Posted April 17, 2008 10:27 am by with 20 comments

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When I saw Google had posted an official guide to redirecting an old domain to a new one, I Twittered the link to the 1700+ people following me. This morning I had lots of notes saying the link was broken! To make it up to you all, I’m posting the news again, this time to the blog.

So, here’s the deal. You should know that the best way to move a web site from one domain to another, is using a 301 permanent redirect. It’s not that hard, if you know what you’re doing. Still, there’s always the concern–actually it’s more like a gut-wrenching feeling–that you’ll do something out of synch, and lose all your precious Google rankings.

Well, despite Matt Cutts doing his best to answer this question at every single conference he speaks at, Google WebMaster Central Blog decided it was time to provide its official guide to moving domain names.

Here are the main points:

  • Test the move process by moving the contents of one directory or subdomain first. Then use a 301 Redirect to permanently redirect those pages on your old site to your new site. This tells Google and other search engines that your site has permanently moved.
  • Once this is complete, check to see that the pages on your new site are appearing in Google’s search results. When you’re satisfied that the move is working correctly, you can move your entire site. Don’t do a blanket redirect directing all traffic from your old site to your new home page. This will avoid 404 errors, but it’s not a good user experience. A page-to-page redirect (where each page on the old site gets redirected to the corresponding page on the new site) is more work, but gives your users a consistent and transparent experience. If there won’t be a 1:1 match between pages on your old and new site, try to make sure that every page on your old site is at least redirected to a new page with similar content.
  • If you’re changing your domain because of site rebranding or redesign, you might want to think about doing this in two phases: first, move your site; and second, launch your redesign. This manages the amount of change your users see at any stage in the process, and can make the process seem smoother. Keeping the variables to a minimum also makes it easier to troubleshoot unexpected behavior.
  • Check both external and internal links to pages on your site. Ideally, you should contact the webmaster of each site that links to yours and ask them to update the links to point to the page on your new domain. If this isn’t practical, make sure that all pages with incoming links are redirected to your new site. You should also check internal links within your old site, and update them to point to your new domain. Once your content is in place on your new server, use a link checker like Xenu to make sure you don’t have broken legacy links on your site. This is especially important if your original content included absolute links (like instead of relative links (like …/recipes/chocolatecake.html).
  • To prevent confusion, it’s best to make sure you retain control of your old site domain for at least 180 days.
  • Add your new site to your Webmaster Tools account, and verify your ownership of it. Then create and submit a Sitemap listing the URLs on your new site. This tells Google that your content is now available on your new site, and that we should go and crawl it.
  • Finally, keep both your new and old site verified in Webmaster Tools, and review crawl errors regularly to make sure that the 301s from the old site are working properly, and that the new site isn’t showing unwanted 404 errors.

Here’s my advice. Follow each recommendation exactly, and, if Google still drops all of your hard earned rankings, sue complain to them!

* OK, so we made-up the part about the money-back guarantee. 🙂

  • It’s all part of our “Make Matt superfluous” project, which I happily support. 🙂

    Matt Cutts’s last blog post..Two Search Interviews

  • Actually I think Matt is very magnanimous. Now that could be a domain name:

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Yahoo/Google Ad Deal Closer?

  • @Matt – we can never get enough of you!
    @Jaan – lol

  • Matt any chance we can get something in Webmaster Tools so we can say “hey, we’re moving” and make the process a little smoother?

    Are magnaninmousematt and Mighty Mouse cousins? Here we come to save the day. Must mean magnanimousematt is on his way.

    Steven Bradley’s last blog post..Last Chance To Join Teaching Sells For $1

  • yes adding a feature in GWT tools for moving individual pages or whole websites would be a god send for many.

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Yahoo/Google Ad Deal Closer?

  • A tool to do a website move would be very helpful especially when we need to rebrand. I got a good laugh about the part reaching out and contacting every webmaster who links back to my site to tell them to update. That in itself is scary. ~Steve

  • Another good laugh today. You must be on a high. Google and money back indeed!

    Nicole’s last blog post..eBooks – Another Way to go Green!

  • The money back offer sure is an eye-grabbing headline…thought it was too good to be true, hahahah. The information offered is worth it though,
    hopefully I wont need to go through this process in a hurry!

  • I have a website with lots of visitors that might be closing down soon and I was wondering what would happen if I redirected all of the pages to another domain (with a 301 redirect), but to the top level. The two sites are unrelated so I don’t know what effect it would have. Any ideas?

  • @Fordy – read the Google post, they address that question.

  • ANDY, I need to redirect to a new domain (like yesterday) but I am getting realy confused with all the articles I have read.
    I have a 5 page static website hosted on windows 2003, as Matt Cutts states I see I need to do a page to page redirect, I understand this far.
    I spoke to my hosts technical support ( and only got a brief “you need to write a script and we dont provide script support” 🙁
    From what I have read is it correct that I need a “server side” redirect? not a “client side – meaning a script?” If so can you explain how I do this please, I feel lost at the moment 🙁
    p.s. I have no expertise in scripts or using redirects.

  • @Chester – you should probably hire someone, if you’re not sure. A lot of things could go wrong.

    If you want more information, simply Google “301 redirect” and you should find plenty of advice.

  • @Andy, thanks for your reply. I have Google’d this many times and found lots of info but just keep going round in circles trying to understand it. I will try fasthosts technical support again and hopefuly get through to someone more helpful.
    Am I correct in thinking I need this done server side ie. will need to get them to do it as it’s a shared server?

  • @Chester – it’s a server side command, but you can implement it using your htaccess file.

  • @Andy, Thanks for the help, I have moved old site to linux and made an .htaccess 301 file (page to page), I think all done correctly, seems ok so far. Will be interesting to see how Google deals with it when next spiders my site 🙂

  • @Chester – make sure you are signed up and verified with Google Webmaster Central. If there are any issues, you’ll see them there.

  • @Andy – Is the .htaccess code below correct?

    redirect 301 /index.html
    redirect 301 /oldpage.html

    ie. sending index to domain without the /index.html I did it this way because I dont want file in the results only the My site map only contains the non /index file.

    Im thinking of canonical issues and thought would be good to do it this way?

  • oops please edit my last comment (take the dead links out) and delete this one, sorry.

  • @Andy, I found a real great website with this tool: “Redirect Check SEO Tool” @ and it shows that my index.html and non index homepage are both 301 redirecting to my new site non index version, so I guess all is ok. 🙂
    I have come into another problem that I cant find an answer to – As stated above by Matt Cutts
    “Finally, keep both your new and old site verified in Webmaster Tools”
    – in webmaster tools my old site is now NOT verified, i supose Googlebot has been redirected to my new site and read the new meta tag there (instead of one on old site) and is now seeing it as wrong. Should I put my old verification meta tag in my new site as well as the new one? Is this the way to have them both verified after redirecting?? I dont want to try this without confirmation its the right thing to do!
    – I would really appreciate any ideas on this one, maybe Matt should have covered this in the official guide?

  • Ok it wasnt rocket science, i worked it out. Needed html verification method not the meta tag lol 🙂