If you are planning to change domain names as part of a new website launch or rebrand, it is important to understand the search engine optimization, or SEO, impact of changing domain names and how to mitigate the risk of losing organic traffic as a result of the change in domain name.
Will changing domain names affect SEO?
Yes, changing domain names will likely affect your SEO performance. If you currently have rankings on page one of Google, for example, then you can definitely expect to see an impact after changing domain names.
This is because your old domain has a history attached to it, and also likely has existing backlinks (which are like clout points for Google and are part of Google’s algorithm). Your new domain likely has no history associated with it, so you’ll be starting from scratch. This is just like being the new kid in town — it takes time to build a new reputation.
In this article, we’ll talk about what to expect during a domain name transition and provide a step-by-step SEO plan for managing the domain name change effectively, along with downloadable templates to help you execute this plan.
What is the realistic impact on SEO when changing domain names?
When changing domain names, you should expect it will take a minimum of three months to regain your previous organic rankings, but it could take up to six months or even one year in some cases.
To stay on the shorter end of that timeline, you will need to be sure you properly migrate and redirect your content from your old domain to your new domain and invest effort in link outreach/link building for the new domain. Use the checklist and templates at the end of this article to successfully navigate your domain name change.
In my career as an SEO consultant, I've worked with several brands that wanted to change domains. Here is an example of a perfectly-executed domain name change and migration where all necessary SEO steps were promptly acted upon, and furthermore, the new website had additional SEO-friendly content to grow rankings even further. This brand only experienced two months of downtime, but I always set the expectation with my clients that they should plan on a minimum of three months to be safe:
*This data is taken from a past project from my project portfolio.
Before we dive into the critical SEO steps you’ll need to take during a domain migration (along with templates), we’ll address some of the most common questions on changing domain names.
Frequently asked questions about SEO impact of changing domains
What are the risks of changing domain names?
Here are the specific risks of changing domain names, especially if your current domain already sees organic traffic from Google:
- Temporary loss of any existing Google rankings for at least three months.
- Temporary decrease or temporary elimination of organic traffic.
- Therefore, temporary loss of revenue or leads from organic traffic.
- Reduced or eliminated website traffic from referral sources, such as links from other websites. Avoid this loss by redirecting your old domain and all old URLs to the new domain/new URL.
- Increased SEO cost/investment for the new website, because you will have to build the backlink authority on your new domain from scratch.
Is it a good idea to change domain names?
It is a good idea to change domains if that is the right decision for your brand and your business. If changing domain names is part of a rebrand or expansion that will allow for greater business growth, then it is worth the temporary downtick in organic traffic. However, the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly or decided on a whim.
How do I change my domain name without affecting SEO?
To change your domain without affecting SEO long term, follow these basic steps:
1. Migrate all content from the old domain to the new domain.
2. Maintain the same keyword optimization during that content migration.
3. Redirect the old domain and the old URLs to the new domain/new URLs.
4. Acquire quality backlinks to the new domain.
We’ll go into more detail about each step below. Remember, it is realistic to expect a temporary decrease in organic traffic, however, this checklist will help minimize that downtime as much as possible.
Changing domain names is like rerouting an old highway. It’s a big change, but if you provide plenty of signage, drivers can easily navigate to the new highway. All of the steps below revolve around providing adequate “road signs” for search engines and help to build trust in your “new highway” (or new domain).
Changing domain name SEO checklist:
- Verify your new domain in Google Search Console (see instructions here)
- If your old domain was verified in Search Console too, submit a "Change of address" (under Settings in the left-hand menu) under your old domain’s property.
Use these templates to manage your domain migration
Use the following two templates to assist with migrating and redirecting content:
Domain name changes can be a large undertaking with many steps involved, but if handled correctly from an SEO perspective as outlined above, you can experience a smooth transition with minimal downtime.