet for your business.  I did mine over the weekend but if you run a windsurfing or trail-hiking business, weekends will NOT be good for you.
  2. Register the new domain name and again do battle with the hosting company to set up folders, permissions etc as required.
  3. If you are going to do it properly so as to not have to do it again for purposes of avoiding copycats, also register the .com .org etc versions of your domain.
  4. Update your Logo.  And website header / footer as appropriate.
  5. Update the letterheads in offline documents like invoices and training slides.
  6. Update all photographs that were previously imprinted with the brand name, to have the new brand name.  Painful.
  7. Make a full back-up of the working website as it stands, as well as of any databases.
  8. While in back-up state, I did a full “search and replace” to change all instances of the domain name across all website folders.  Think this through as the sequence matters.  Also consider any canonical changes (i.e. from using the www. to not, or vice versa). At first I forgot instances where slightly different versions of this was required, e.g. for my blog which is in a sub-directory.
  9. Restore the updated website to the new domain.
  10. Set up the database in your C-panel.
  11. Restore your database to the new database structures.  Update pointers to your database in your WordPress or similar folders if required.
  12. Set up your new e-mail addresses in your C-panel.  Then on your laptop and mobile device/s.
  13. Test and test and test your website.  You are bound to come across some gremlins e.g. deep within your contact form and such.  Test everything.
  14. For some reason I needed to re-setup all the photos in my blog posts, they were there, but “unlinked” and I had to re-link photos to each blog post.
  15. Bad news: all the Likes etc that you may have accumulated on your Blog posts – e.g. using 3rd party software like GetSocial, will reset to Nil.  Sorry for you.  I could find no way around it unless you were willing to pay a pretty packet for a paid service that would somehow rebuild your likes for as long as you pay your annual fee.  For me, with only 3 months of cred built up, I was happy (enough) to start again.
  16. You may need to create new log-ins to access your WordPress admin panel, and/or to update same in the appropriate WordPress file.
  17. Set up permanent 301 redirects from the .htaccess on your old site, to point each page to the new site.  Remove all other pages and files from your old site.  Similarly set up redirects from your sister-sites .com .org etc to your or whatever you decide to use.
  18. Redirect (auto-forward) email sent to your old address/es automatically to your new e-mail address.
  19. You may need to set up a new Gravatar if you are going to eventually cease using your old e-mail address.  Similarly, you may need to update your log-in details on Google, Analytics, AdWords, Webmaster Console etc.
  20. Change your Facebook Name. And Logo. And web address under About.  And e-mail address. And trawl through past posts and change the links to pages and blog posts, to point to your new domain. Very painful.
  21. PR: Post something regarding the name change and give it a good reason!  Re-assure followers they don’t need to do anything as everything will be auto-forwarded.
  22. Same for LinkedIn, Twitter and so on.  Each is a minefield of what is allowed and what not – be prepared to contact them directly for help at some point.
  23. Same for your mailing list program where you update your templates, logos included etc. You need to be super-alert as they often allow you to change your company name and web address but some programming in the background that you cannot reach still points the “preferences” or “unsubscribe” actions to the old domain name.  Stay sharp.
  24. Set up your new Google Webmaster Search Console and verify your new site.  Then specify  that you have moved your website to this new address (go to new site name, select cog, then “Change of Address requested”) – this helps Google to transfer any “juice” you may have accumulated on your old site, to the new site.
  25. Check your Google Analytics and make any required changes.  The code snippet should still work.
  26. Check your Facebook Business marketing campaigns, landing page addresses etc.  The “pixel” code snippet should still work.
  27. Check your AdWords campaigns both for changes in the text and URL links.
  28. Change your business cards and order new ones to be printed.
  29. Review testimonials. In some places you will not be able to fix your brand name, e.g. in Tripadvisor reviews or in Facebook reviews where clients used your business name.  Let it go.
You’ll get through it fresh and new (if a little scarred!)

The ultimate message here is to pick your brand (and domain) name with care, then look after it.  Treasure the Search Engine Optimization that you’ve built up on it and value it like a solid entry in your asset column.

What’s in a name? Everything!



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Author: Ronel Pieterse

Ronel has spent 24 years in the corporate world (finance, banking, mining, manufacturing and agriculture) and has also started 5 small businesses herself over the past 20 years. Four of these are still operational today in one form or another. Ronel's passion is to use her considerable skills in spheres of business and IT to help other small business owners and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses to the next level and to attain sustainable competitive advantage in the process.

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